Some of Facebook’s recent changes have been friendlier to advertisers than to its user base. But there’s one new feature rolling out in very select locations that’s probably one of the more user-friendly things the company has done: Free Wi-Fi for users who agree to check-in at certain businesses.
Roving freelancers of the world, rejoice! (And other people should be pretty happy, too.)
This project started at a Facebook hackathon that occurred just before its IPO last year, developed by Seattle-based Facebook engineers named Mohit Talwar and Adrian Potra. Talwar and Potra’s initial presentation was met with enthusiasm, and soon Facebook started rolling out an experimental version of the free Wi-Fi program at a few shops around Menlo Park. But the experiment soon spread further; Twitter users said they could access the Facebook Wi-Fi from a chain of coffee shops in San Francisco.
And now this is a full-fledged emerging feature, since Facebook paired with Cisco Meraki Wi-Fi to expand the locations that it offers this free service. Cisco employee Emily Sporl wrote about the partnership in a blog post, outlining the benefits for businesses who agree to allow the free Wi-Fi. “With this integration you will have access to Facebook Page insights, which includes aggregate demographic information of the customers checking in (furthering your understanding of who your target customers or visitors are). You’ll also get increased exposure on Facebook with each new check-in. When guests check-in they will land on your Facebook Page, where they can like your Page, and interact with your business. With these new connections you will be able share announcements, content and offers with customers who like your Page.”
Now, you might be annoyed at having to check-in somewhere in order to use the Internet for free, but you can set your privacy so no one else sees the check-in. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that these businesses will have an opportunity to put targeted ads in front of you, but honestly, unless you’re all set up on Tor and you’re super-vigilant, you’re going to get targeted ads thrown your way anyway, so why not make them from the cafe that’s now letting your browse for free?
And Wired reports that Facebook mobile product manager Erick Tseng says they’re in talks with other providers to get an even wider adoption scheme up and running. So this could expand quickly. Some of my favorite coffee shops don’t have Wi-Fi up yet, so this could be a really cool feature that will encourage more places to get free Wi-Fi. Then again, places that already offer free Wi-Fi could start using this, which would be really annoying because you don’t have to agree to check in anywhere with regular free Wi-Fi.
Hopefully the roll out continues because some of us (most of us) are sick of paying $14 for a few hours of waiting-for-the-plane Internet access (looking at you, Boingo).