Forget Foursquare, what does Facebook Places mean for Craigslist (and us)?

Facebook finally launched its geo-location service (GLS) today – Facebook Places. It mimics the “checking-in” functionality made famous by Foursquare and Gowalla, and allows Facebook users to see where their friends are, and when.

But it goes deeper than that. Facebook has worked with Foursquare and Gowalla to fully integrate their services; it allows badges and check-ins to be imported – not only from Foursquare and Gowalla, but MyTown and Yelp too. The smaller services are exposed to hundreds of millions of users while Facebook becomes a GLS aggregator overnight.

Whether these services should be worried all depends on the space Facebook moves forward into. Foursquare, Gowalla and MyTown rely on a strong gaming element to gain traction. Foursquare helps local businesses and national brands generate and deepen consumer loyalty. Yelp is about peer recommendation. Facebook could move into any one of these spaces without blinking.

But perhaps there are bigger fish to fry – namely Craigslist. In fifteen years, nobody has challenged the site’s supremacy in the area of classifieds. That’s not to say there aren’t start-ups that consider themselves contenders, but none have come close to the site’s (rumoured) nine-figure annual turnover or its ubiquitous association with online classifieds.

Since 1995, Craigslist has been instrumental in migrating a cash-rich revenue stream from newspapers to the internet. But Craigslist hasn’t moved on since. The most obvious evolution of classifieds (to me, at least) is the migration to mobile, to GLS. Craigslist has had over two years to play with the iPhone, yet has no mobile presence other than a third-party app that mimics the navigation of the site, instead of playing to the strengths of the device. The iPad version is even worse – all that on-screen real estate, and it’s still menu-driven. Craigslist’s own efforts are non-existent – despite their millions of dollars, their site isn’t optimised for mobile browsers.

I think Craigslist, in a continued attempt to keep things simple, has dropped the ball. The mobile web – through web and native mobile apps, and optimised websites too – will revolutionise business in the next five years, just as the internet did 15 years ago. Ignoring trends in design is one thing; ignoring consumer-driven technology is quite another. Craigslist are risking their future.

Of course, this is just my thinking, but it’s thinking I share with Jon and others, too. Which is why since January, we’ve been developing a mobile classified platform called TinToTin (a name conjured up by myself and Di Gates). The premise is really simple; GLS means you no longer need to establish geographical hubs on a website, and there’s no need for text-driven navigation when you can see what’s around you, wherever you are.

TinToTin allows local shops, bars and restaurants to post offers and vouchers for fixed periods, businesses to advertise their services, clubs and venues to promote events, individuals to buy and sell bric-a-brac, companies to advertise jobs, property and so on. We describe TinToTin as looking in the local newspaper shop window to see what’s happening around you, somewhere you can place a postcard or read those already there. TinToTin’s initial strapline was “Shop, Sell, Share – everywhere.” The ability to use it is as simple as that postcard; one page to fill in to post your classified. That’s it.

But it’s more than that. TinToTin is a GLS aggregator – even if there’s no traction in a particular neighbourhood, the platform still has value in allowing users to check into Foursquare, see upcoming events and so on. Here are a couple of mock-ups to show you how that might look:

Hoping for a speedy launch to take first-mover advantage, we applied to Northern Film & Media’s iPad fund, but were rejected because TinToTin’s functionality could be replicated on an iPhone (an ignorant excuse since all apps can share functionality between the two devices but provide very different user experiences – Gowalla is a prime example). We’ve followed other lines of private funding since, without success, so we’ve bootstrapped to this point. And it’s not like there’s isn’t interest; we’ve been in discussions with a major mobile service provider about actively promoting this single app to their entire market (not a UK provider, but a European market similar in size to O2).

The question is, do we continue bootstrapping and putting several more months of our time and effort into TinToTin? Because when I look at Facebook Places, I see an impending marriage with Facebook Marketplace and a serious threat to Craigslist.

Don’t look at Facebook Places as simply being about checking-in; it’s about the broader ability to post geo-tagged content to hundreds of friends, that may also be relevant to tens of thousands of users in your immediate vicinity. A simple Marketplace button on the mobile app (and the site) that maps all listings local to the user – or allows the user to add simple, geo-tagged listings with photos – would enjoy massive take-up and become an essential service in no time. Why would you ever look at Craigslist again?


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