Facebook has become one of the fastest-growing social networks in a few years, but the company’s success hasn’t gone without its share of criticism. One critique made about the 1-billion-user network is that Facebook seems concerned with connecting users online only. In fact, it’s often the case that two friends in the same room simultaneously would rather text and chat on Facebook Messenger or IM instead of looking across the room and saying, “Hi. How’s it going?”
In response to what many believe to be an internet-only experience, Facebook has introduced a new mobile feature that allows you to connect with friends who are close to you in real-time. Called “Nearby Friends,” the core Facebook app feature will use your smartphone’s GPS capability to let you see which of your friends are close to where you are – that is, if both you and the friend in question have the Nearby Friends feature activated.
There are a few things you need to know about Nearby Friends before you decide to use the feature. First, it’s an opt-in. This means that you won’t be forced to use the feature, but can turn it on (and off) at any time. Next, both you and the friends you want to meet in real-time must’ve the feature turned on. Even if you’ve the feature on but a close friend doesn’t, you’ll still have to use your favorite Facebook Messenger app. Next, the Nearby Friends feature won’t start as a separate Facebook app, but come baked into the core Facebook app (it’s possible that an update is coming to bring the feature to Facebook apps everywhere). This means that you’ll have to find the feature within the tray of features already present within the main Facebook app, but it’ll prove its worth for socialites who’re always looking for friends and a great time.
As for the privacy, Facebook’s own Andrea Vaccari has said that Nearby Friends aims to maintain user privacy and has built features into Nearby Friends that’ll allow you to maintain the type of privacy you desire. For example, if you don’t want to run into your boss on the regular, you can select the friends you want to receive notifications about on the go. The Nearby Friends feature will be off limits to anyone under 18 years old, so parents need not worry about who their children can text – at least not through Facebook’s app, anyway.
Nearby Friends will also limit the amount of battery drain your smartphone experiences once you activate the feature. Unlike location-sharing apps such as Foursquare and Google Latitude that tend to drain about 0.6% or 0.7% (though Google hasn’t released battery drain statistics for its own feature), Facebook’s new Nearby Friends drains about 0.3%-0.4% battery life per hour. “Battery saving was one of the core principles as we were developing the product. Most people won’t notice it. And if you’re below 20 percent battery we stop,” Vaccari said.
How will Nearby Friends work? It provides a typical Facebook alert in your Notification Window, which you can then use to click over to Facebook. It will provide a soft approximate location (say, 1.2 miles) but doesn’t provide the exact restaurant you’re at in the moment. A note option allows you to chat with a friend, find out his or her exact location, and then make plans to meet up in a few minutes or a few hours. It’s as simple as that.
Facebook has started rolling out the Nearby Friends feature, but will first roll out the new feature to users who location-share on a regular basis. The feature will be available on both Android and iOS. This is the second transformation to the core Facebook app within the last week, as Facebook recently removed messaging capabilities from its parent Facebook app and made them solely the responsibility of the Facebook Messenger app.
How to turn Nearby Friends on or off?
To turn Nearby Friends on or off on an iPhone or Android:
- Tap More Settings
- Tap Nearby Friends
- Tap Gear Icon
- Tap Location Settings
Facebook also acquired drone manufacturing company Ascenta last month for $20 million, despite Google’s larger pay promise for the company. Sources say that Facebook’s interest in drone company Titan Aerospace is the reason behind Google’s decision to purchase the company earlier this week for an undisclosed amount. With the push to real-time location-sharing and social networking, Facebook is gearing up for future access to the 5 billion unreached people worldwide who have little to no internet access.