Why Foursquare Might Matter

Foursquare keeps popping up. It is getting to a point that it might be popular. That’s not why it caught my interest. It has something that I find magical as a marketer.

People tell Foursquare where they are. Not latitude and longitude but restaurants and stores. They give that info away for free. For a game that has no real reward (except badges and points that evaporate every week).

There’s no need to use GPS and a special coupon app. Foursquare will (if they get it) be able to deliver coupons and deals to you for something that you are interested in either while you are nearby or when it thinks you will be going there. Do you go out for sushi every Thursday for lunch? Foursquare should be able to suggest a new sushi bar (for a nominal fee to the sushi bar). You want to talk about local search and local advertising?

There are also some serious weaknesses to Foursquare that may stop its success, not least of which is that local has been the brass ring since the late 1990’s. As early as 1999 GoTo.com had a Director of Local.

For now, it’s a fun game. The data needs more depth, not just in the number of places but the data that users provide. Yelp could launch a mobile app that would crush this. Twitter could easily add this. Facebook just might. Google has the basics of it already in place with GPS (and the traffic reporting on Google Maps is amazing). Zagat and Lastminute teamed up for NRU (NearYou) which is way cool but not all that useful.

It’s an interesting space with a lot of promise if people are willing to give away this data. It’s worth keeping an eye on it. Expect to see Foursquare and its competitors gobbled up in 2010.

What follows is the silly part. If you don’t like it, stop reading and have a serious discussion below about whether Foursquare has a chance of survival or if it is going to be gobbled up by a bigger player.

Tell me how did I get here

Foursquare had an iPhone app but no Android app. So it was just one of those things I saw my iPhone friends playing with.

Then there was this really lame tweet I kept seeing (yes, I’m 1,000+ tweets in but still relatively new to Twitter). I kept seeing people tweeting I am at Mahalo followed by the address. Odd. Why would they do that and why should I care?

Foursquare launches an Android app

It turns out they had the auto-tweet function turned on for their Foursquare app. OK, I’ve been tucked away in my own happy place for the last year or so but I’m ready to come out and play.

I downloaded the Foursquare Android app and started checking in. What was cool was that I did it on a weekend.

Here’s how it works. When you go to a place (usually a restaurant or store but you can put anything you want), you check in. Then you get points for it. You get more points if you check in to more than one place a day. You get +5 bonus points when you check in somewhere the first time and you get an additional +5 bonus points if you add a new place that Foursquare doesn’t already have in its database.

But your points only count until Sunday at midnight and then the slate is wiped clean and you start over. It has to be that way or someone who joined early would always be the point leader.

For some reason, Foursquare won’t give points between 8am and 4pm on weekdays. #lame

Then there are badges, the real reward of many social data sites. I have 5 badges so far. Some are revealed in the FAQ while others you must earn or search Twitter to find out about.

What is it then?

Foursquare is Yelp without the depth.

Foursquare is Twitter without the feed.

Foursquare is a game that allows cheating.

Elect me!

Foursquare appoints the person who has been to a place the most as Mayor. To unseat someone, you have to have been there more times than that person and at least twice on two days. Mark Jeffrey (no, not the English Convict, the one who wrote the Max Quick series and is CTO of Mahalo) was the Mayor of Mahalo and one of the people tweeting he was there. I decided that I wanted to be Mayor of Mahalo. The only problem was that I’ve never been there.

GPS is standard, right?

Just about everyone playing Foursquare has a smartphone with GPS. So you’d assume that Foursquare can verify if I really was where I said I was. Nope. That means you can “cheat” which seems appropriate for becoming mayor.

Will I keep using it?

No, I don’t think that I will. I found it fun for a week. I don’t know enough people on it and don’t go to bars so I don’t see the use of it now. The data isn’t as rich as Yelp and without a group of friends and a feed like Twitter you can’t follow (stalk?) your friends. No real fun in that.

Do I think it has value?

Hell yes! The data that Foursquare is gathering, that it is being given as a gift by its users is amazing. Foursquare knows where I eat and shop. It knows how often. It knows what part of town. Imagine the possibilities for marketing!

About David Lewis

David Lewis is CEO and Co-founder of Prycing. He’s been around affiliate marketing for a long time.

Twitter: thedavidlewis

8 Responses to Why Foursquare Might Matter

  1. Pat Grady says:

    Very clever idea! Very good article! The points and Mayor / title thing have something deeply and innately attractive to many (if not most) personality types. Thanks for explaining it – I can see the back end mining and spin off leverage ideas it will surely spawn. I vote for gobbled up, and very soon.

    They need to give the stores / restaurants a web page they can display. People sitting there waiting for their order… playing with their phone… seeing their name and points along with a welcome (welcome back) from the store… and seeing the announcement when the Mayor walks in…

  2. David Lewis says:

    Pat, that’s a great way to put it. I hope that Foursquare is listening and planning some of this. It would be a shame to see it wasted.

    Hmmm, I look forward to the ceremonial announcement of my entrance to Mahalo.

    @markjeffrey shed some light on Foursquare’s (and its competitors’) place in time:

    I agree with @thedavidlewis in this way: @foursquare means something important. But it is the Neanderthal, the Friendster, b4 Something Big

  3. That would be cool Pat, if they could create some hardware that interacted with the app, something that could say welcome when they came in and popped up any specials, coupons, etc when they walked in, that might be worth giving up such information. Can you imagine walking into walmart and getting an update on your phone with that stores specials and how far a walk it was to find it? Or walking into a bar that would let you know it was 2 for 1 draft night, the band is playing at 10, etc.

  4. David Lewis says:

    Jimmy, that is exactly where this should be going. My Android phone can tell where I am within 3 – 6 feet. It showed me being 3 rows from where I was at Dodger Stadium. That is both exciting as a marketer and terrifying as a citizen.

  5. Hi David,
    It’s a really wonderful idea. It looks new, fresh & growing thought.

  6. […] his post about Foursquare last October, David Lewis said Foursquare had “some serious weaknesses,” but he admitted, […]

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