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Facebook's Mobile Ambitions Ahead Of User Interest

The company's bid to become the platform of choice for apps that combine mobile, social, and location data will depend on convincing people to actually use geo-social services.

Facebook on Wednesday announced new mobile-oriented enhancements to the Facebook platform in a bid to become the preferred infrastructure for mobile identity and geo-social commerce.

At the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook developers could use Facebook IDs as a single sign-on identity in their applications. He also introduced a service called Facebook Deals, which allows merchants with Facebook Place pages to present discount coupons and other offers to Facebook users who check-in through Place pages.

Facebook's move into geo-social commerce represents a significant challenge to startups like Foursquare and Gowalla, as well as to large players like Google, which has been enhancing its Place pages and local search capabilities.

But Facebook's relatively late arrival on the geo-social scene still precedes mainstream interest in location-based services. Only 4% of online adults use services like Foursquare or Gowalla that allow them to share their location with friends, according to a Pew Internet research report, and only 1% of Internet users use these services on any given day.

Among those who regularly post status updates through sites like Twitter, usage of location-based services was the highest (10%). Regular users of social networking sites also turn to location-based services more (6%) than the typical Internet user.

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that women use geo-social services half as much (3%) as men (6%), according to the Pew survey. Given that studies often indicate that women make the majority of purchasing decisions for consumer products -- and would presumably be the preferred target for retailers offering check-in deals -- it's clear that geo-social services have to win over a lot more people before they matter to the mainstream.

Privacy concerns are likely to slow adoption of geo-social services, despite Zuckerberg's repeated assurances that Facebook respects users' privacy. But the success of grocery store loyalty cards demonstrates that consumers will surrender privacy to obtain a discount.

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