Posted June 25, 2012 7:53 am by with 0 comments

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Facebook is trying to break new ground in people discovery with its new ‘Find Friends Nearby’ feature but what they may have really done is break new ground in how you test a new feature.

The feature was created during a Facebook hackathon by developer Ryan Patterson and another FB engineer. It has enough traction with Facebook that it was being ‘used’ at the Angelhack event in Seattle. TechCrunch first reported the new app and its unofficial introduction to the world.

We first heard about the service from developer Roger Pincombe, who himself got the info from a Facebook developer at the Angelhack event going on this weekend: Facebook is a title sponsor, and at the San Francisco event (Angelhack’s taking place also in Seattle, Boston and NYC), and one of its engineers was on site showing off how the app worked with developers. The feature has not been officially launched, but it is live and visible for those seeking it out.

“He specifically said I should tell other people about it,” he told me in an email. “I (semi-jokingly) asked ‘even TechCrunch?’ and he said sure.” So here we are.

Patterson commented in the TechCrunch post (but didn’t use the other developer’s name which was a bit curious) and, in effect, outed himself as the guy responsible for this but how it was ‘released’ to the general tech public is a bit odd. Here are Patterson’s comments

I built Find Friends Nearby with another engineer for a hackathon project. While it was originally called ‘Friendshake’, we settled on ‘Find Friends Nearby’ for launch (the URL was a little bit of a homage to the previous iteration).

For me, the ideal use case for this product is the one where when you’re out with a group of people whom you’ve recently met and want to stay in contact with. Facebook search might be effective, or sharing your vanity addresses or business cards, but this tool provides a really easy way to exchange contact information with multiple people with minimal friction.

In case you are wondering about the actual feature you can visit Both parties have to be on the page for the discovery to occur so it is not a totally random discovery process which may appeal to some but not to others. It may be too early in the morning and the news cycle in my little corner of the world because when I tried it there were no results. Not that is matters but I was hoping to see it in action. Oh well.

VentureBeat describes the feature like this

Facebook has quietly added a new feature to its mobile and web applications called “Find Friends Nearby” that potentially lets you speed up the process of “friending” someone you’re already hanging out with.

Essentially, Find Friends Nearby takes you to a web page where you can see other people who are near your location and also looking at the FFN page. In an ideal situation, if you and a person that you just met want to be friends on Facebook, you could both could go to the FFN page rather than typing in each other’s names the old-fashioned way.

So this unoffical ‘announcement’ of this service seems a bit curious for sure. Would you suspect that Facebook is comfortable with its developers just going around and telling the likes of TechCrunch everything before the product is truly read for the market? Not likely but could they be testing the product to see if people are truly interested in this kind of feature before they give more time and resources to its refinement? Hey, in today’s world of throw it out there and we’ll fix it as we go this seems almost normal.

Of course, no new Facebook feature can be introduced without it being some kind of other product killer. In this case the first reaction is it being a Highlight killer. Highlight’s lead apologist, Robert Scoble, tries to debunk that theory in the TechCrunch comments with

Sigh. Not even close to Highlight.

1. It isn’t able to show you people very close to you right now.

2. It relies on global data. I am permanently listed as Half Moon Bay, even when I really am in London.

3. They could use Facebook checking but I rarely use those. Very few people do more than one checkin a day so people’s actual location isn’t accurate.

4. If Facebook tried to do Highlight it would freak everyone out.

OK, but my take is that Highlight hasn’t quite taken the world by storm anyway so can you kill what isn’t truly alive yet?

So what are your thoughts on a service like this? What about how it has been ‘introduced’? Is there a place in your social experience for this kind of discovery?