Facebook Places Launches for iPhone, Challenges Foursquare, Gowalla

Facebook Aug. 18 launched Facebook Places, a geolocation service that lets users share where they are and what they are doing with friends. The ACLU is already complaining.

Facebook Aug. 18 unveiled its long-awaited geotagging service, an effort that could move the market for location-based services forward considerably even as it threatens startups such as Foursquare and Gowalla.

Similar to Foursquare and Gowalla, Facebook Places lets users "check in" to a location via their smartphone to share their locations in real time with Facebook friends. Places will tell those users if their friends are nearby in case the parties want to meet up.

Currently, Places is available to those who use the most recent version of the Facebook application for Apple's iPhone. Users may also access Places from the touch.facebook.com mobile Website from browsers that support HTML5 and geolocation.

Here's how it works. Smartphones users will go to Places on the iPhone application or touch.facebook.com site and then tap the "Check In" button.

They should see a list of places near them and will pick the best match based on their location. If users don't see their location, they can search for it or simply add it.

Once users check in, it will create a story in their friends' News Feeds and surface in the Recent Activity section on the page for that place.

When users check in, they can post a status update along with their check-in to tell people what they are doing in addition to where they are doing it. They may also tag friends who are with them.

While Foursquare and Gowalla already blazed the check-in trail by offering badges, rewards and coupons from business, both companies' social networks are small potatoes compared with Facebook.

Foursquare enjoys some 2.7 million users, while Gowalla has close to 1 million. Both networks are flyweights compared with Facebook's massive network numbers north of 500 million users.

Facebook Places is currently available only in the United States, so Foursquare and Gowalla only have to compete with a network of about 100 million users.

Obviously, this is an untenable position for the companies, so they partnered with Facebook for Places, according to TechCrunch.