Foursquare – Teetering On the Edge of YASN

I read with interest this article that was brought to my attention by @gis_Todd on Twitter. I have been playing with Foursquare for a few weeks now and I think this article is in sync with some observations I have had about it but also misses the mark on one key point.

I am one of the older, non-urban users mentioned in the article and I have found Foursquare extremely cumbersome to use. That is compounded by the fact that it does not have a BlackBerry app so I am confined to using the mobile web page. Given that very few places I visit are already listed in Foursquare, I find that I need to “add a venue” a lot. In the mobile web page, this process is cumbersome to the point of being a deterrent. So my GPS-enabled phone is of no use in this case.

I have had good experiences with applications like TripIt in terms of alerting networks of friends/colleagues to my travel plans. In the case of TripIt, each time I have updated it via LinkedIn, it has led to a good business meeting while I was on travel. As a result, I see the value in broadcasting location. I am less interested in being “mayor” of someplace or earning badges and the like but, if that sort of thing works for someone, so be it.

It is here that I find a major shortcoming of Foursquare. Despite the fact that I have built networks in LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, Foursquare seems to want me to build another one and doesn’t seem to have any obvious way to link into networks that already exist. This is where Foursquare borders on YASN.

Quite frankly, TripIt has already demonstrated far more of a value proposition for me than Foursquare. Why? Because it plugs directly into LinkedIn and notifies my LinkedIn connections when I am about to be in their vicinity and/or when I am currently in their vicinity. Of course, you may define value differently than me but I see that as more powerful than knowing that my friend is currently at a Thai restaurant across town. For one thing, “across town” in the DC area can be 75 miles and, for another, I’m not going to drop whatever I’m doing to go meet them there.

So, as it stands right now, Foursquare rings rather hollow to me. It comes across as a one-trick pony that could easily be made obsolete by one good update to Facebook. Either that, or it is bait for an acquisition. In case you’re wondering, I have the same opinion of BrightKite.

I stated earlier that the article misses the mark in one key area and it is with this statement: “However, the biggest barrier to Foursquare’s omnipotence in the location-based app world is not its reliance on gaming mechanics, but its lack of a revenue stream.” This statement is followed later by this one: “Maybe there is still a way to monetize that small sector of young, urban, male Foursquare obsessives, even if it doesn’t mean complete location-based dominance.”

This is primarily where, as Andrew Turner put it, the article is shortsighted. While it may be true that Foursquare doesn’t have a revenue stream yet, that doesn’t mean it lacks value. Foursquare leverages crowd-sourcing to build a constantly updated database of businesses and/or points of interest. I will, inevitably, add the new Chinese restaurant that is opening near my house and Foursquare will probably end up with that record before many of the standard business demographics providers. As we know, being first counts. Combine the venue information with the demographic information about who is checking in and you have a dataset of potentially great interest to marketers, advertisers and others. Of course, this value will only increase if the Foursquare application can broaden its appeal to begin generating meaningful demographic cross-sections.

When viewed from this standpoint, it makes sense that we can play Foursquare for free. We are, after all, providing the data that is its ultimate value.

So, yes, Foursquare needs to become valuable to rural and suburban residents. It needs to become relevant to older users and it needs to become easier to use for people who don’t have an iPhone or an Android phone. If Foursquare can expand its end-user relevance (why do I want to use it in the first place), then it may survive long enough to flex its muscles and show its true value. Otherwise, it’s yet another social network.

  • Just minutes before I read your post I was discussing Foursquare with my coworker, both of us befuddled by its power to attract visitors and keep them coming back. What is the value proposition, indeed? Seek not the answer in the realm of the rational, for sure. Yet Foursquare’s success can’t be denied. The moral of this story, for me? You can’t explain or predict human behavior from a rational perspective.

  • I have played with Foresquare and like you live outside a well defined Foursquare City (actually 2 Philly and NYC). So I am accustomed to adding new venues very often, although luckily I am able to use the Android mobile client which makes things a little easier. On a recent day trip to NYC I figured I would check-in at our different stops. This is where I saw the real potential ans possible revenue source for Foursquare and similar services. Upon checking in at Ellens’ Stardust Diner (I have a 7 yo daughter) Foursquare informed my of a local bar that offered a Mayor free beer to anyone who became Mayor. I think businesses will embrace this method of focused advertising as a way to stretch their advertising budgets. Now on the down side I don’t really see this working in my hometown as there isn’t a large enough user base. But next time I am in a bigger city I will probably be a little more likely to make an effort to use Foursquare to see what I can find. I bet we can find some other fun things to do with Foursquare this February in DC during the ESRI FedUC.

    • Those types of things are completely unavailable to me (I think) via the mobile page.

      Regardless, I think Foursquare gets the temporal thing wrong. Where I will be is much more compelling than where I am, IMO.

      • I guess the fact that as father’s of younger children we are dare I say it outside of the main demographic of Foursquare. That said I could see it being useful for tracking where the crowd is at a conference. Or better yet for a local establishment to advertise to everyone checking in on Foursquare at a conference. Given that potential I fail to see the logic in not having a BlackBerry app as they are such a large user base.

        • Outside the demographic? By that you mean we are too young, I’m sure!

          • Speaking of demographic, I neglected to mention that the aforementioned coworker is a 21-year-old female college student, very intelligent, and an active user of technology and social networks like Facebook. Neither she nor any of her friends in the same demo have any use for Foursquare.

  • Bill, I’m in a similar situation; being just far enough away from a major metro area that most of the places I regularly frequent are not already in Foursquare (with a few exceptions). I’ve certainly added my share of POIs, but it too has become a cumbersome process that adds no apparent value to my established social networks.

    The attraction of the gaming aspect is clear to me, but it holds no value when you’re the only apparent Foursquare user in your town. Being one of two active Brightkite users here, I would agree with your opinion of it and have recently been asking myself how much value it really holds for me.

    A critical mass of users is essential to social LBS apps holding value. When I’ve used Brightkite in downtown Chicago, the notifications from users in the immediate area flew fast and furiously with a high enough signal-to-noise ratio to make it worthwhile. Foursquare probably works well in large urban areas because of a critical mass of users that is practically built-in, but its value is clearly more in doubt for those of us in the boondocks.

    In the end, I’m starting to think that I’d rather that the amount of already scarce time I have to put toward crowdsourced mapping go to projects like OpenStreetMap. There’s clear potential benefit and value in projects like OSM that I have a hard time seeing in social LBS as they stand right now for someone living on the fringe of a major metro area.

  • Hilary

    I don’t see Foursquare as being the same kind of tool as Tripit. Foursquare is a fun diversion that occasionally tunes me in to a venue that I hadn’t tried – and it’s fun to be the “mayor” of some place. (I’ll have you know I’m still the Mayor of the Albert Heights Serviced Apartments in Melbourne, Australia – so there.) I do agree with your thought on being put into a social network with a bunch of folks you don’t necessarily know. It’s odd, but it doesn’t raise any red flags for me.

    Also, local establishments are starting to have deals available for those who check in at their place. I haven’t scored one of those yet, but I’m hoping I will soon. I also like the recommendations that some people associate with their Foursquare checkins.

    I can totally see the value of Tripit if you were a frequent business traveler. But I no longer travel as much (yippee!) and it’s just not worth my time to enter the few trips I have per year. I also feel like I already know most of the folks I’d care to meet with in most areas. For me, LinkedIn alone provides the level of business contacts I need.

    FWIW, I stopped using Brightkite when it continually tried to locate me in East St. Louis, IL. My office building is probably within 100 yards of the Mississippi River, which divides MO & IL – but I’m on the MO side & it’s annoying to be put in the wrong place. I know the technology behind why it does it, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. I sent an email to the Brighkite folks about it, but got no response.

  • @Hilary,

    I recognize that TripIt serves a different purpose. I guess my point is that the value of TripIt is much clearer to me than that of Foursquare, especially for the effort it takes to use Foursquare.

    I am not concerned with networking with people I don’t know well. I am just starting to wonder how many times I need to build my network.

    BTW, I am mayor of Zekiah Technologies. I will stick with Foursquare a while longer but I think they should offer up something for the 50 million or so BlackBerry devices out there.

    • Hilary

      I should have said something about your ease of use point. I use an iPhone, it’s an app they have – if I had to log my places on their online mobile site, there’s no way I’d do it.

      I’m sure they’re rushing a Blackberry app out Real Soon Now. Bit oversight to have not launched without one.

  • Dear Bill,

    I have installed ArcSDE for PostgreSQL. I want to use PostGIS geometry. Ihave installed PostGIS too, According to your post, Ihave created postgres schema too. I have stored the data in to the database using shp2pgsql But when I registered the layer with sdelayer -o register, i get layer created successfully message but I odnt see the layer in ArcCatalog. It just disappears. before registering i oculd see table in ArcCatalog but after registering, it just disappears. What will be the problem?

    Looing for your help.

    Santosh