Facebook is taking another big reach toward location sharing with its latest update to its Places API. When the platform launched in August, we wrote that it was "read only for now." Now all developers can, with users' permission, share their locations on Facebook. And, perhaps more exciting, Facebook has opened up its venue database to help out.
Several of Facebook's launch partners in August, such as Foursquare and Gowalla, had early access to the write API that launches today. Just as other applications can already set Facebook status, for example, now they can create a "check in," sharing with friends where you are.
An application usually gets a user's location by requesting the latitude and longitude from the user's machine. Typically this means GPS in a mobile phone, but it can also come from other sources, such as cell tower and WiFi. The coordinates aren't as useful to humans as a place, which is why Facebook is also sharing its venue database, the list of places it provides to its users. Developers can now search the venue database with a user's location.
Based on the screen capture above from ReadWriteWeb's liveblog of the announcement, it appears that Facebook does not provide a search by venue name. This is similar to the Google Places API, which appears to be built explicitly for the "check-in" use case.
Along with lacking the ability to search by place name, developers also cannot create venues using Facebook's new API. This feature has helped Foursquare create its rich venue database. Facebook appears concerned with keeping its database clean, with only real venues included. Nevertheless, things move quickly and Facebook can't be everywhere without giving its users (and the users of its developers' apps) the opportunity to expand the database.