Quick Take on Foursquare

I’ve heard so much hype about Foursquare that I had to give it a try, so I downloaded the Blackberry App and have been playing it with for a few days.  Here are my quick initial impressions:

  • I give them an A+ for what I call “minimal implementation of core concept.”  Lots of startups have a core concept that needs rounding-out over time and they get confused about out how much core vs. how much rounding-out they should do in the first release.  I believe that for breakthrough products/services your first release should be all core, little round-out.  Foursquare implements this philosophy well:  this is about friends and their locations, period.  The app can’t even help you edit your profile picture (e.g., mine got all distorted), so I had to edit it myself on my PC and then re-upload it.  But that’s perfect.  Having a nice picture upload, crop, and edit function is precisely what you don’t want a location-based services startup focusing on.
  • I initially wondered why you’d need Foursquare.  After all, if I want to find my friends I can theoretically do that through Facebook status updates already. For I example, I can status “eating lunch at the Red Eye Grill” and my friends can notice that I’m there.  The problem is, of course, in an information-overloaded world of tweets, Facebook statuses, LinkedIn statuses, and other social network exhaust, these where-I-am status updates are easily lost amid the update flotsam.  What’s more, having the text “Red Eye Grill” and knowing that its a restaurant in Manhattan at 890 7th Ave which is at (40.76506, -73.98031) are two different things.  The former is pretty much useless without the additional of human context, the latter can be geo-searched, mapped, etc.
  • Because Foursquare knows where you are from your phone’s GPS and because you can check in to places you go, Foursquare can very easily determine who among your friends are at the same venue as you (think:  a big crowded nightclub) or simply who is nearby.  I can envision good uses for that.
  • Frankly, I don’t get the whole “mayor” thing — i.e., given users can become the mayor of a venue.  For example, Jason M is the mayor of local pub Pudley’s as well as 12 other venues.  Mark Logic engineer Pete A. has beaten me to becoming the mayor of Mark Logic and I don’t know how to unseat him.  Right now, I view this — like badges — as harmless fun and silliness.
  • I find the Blackberry application slow.
  • In the privacy department, this one creeps me out:  I think the Foursquare application on my phone might be periodically beaming my GPS coordinates to the Foursquare central without me knowing about it.  For the first few days, I assumed that Foursquare only knew where I was when I checked-in somewhere.  Now, when I go to my profile page, it seems to always know where I am.  I’ll watch this more closely and then give an update.  Note that one common criticism against location-based social networks is the PleaseRobMe problem, and I wonder if this is accompanied by a PleaseKillMyBattery problem.
  • I like the name Foursquare, though my kids had to tell me it was also the name of a playground game.

9 responses to “Quick Take on Foursquare

  1. You can oust Pete by checking in more times than he has. I tried on my last visit, but didn’t manage it. Pete and I have both expressed some curiosity about what we’ll find at #mluc10. If there are more than 50 users, we’ll get a flashmob badge.

    I think you’re exactly right about the mayorships and the badges: harmless fun.

    I’m hesitant to make my location completely public, and I am definitely not going to spam my twitter followers evertime I use the service, much as they might like me to, but I do like knowing where I am: http://norman.walsh.name/2010/03/06/where

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  5. I’m with you on the Mayorship thing. The gaming element did get them a whole load of media coverage early on. Seeing grown men fighting for mayor badges is funny. Boys and their status symbols.

    Funny the day you invited me, so did John Powell. I had about 50 requests to accept.

    So I wondered if it was tipping. They just passed 1m users. Seems low for all the chatter. Kudos to them.

    Per your comment on “core”, there are very low on content, but it does prove you can get traction with very little.

    I love the way they bypass the vendors in the whole hyper-local space. 1000’s of business owner are oblivious to what happening on 4SQ.

    It’s great that a location owner can see all their 4SQ users. It’s easy to see how they can monetize it and how locations run contests to drive activity. Much more fun than more traditional approaches that have tried to sell merchants to get an online presence eg Merchantcircle.

    http://techcrunch.com/2010/01/18/hyperlocal-business-directory-merchantcircle-signs-up-millionth-merchants/

    4SQ is already beating MerchantCircle on Alexa/Compete rankings.

    And meanwhile Google ads business listings to street maps.

    Hyperlocal is heating up.

    Not sure I’m going to mayor of too many places and time soon. I’ll keep watching for now.

    I’ve logged in, and accepted a bunch of friend requests, but not really got into the whole checking-in thing.

    Funny, but it’s quite big here in Kelowna BC in a city of 100k population.

    Hope all is well.

  6. Check-ins, mayorships, the leaderboard and badges are the four core game mechanics that have helped FourSquare gain traction and notoriety. They are minimalist. As you point out, each of them has the potential for extension and expansion. But FourSquare has been smart/disciplined enough to stick to basics.

    Each of the four basic “game mechanics” offers something of potential value to the FourSquare user and something to FourSquare’s growing list of local businesses. But perhaps the biggest point: the game mechanics help to make use of the service playful and fun – even before hoards of users have embraced the service and even before the merchants have delivered more than a smattering of offers. A few services hit the market ahead of FourSquare – Brightkite is perhaps the best example. They offered “check-in” driven location-based activities with at least as much functionality as FourSquare, but without those other, simple game mechanics, there wasn’t nearly as much excitement.

  7. I’m with you on the Mayorship thing. The gaming element did get them a whole load of media coverage early on. Seeing grown men fighting for mayor badges is funny. Boys and their status symbols.

    Funny the day you invited me, so did John Powell. I had about 50 requests to accept.

    So I wondered if it was tipping. They just passed 1m users. Seems low for all the chatter. Kudos to them.

    Per your comment on “core”, there are very low on content, but it does prove you can get traction with very little.

    I love the way they bypass the vendors in the whole hyper-local space. 1000’s of business owner are oblivious to what happening on 4SQ.

    It’s great that a location owner can see all their 4SQ users. It’s easy to see how they can monetize it and how locations run contests to drive activity. Much more fun than more traditional approaches that have tried to sell merchants to get an online presence eg Merchantcircle.

    http://techcrunch.com/2010/01/18/hyperlocal-business-directory-merchantcircle-signs-up-millionth-merchants/

    4SQ is already beating MerchantCircle on Alexa/Compete rankings.

    And meanwhile Google ads business listings to street maps.

    Hyperlocal is heating up.

    Not sure I’m going to mayor of too many places and time soon. I’ll keep watching for now.

    I’ve logged in, and accepted a bunch of friend requests, but not really got into the whole checking-in thing.

    Funny, but it’s quite big here in Kelowna BC in a city of 100k population.

    Hope all is well.

  8. Foursquare is fabulous! While some folks use it to play games, others use it for marketing purposes to actually increase the local tax base and make what Chambers of Commerce have been wanting for years – “shop local” – to become a reality. Just look at the number of businesses listed at http://www.foursquare.com/businesses. Look at the high-profile companies that are advertised at the bottom of the home page for Foursquare.com. Are they decieved, stupid or tech-savvy? I believe they are tech-savvy. If you want to market in a tech-savvy way, I encourage you to use Foursquare to help spread your business message.

    Lamar Morgan

  9. Pingback: Foursquare and Digital Signage - Rise Vision Blog

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