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.