Recently Facebook has launched a Nearby Friends feature that allows real-time location sharing with friends. The latest Nearby Friends feature allows users to discover friends who are nearby or are on-the-go so that they can spend more time in the real world instead of online.


What makes Facebook Nearby Friends different than competitors and could give it an advantage is that it’s centered around broadcasting proximity, not location. We’re much more willing to share how close to someone we are than where we are on a map, and it’s basically just as functional. If someone’s close, you’ll know, and can ping them about their precise location and meeting up afterwards.


As for privacy, Nearby Friends is opt-in so you can ignore it and never have to use it if you don’t want to. It uses a reciprocal privacy model so you can only see your proximity to friends if you both have it turned on, and you can only see someone’s exact location if they purposefully share it with you. People should create a specific list or group of friends they’re comfortable sharing their proximity with and select that as the privacy setting.


The feature could spell trouble for other location sharing apps like Foursquare and Google Latitude that haven’t reached ubiquity, as Facebook has built it into its core iOS and Android apps that have enormous user bases. It could also challenge the friend-gathering features of Highlight, Banjo, Sonar, Connect, and more startups. Leaving Nearby Friends on will cause some battery drain, but not as bad as some other location apps, according to Facebook.

Facebook revealed that Nearby Friends will be available in the U.S. on Android and iPhone in the coming weeks. The new feature may be available to more customers in other geographic locations soon.