[Techtaffy Newsdesk]

Roughly a year after its Gowalla acquisition, Facebook is stepping up on its geolocation offerings with a new updated Nearby functionality.

Nearby now lets you explore places by category (say, restaurants or hotels); connect to businesses directly from your phone (by liking, checking in, calling, or getting directions), rate the places you visit via a five-star system, and share your recommendations with friends.

You also get suggestions based on how you are using Nearby, which become more and more personalized as you and your friends rate, recommend, and check into places. All the better to take on Yelp or Foursquare!

Then there is Facebook Wi-Fi, which lets you check into participating locations for free Wi-Fi. Some stores may also offer deals or specials when you check in. When you check into a place with Facebook Wi-Fi, you can choose an option that lets you automatically check in and access Wi-Fi each time you return.

From the app menu, open the tab to find local spots your friends have recommended, checked into, or liked. If you’re looking for a place to eat, choose a category like Restaurants to see what’s nearby. When you find a place that looks interesting, tap to see info like friends who’ve been there and business hours.

Josh Williams (Product Manager, Location & Events, Facebook): This is an early release and there’s lots more to do. Results will get better the more people use Nearby, and we’ll continue to improve it based on feedback. We also plan to add places info from third party services in the near future.

You can download the Facebook app for iPhone or Android for the updated versions.

[Upload: 12-21-12]