Facebook tries to put Nearby Friends location-sharing feature back on the map

Facebook’s little-used location sharing tool may be getting a refresh. Facebook recently confirmed a test of a revamped Nearby Friends that uses a new map view for the tool. The opt-in tool places friends on a map to see who’s nearby without showing precise locations.

Facebook Nearby Friends launched in 2014, though a similar feature was tested as early as 2012. The tool has undergone several different looks but is currently offered in the form of a list that just shows the town and how far away friends are. The test instead defaults to a map view showing groups of friends located within cities on the map. Like the list view, the map view doesn’t pinpoint specific locations, but shows the general location.

The tool is designed to help friends connect offline using the online tool, but it isn’t one of Facebook’s most popular tools. Users have to opt in and enable location sharing permissions in order to use Nearby Friends. Privacy concerns likely keep many users from using the feature, and its less prominent spot in the app’s menu likely doesn’t help either.

While the tool currently looks like a list of nearby friends, the tool originally launched with a map view using Google Maps. The feature also allowed users to choose to send the exact location to other nearby friends, along with a time and a suggestion to meet up. Nearby Friends also delivers notifications when new friends are nearby.

The screenshots of the test show an updated map (without the Google Maps label) with circles and profile pictures showing all the friends that are in or near a particular city. Fans of the current format can tap on a “view list” icon to switch to the what users that aren’t part of the test already see. The test is an interesting change that moves back toward the map style view that the tool first launched with, while still trying to maintain some semblance of privacy by showing the city and not the exact building.

While Nearby Friends has been around for several years, the tool now has more competition with options like Snap Map. Snapchat’s version, along with indicating where friends are, will also display friends’ Stories and public Stories on the map, allowing users to get a visual of what’s going on in the area.

While Facebook has confirmed the test, there’s no indication yet of whether the map will see a wider roll out.

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