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Facebook Places goes live… in the US for now

The next big thing in geolocation? It’s likely to be Facebook Places. The social network unveiled its new service last night, and it’s going to be a very big deal indeed.

What is it? Well, it basically applies Foursquare-style check-ins to Facebook, starting with its own iPhone app and touch.facebook.com mobile site. When you tap the Check In button, it’ll bring up a list of places around you – including hopefully the one you’re in – so you can tell friends where you’re at.

You’ll also be able to ‘tag’ the friends who are actually with you, checking them into that place as well. The concept is similar to the way you can tag friends in Facebook photos. Facebook says that privacy controls will ensure people who don’t want to have their location tagged can opt out.

Now the frustrating aspect: for now, Facebook Places is US-only. However, Recombu’s sources at the social network tell us that us Brits won’t have to wait too long for the service to roll out here. Facebook Places IS in the latest update to the Facebook iPhone app, which went live in the UK App Store last night, but when you tap on its icon, you’re told that it’s not available here yet.

Checking In via Facebook is one thing, but Facebook Places is also designed to be used by other social location apps, like Foursquare and Gowalla – who were both on-stage at last night’s launch.

Meanwhile, another social location firm, Booyah – which makes the marvellous MyTown game – has launched an entirely new app called InCrowd, which wraps more game aspects around Facebook Places.

It’s a big deal, and here’s why. As cool as apps like Foursquare and MyTown are, they still reach a relatively limited audience in the general scheme of things: just over three million for MyTown, and just under three million for Foursquare. By contrast, Facebook has 150 million active mobile users.

Check-ins are about to go mainstream, in other words. Although how fast depends on when Facebook expands its Places to the UK and other countries – not to mention to its apps on smartphones other than iPhone.

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