It seemed like only a matter of time until Facebook figured out how to kill Yelp and Foursquare. The company’s been experimenting around the edges for years: It’s offered food ordering within Facebook, a “Professional Services” portal for finding nail salons and plumbers on Facebook, even ways to pay for stuff on the social network. And Facebook always had one huge, seemingly unshakable advantage: Facebook is where people plan events.
Even as Facebook transitioned from a beautiful place to share baby pictures with friends into an oozing sludge of fake news, memes, and FOMO, leaving the service behind remained all but impossible—because if you leave, you’ll miss the invitations to everyone’s birthday bashes, getaway weekends, and Friendsgivings. There’s no “out of sight, out of mind” quite as real as disappearing from someone’s friend list. So while you might want to be done with Facebook, you can’t help but keep one eye on it.
That’s why Local, Facebook’s latest standalone app, feels so thrilling. The app is essentially a way to find out what’s happening soon and nearby. It combines the things Facebook’s always done well—information about places, recommendations from your friends, cool things happening in your town—and puts it in one place. Not a place buried in Facebook’s main app, behind two menus and the chaos of your News Feed. In a blissfully simple, clean space, with all of the info and none of the high school exes.
The Local app is divided into three sections. The home screen offers quick searches for restaurants or drinks, plus a running list of events happening nearby that you might be interested in. (Mine’s currently enticing me to head to an Elf On The Shelf Scavenger Hunt, a Holiday Bubbly Walk, and a tree lighting. Happy holidays, everybody!) You can also see which events your friends have expressed interest in, in case you want to tag along.
The second section is just a map and a search engine. You can search for “coffee” or “Thai food,” sort by “open now,” a lot like Yelp. At a quick glance, it’s not quite as complete a database as Yelp’s, nor does it have as many reviews or ratings, but it’s a pretty useful tool. Where Facebook starts to differentiate is by letting you search “comedy” and “literature,” and sort by “late night,” to find something to do after dinner. Places plus events makes perfect sense, and nobody has both as completely as Facebook. The third tab is just your calendar, initially populated by Facebook events you’ve responded to but also including whatever calendars you want to give it access to. It’s a shockingly nice calendar app, actually.
It’s hard to find fault with the theory behind Local, especially given Facebook’s new mission statement: “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” After seeing what happened when Facebook became the world for too many people, the company’s trying to find ways to get people back out in the actual world. And all these features will roll back into Facebook’s main app, too. But Facebook’s tried this before: It launched an Events app a year ago, to essentially zero success. (Local is actually just version 7.0 of that app.)
The difference this time is the sheer surface area of the app. Events was just a way to see what your Facebook friends are doing without you; Local is a complete guide to wherever you are. If the app succeeds, it’s easy to imagine lots of Facebook’s other local- and business-friendly features coming to Local as well. Maybe one day you’ll be able to order food on Local, or buy tickets to the event you’re excited about. You’ll surely be able to message with businesses, or at least the chatbots Facebook’s trying to set businesses up with. The app could convince people to put more energy into their Facebook pages, keep a better calendar of events, and use location sharing (and Stories) to help people find each other and see what’s going. Events was never a platform worthy of its own space, but Local could be.
Honestly, though, who even cares if it gets there. Local is worth a download for one simple reason: It peels the stickiest, hardest-to-leave part of Facebook away from all the stuff you’d rather not have. All the social, none of the social network.