Facebook Places has redeeming value after all

I'm not generally a big fan of Facebook, as regular readers no doubt know. I'm tired of them opting me in to things I didn't know about beforehand, and their practice of keeping my data forever creeps me out. It annoys me to carefully and neurotically lock down my privacy settings only to find that they've been defaulted to something else without my knowledge. I've come close to deleting my account several times because of Facebook drama, too (that's a user issue and not a platform issue). Yet I continue to use it regularly, because Facebook's goal of becoming a "utility" has come to pass. I need electricity, so I use the one available electric company. I want social connectivity with people I know, and Facebook is the electric company equivalent. Everyone uses it. You can tell from my lack of enthusiasm that I'm not Facebook's number one fangirl. Therefore, I'm surprised to report that I find redeeming value in Facebook Places (compared with Gowalla and Foursquare, the main services I would otherwise use). I don't like the way they rolled it out with their opt-out practice, but the privacy settings aren't that difficult to modify. It's easy to check in, it's one less app to be opening all the time, and I'm more interested in people I actually know knowing where I am, in contrast to Gowalla and Foursquare, which post to Twitter and publicly. Also, Facebook notifies me in a useful (audible) way when someone I know checks in nearby. This is a useful feature. The other two services do this sort of, but they notify you for everyone you have notifications on for and don't do it audibly, so you have to happen to notice it by looking at your phone. That's not useful. I'd like more control over only Places push notifications, but they're already better than their competitors for my wants.

I made a new Friends list and put on it people whom I surmised would be interested in my location (largely local friends who tend to use location-based services anyway) and assigned Places to only that list so that my feed isn't littered with check-ins for everyone else. A drawback to this is that some interesting threads have sprouted off check-ins that not everyone can see, but I want to give a hoot and not pollute.

I check in only at places I have something to say about, too. This cuts WAY down on checkin fatigue. There are no points or badges involved, so there's no reason to check in at the grocery store or the gas station. Some consider this a negative, but if I want to play a location-based game I'll play Gowalla. This fills a different niche.

Facebook Places is exclusive more than Foursquare or Gowalla (although if I recall correctly they started only on the iPhone as well) because you have to have an iPhone to use it. There's a mobile site with most of the functionality minus the notifications, but iPhone is the only platform with it built into the app. Most of my friends have iPhones, so it's not a big deal to me, but if they'd expand to other phones that would be cool.

I push Gowalla and Foursquare data to Facebook anyway, so I'm not adding any new information about myself to Facebook's CIA database on me, and in fact I'm LIMITING who sees it by having control over my "Places" friends list (checkins from Gowalla and Foursquare can't be limited; they go to your "default posts" list).

Location-based services aren't for everyone, but I find some value in them. I've had some very rewarding chance meet-ups with people because of them. I think as with all things social media, it's a tool that can easily cut you, but it can also be useful. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Facebook Places actually seems like the best bet with privacy right now in the location-based services arena.