Facebook plans to test beacons in New York City as a way of connecting its mobile users to the Facebook pages of nearby shops and landmarks, the New York Times reported on Thursday (Jan. 29).
The new service, known as Place Tips, will require installing beacons at eight New York shops, including the Strand Book Store, The Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien Hotel and Dominique Ansel Bakery, birthplace of the cronut. Facebook will also test the service in Central Park, on the Brooklyn Bridge, in Times Square and at the Statue of Liberty, but users will be spotted at those locations through GPS, cell-tower triangulation and Wi-Fi signals instead of beacons.
Once a user comes in range, Place Tips will put information from a shop’s Facebook page above the news feeds on the user’s smartphone. Users will be able to opt out of the service by turning off location services in the Facebook app, and the company said it won’t retain any data about users’ locations.
At least initially Place Tips will be free for businesses, Facebook said, but it could turn into a revenue generator eventually. Facebook is looking for ways to monetize its mobile and social commerce reach, the company said when it reported earnings on Wednesday (Jan. 28).
Beacon makers welcomed Facebook’s move. “This is huge,” said Al Juarez, VP of sales at beacon manufacturer GeLo. Because so many people use Facebook, “It’s going to bring it to the public consciousness,” he said.
For merchants, Place Tips could revive the importance of corporate pages on Facebook. Brianne Sperber, marketing manager at the Strand Book Store, said she’ll likely put more thought into the store’s Facebook page because of the program. “If Facebook is going to really do this for me and it’s going to be free of charge, I’m going to spend a lot more time considering how I place things on Facebook,” she said.
Amy Ma, who handles publicity for Dominique Ansel Bakery, said Facebook contacted her last year, and the proposal reminded her of “Minority Report,” the Tom Cruise film in which retinal scanners identify people and bombard them with personalized advertisements. She agreed to install a single beacon after Facebook assured her that users can opt out of receiving the notifications. Ma said she expected someone from Facebook to drop the beacon off soon.