PALO ALTO: Facebook, the social network, has unveiled a new location-based service allowing members to keep track of the physical whereabouts of their friends via the mobile web.

The company, which has named its system Facebook Places, is seeking to tap in to a rapidly-growing category in the mobile sector.

"You can immediately tell people about that favorite spot with Facebook Places," said Michael Eyal Sharon, Places' product manager.

"You can share where you are and the friends you're with in real time from your mobile device."

As part of this process, users will also be encouraged to "check-in" when visiting specific places, such as restaurants, in the manner of other location-based networks such as Gowalla and Foursquare.

Further tools include "tagging" other individuals accompanying them, either through a status update or a photo uploaded to Facebook.

A "People Here Now" feature also enables consumers to identify any of the social network's members currently in the same place, privacy settings provided, to "meet … people who might share your interests."

Initially, this software is available on the wireless internet and by downloading an iPhone app, although the primary features are limited to the US at present.

"If you are not in the US you can still see if friends are using it here but you will not be able to check-in," Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's ceo, said.

But it is hoped Facebook Places should ultimately be rolled out to the portal's entire audience of 500m people across the globe.

While a method for monetising this "really fun and interesting product" has yet to be formalised, Zuckerberg argued such a strategy would be decided on at a later date.

"The main thing we are doing is allowing our users to share where they are in a really nice and social way," he said.

"You can see who is around you and connect in the real world ... We think this is a really good starting point. You can imagine a whole world of things that can be built."

Gowalla and Foursquare have already worked with firms like Starbucks and Pepsi to reward shoppers "checking-in" to pre-identified venues, alongside optionally updating Facebook profiles.

"This validates that we are onto something," said Holger Luedorf, vice president of partnerships at Foursquare. "We definitely want to help people connect their online and offline worlds."

Yelp, the user-generated review site, is already constructing an app for Facebook Places, which will empower netizens to supplement comments with video.

Sharon added consumers may derive benefits from opting-in to a platform that passes on certain information to third-party application developers that "build interesting experiences around location, such as travel planning".

Data sourced from Associated Press; additional content by Warc staff