“Nearby Friends”. Facebook’s new attempt to bring people together.

A new feature called “Nearby Friends” was released today by Facebook. The feature allows your friends to see how far you are from them and also allows you to share your on-going location with your friends for a while, so you can spend more time with them in a real location instead of a virtual world. Though Facebook’s new tool could stir some privacy concerns, Nearby Friends is meant to draw people together, allowing you to see your friend’s location on a map, but of course, if you both agree to it. This could actually come in handy if you or one of your friends got lost, tracking would certainly be much easier.

Created by the Glancee location sharing app team, Nearby Friends is designed to add a list of nearby friend to Facebook’s iOS and Android apps, sending a notification if one of your friends is within a short distance from you. And if your friend shares his precise location with you, you’ll see it on a map. Andrea Vaccari, the leader on Glancee said “the idea is to make it really easy to discover when someone is around you, and meet up and spend time together.”

With all its new achievements, Facebook has been criticized and accused of isolating people from the real world, so Nearby Friends is an app that denies all criticism. Facebook’s mission was to connect people, and this new feature will do exactly what the company wanted to do from the very beginning. As for the privacy issues, Nearby Friends is opt-in, so you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to, it’s also available to people over 18 only. You can see your nearby friend if you both have it turned on, and you can only see someone’s exact location if it’s shared for you.

How it works? First of all, you must get the rollout of Nearby Friends, you’ll see it in their app list in the Facebook navigation menu under “More” on iOS or Android. From here on, it’s only up to you if you turn it on or ignore it. If you turn it on, you can select a friend or a group of friends you would like to know if they’re anywhere close to you. Of course, you’ll know that if they have their Nearby Friends on. You can also see the distance between you and your friend, or if you’re in a big city it will also show the neighborhood your friend is in. You can share your location if you tap the location icon, next to the friends’ names, and also choose for how long to share it. In order to do all this, Facebook will pull your GPS coordinates, but only when you are moving, when you stay still it will read your accelerometer and not pull location in order to minimize battery drain.

“Battery saving was one of the core principles as we were developing the product.” Andrea Vaccari said. Facebook may try to trick you into turning on Nearby Friends if you kept in turned off, by showing teaser News Feed stories that sometimes say “3 of your friends are nearby right now, turn on Nearby Friends to see who and how close they are”. Pretty clever, we might add. Keep in mind that leaving Nearby Friends on for a long time will cause serious battery drain, but not as much as other apps, Facebook added.

As cool as this new feature might sound, Nearby Friends’ already has competition. The other location sharing apps like Foursquare and Google Latitude have a lot to worry about, considering Facebook has built its app into its core iOS and Android apps that have enormous userbases. Even if Nearby Friends is still fresh, we expect it to surpass Foursquare and Google Latitude in terms of popularity and usage.