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Facebook will finally make itself heard in the rapidly developing world of location-based services, according to The New York Times. The company will unveil a location-based feature at its f8 conference in late April.

Nick Bilton reports:

The new location feature will have two aspects, according to the people familiar with Facebook’s plans. One will be a service offered directly by Facebook that will allow users to share their location information with friends.

The other will be a set of software tools, known as A.P.I.’s, that outside developers can use to offer their own location-based services to Facebook users.

We had been told of at least five geolocation projects being hacked on last month at Facebook, but it was unclear whether any of them would get the green light to go to market. (The company, which prides itself on hiring engineers that build and break projects quickly, always has several experiments in the works.)

The move doesn’t necessarily spell the end for the group of startups like Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt which have led the way in geolocation. Facebook thinks of itself as a platform for a whole host of location-based experiences and many of these apps, Foursquare included, can already publish location data to Facebook’s stream through Facebook Connect. As long as these smaller companies can offer something extra like great shopping deals or a gaming experience, they can co-exist with Facebook and even share their data with the company too.

Facebook has to walk a delicate line because it now caters to a mainstream audience, not a crowd of early adopters. So it has to design a product that doesn’t alarm people’s sensibilities around privacy while still offering cutting-edge features. Although Facebook’s engineers have been working on such a tool for close to a year, the company waited to see what kinds of experiences people preferred. Foursquare’s rapid growth beyond 500,00 users has made it clear that temporary check-ins have won out over persistent location-sharing at this time.

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