Opinion Foursquare

Published on December 2nd, 2010 | by charliesaidthat


Why Foursquare is Broken

Geo just isn’t social… yet


I believe the main reason why location based services such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places have yet to make a large impression on the mass market is because it just isn’t social.

Sure you share where you are to Facebook or Twitter. You can even see where friends from your other social networks are hanging out. But what about people who just like to go to the same places as you? Facebook is for friends you know in real life. Twitter for meeting people with shared interests. Surely then, Foursquare should really be for connecting users that visit similar locations?

Foursquare should really connect users that frequent the same places and facilitate communication between them. Leaving tips and posting your messages to other social networks just doesn’t cut it.

The real value would be in recommending new places that users could like based on the places they already go to and actually being able to talk to the people that are in those same venues. I think this is especially important when it comes to arriving in a new city or part of town.

Social Etiquette Rules, OK?

We’ve established there’s not a satisfactory communication channel for users within Foursquare. Sharing notifications to other networks is disruptive and annoying to most people.

If this was the only anti-social issue with the services then it may be surmountable with enough users actively getting involved.

However, consider how antisocial checking-in is,

“a mobile location-based app like Foursquare [is] not only anti-social, but also distracts us from enjoying our surroundings because we’re so intent on documenting where we are.” ReadWriteWeb on ShinyShinyTV

I find myself checking in when I am on my own, bored at train stations, rather than when I am out with friends.

It seems there is a time and place  for the “social” web and mobile apps.

I see the solution being that checking in should be made quicker and easier. If you were able to scan in at the entrances to shops on your phone like an oyster card or scan a QR code as you walk in, it’d give you the freedom to check in where you wanted, something auto check-ins can’t allow.

The Public: Barriers to Adoption

Besides the social factors discussed above there are other issues that are preventing Foursquare and other services from being adopted by the mass market. Problems with privacy and safety at home, cheating and stalking have been covered to death, although they aren’t entirely Foursquare’s problem.

There are far too many services currently available on the market, probably more than the handful you might have heard of (have a look at this list!), causing confusion as well as “check in fatigue” across several platforms.

I noticed today that Gowalla has taken a step to prevent “check in fatigue” by integrating with Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

Foursquare badges

Marketers: Barriers to Adoption

This article highlights some of the more pertinent points that I’m concerned with, such as the threat from the userbase of Facebook Places and that location gaming is just not “sticky” enough.

The threat that Facebook Places poses to Foursquare is mainly that it has a huge amount of:

a) users,
b) data about those users.

To compete with Facebook, Foursquare would have to partner with other semantic check-in apps such as Miso or GetGlue to give marketers the same depth of user information about their targeted consumer’s behaviour.

There are opportunities for brands to utilise the hyperlocal geo-games, although I don’t believe that ‘gaming’ is the way forward. I think that a successful location based platform must offer the combination of social, sociable and serious functional use for users to keep coming back.

Have a Coffee on the house…

Rewarding your most loyal customers with freebies seems to miss the point of increasing the loyalty of your customer base and attracting new customers. It also increases the likelihood of cheating the game.

Hyperlocal information when used correctly is probably most useful to small local companies (who are usually less tech savvy), whilst larger companies may not need the local CRM as they already have loyalty cards.

I love coffee

What does the future hold?

But I think it is critical that developers of these applications realise that they need to tap into public behaviour and solve real life problems.

This is a bunch of stuff I’d love to see:

  • A communication channel, so users can interact within the platform.
  • Swipe in check-ins (or other method) to speed up the check-in process and make it less anti-social.
  • Beat the queues by pre-ordering your drinks and meals at coffee shops/restaurants by swiping in with a message whilst on your way in, saving waiting time later.
  • Recommending new places, especially in new cities, based on where you have already been.
  • Services from different industries partnering together so places could be recommended based on people with similar music tastes, choice of TV and movies or products bought.
  • Data visualisation of places like http://chromaroma.com/
  • Further integration of foursquare into loyalty schemes and moving away from *only* rewarding ‘mayors’ like Pepsi & Safeway.
  • Connecting with point of sale so stores know:
    • How much you spent
    • Who you go there with
    • When you were last there
    • Where you go before / after.
  • Stores able to offer deals to anyone nearby – not just mayors.

Have I got this right? What would you like to see from location based services in the future?

Let me know what you think below.

Image Credits:
Fake Badge | Nan Palmero | Coffee

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About the Author

Hi I’m Charlie, a digital strategist, I have an interest in social media, SEO, lead acquisition and understanding consumer behaviour to make a definitive difference to the businesses I work with. Find me on: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Linkedin | or just Email Me  

  • http://www.acuras.co.uk/ acuras

    Fair comments..

    • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital Charliesaidthat

      Thanks Jon, Do you use Foursquare or Gowalla?

  • Anonymous

    Completely agree with this article (something you may not expect). I think geo is definitely stagnating. The whole idea was exciting & innovative at first, but now it has become habitual. I like to check-in to follow my journey, be nosey (where is my Twitter network checking-in) and for the occasional events or special offers. I think social elements like commenting (which Gowalla has but no one uses) and guided interaction (suggestions based on semantic factors) would definitely heighten the experience. Completely agree about people posting EVERYWHERE they check-in. The only time I actually do that is when I participate in something that may be of interest to people such as a meet-up. Good post overall.

    • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital Charliesaidthat

      Thanks Rebecca!! Got to admit didn’t realise Gowalla had commenting? (where is that then?)

      I find I check in when I am bored instead of when I am with friends (unless there are also into social media) just because it is kinda rude. I also don’t really spend much time (at all?!) looking at where my network are hanging out.

      Maybe I am still in the “its cool” camp rather than the “finding it useful” camp. Time will tell though – I think there is a long way to go and a lot of potential here.

  • http://twitter.com/Brandtobits Brendan Borg

    Great Article, Some very valid points. Don’t think the title sells it though!

    • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital Charliesaidthat

      Thanks Brendan, I think I went for what I considered to be a clickable title rather than one which really sells it.

      Point taken though, I do need to work on better titles for my posts. Thanks for dropping by and having a read.

  • http://twitter.com/amoyal Arié Moyal

    Whilst i agree that geosocial could be a lot more conversational, which is a big part of “social” as we expect it, and that I’m often frustrated at not being able to respond to check-ins or shouts, I think there is still a lot that is social about geosocial.
    It just happens more OFFLINE than ON.

    Firstly, let’s look at the app itself: You can see who the mayor is and who else is there. I’ve used these features to connect with people at conferences quite often.

    As far as annoying check-ins go, like with most things, I think it’s all in HOW you use it. The annoying bit is the lack of context I think. But if you annotate your check-in with some sort of comment, it can easily be appreciated. Something auto-checkins will not necessarily be inclusive of.

    I share my location on twitter for the following reasons: To invite people to come meet up if they’re nearby, to confirm I’ve arrived at an event (in which case I usually add the hashtag or name of the event) and/or to share a cool new place or favourite old place with my friends.
    I very rarely share it on facebook though as I don’t feel it is the right context.

    If you’re looking for recommendations on new places I’d suggest trying hunch.com They’re great for that sort of thing and their iPhone app (hunch local)
    actually pulls in foursquare and yelp to fill out the experience

    As for “being so intent on documenting our location”, it takes less than a minute to check-in so I really don’t see this as a valid argument.

    Personally, I think Yelp is a bigger threat to foursquare than facebook is as it is a community built on reviews and also allows check-ins and check-in specials.

    As for new customer acquisition, I think that for foursquare users, the “special nearby” feature can help get new customers, if the special is enticing enough and that loyalty reward have better ROI than new customer acquisition. I also believe new customer acquisition can happen via referral, be it through positive reviews on sites like Yelp or by plain ol’ word of mouth.

    I really believe that hyperlocal is the way forward as far as society is concerned. Geosocial is a great tool for communities and small businesses. In fact I’ve blogged about it ;)

    If you’re looking for recommendations on new places and things to try I’d sugggest trying hunch.com They’re great for that sort of thing and their iPhone app (hunch local) actually pulls in foursquare and yelp to fill out the experience.

    Great post Charlie!

    • Anonymous

      I knew you couldn’t resist Arie!

      Some good tips there, especially yegarding Yelp which relies much more on the building of a community rather than one-off check-ins.

      What i thought was interesting from #msm10 was hearing how the USA were ‘a couple of years ahead’ regarding geolocation social media usage. There were some good case samples of success put forward by @mschmulen and i think it highlights how useful platforms such as Foursqaure CAN be…it’s just yet to reach those heights here in the UK.

      What is clear is that Foursquare quite simply needs more users – the more people who ‘buy in’ to the idea of Foursquare the more use it will become both socially and commerically.

      Good post Charlie and equally good retort Arie!

      P.S. Dont discount Gowalla…. http://bit.ly/e010uN

      • http://twitter.com/amoyal Arié Moyal

        Gowalla doesn’t need to be discounted – it’s already done that on its own :P

      • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital Charliesaidthat

        Yeah, I saw Gowalla have integrated with Foursquare as I was finishing up the edits on this post. I think it is quite possibly admitting defeat with a service which is so similar. That said, I personally prefer Gowalla.

        The US are certainly ahead, Mazher’s blog http://commsthoughts.blogspot.com/2010/11/places-to-be.html has a great example where GAP offered the first 10,000 customers who check in on Facebook with 3 of their friends free jeans, and 40% off for people who couldn’t make it in the first 10,000.

        That is a proper customer acquisition strategy to also sell some units.

        Thanks for commenting and recommending the article Chris!

        • http://twitter.com/amoyal Arié Moyal

          I don’t trust Facebook with anymore data than I have to. Not a fan of Places. That is a HIGH cost customer acquisition strategy and chances are a lot of the first 10k were loyal customers.

          • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital Charliesaidthat

            It’s true, however with a deal such as that there is high PR value in the stunt as with anything and as the deal rolled over to more than the first 10,000 will likely recoup on it as well. (I’d love to find out the exact stats)

            I agree not a fan of Facebook Places either. As for data, Facebook and Google both have so much of mine that I wonder if it is worth trying to hide it anymore…

    • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital Charliesaidthat

      I completely agree that at least part of the social element has to remain in the offline due to the nature of the service.

      Whilst you can make connections with the mayor at conferences (whilst they are there) I don’t think this appeals to the mass market.

      I still the check-in time is an issue if you are with friends who “don’t get it”, it seems incredibly rude. I think of the “documenting” much like a cameraman never really *experiences* the event they are capturing allbeit perhaps on a lesser scale.

      The specials nearby certainly does capture my attention briefly and I’d love to see what ROI on campaigns have been. I still feel *only* rewarding your most loyal customers misses the point as they are probably the ones that would happily spread the message regardless of any discount.

      Thanks for your really thoughtful comment Arie – I will check out hunch! (although I’m still not on an iPhone)

      • http://twitter.com/amoyal Arié Moyal

        Not just the mayors, anyone who checks-in at the same time as you.
        Your friends don’t ever check texts when you’re out together? Check-in as you walk up to the venue! Again it’s 30 seconds and then you’re free. Rummble sort of resolves this issue by letting you check-in via tweet. You can check-in to foursquare via text in the US.

        With regards to getting referrals from loyal customers, I suppose you want to give them an incentive to do so. But put yourself in their shoes (as I’m sure you are loyal to some shops), would you be more inclined to tell others about a place you love if they give you freebies?
        As for hunch, You can also check out http://hunch.com/local/ on your computer!

        • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital Charliesaidthat

          This is my main point though Arie, it just isn’t ingrained in social behaviour (yet) to check in etc. I think the service has to have better functionality (that sits in either current behaviour or conversations to make the service “sticky”)to make it worthwhile for a wider adoption.

          I agree that the freebies certainly loosen the tongue however my point is why only reward one or two super loyal fans and not widen that net a little?

          • http://twitter.com/amoyal Arié Moyal

            Not all check-in specials are mayor-only Obviously that’s up to the business but that’s partly and education issue

  • David Hood

    Great post Charlie. Would love to see some of your suggested improvements. Definitely need to increase sociality of location based applications and lower the barriers to adoption and use. So much opportunity to increase connections (enhanced serendipity) and possibly some very interesting and useful data.

    • http://charliesaidthat.com/ charliesaidthat

      Hi David, Thanks for commenting.

      There are so many insights to be taken from the services as they expand and improve. The data visualisation potential thereafter will be fantastic.
      I love the idea (and sound) of enhanced serendipity – I hadn’t heard of it before so I will have to read around this concept, thanks again. :)

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  • http://twitter.com/rheaj Rhea O’Connor

    What is so frustrating for me is that I see potential with social location. America has been all over it and there have been some exciting campaigns that I’ve been watching online.

    I was impressed to see the hype around Foursquare and Black Friday shopping in America http://adage.com/adagestat/post?article_id=147339

    I think if there were more brands who were on board then there would be bigger than it is over here. I don’t know if the UK is just more comfortable with traditional advertising and all this digital/social stuff is too new?

    When there are no rewards, cool badges or incentives to use Foursquare then it gets a bit boring. There have been a few campaigns over here, Domino’s and the Jimmy Choo Trainer hunt, but businesses haven’t adopted it yet. There are only a handful of restaurant/bars/cafe etc that offer a reward to Foursquare users.

    I am originally from the States, Minneapolis MN. I am chomping at the bit to really start using these kind of apps and social shopping apps, but I don’t know….maybe it’s a cultural thing where it’s not going to take off.

    What do other people think? You must see the success that’s happening across the pond. Charlie mentioned the Gap Facebook Places campaign, which I thought was pretty cool. Is this kind of thing going to work in the UK or is just not a British thing?

    Discuss :)

    • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital Charliesaidthat

      Should it really be the brands using it first and offering incentives? I think brands should adapt measures that engage audiences where they already are…

      In many ways, it seems strange that so many brands in the UK are dabbling with geo-services before people have chosen how THEY want to use it.

      • http://twitter.com/amoyal Arié Moyal

        I think people have decided how they’re going to use it – it’s gone past the early adopter stage and there’s nothing wrong making the most of what is available Getting in first makes you a leader and what brand doesn’t want that Same happened with twitter and Facebook That isn’t to say there’s no room for evolution but how many tips and badges and treasure hunt are you going to have before it reaches saturation?

        As for UK, there is good penetration on both sides of the equation with London having a very high number of Facebook, twitter and digg users per capita so it’s not that there’s an aversion to digital. The uptake is slower on the business end but there are a lot of brands doing social/digital so even then…

        Bottom line: Nothing wrong with foursquare. It’s just a matter of education and risk taking.

  • http://twitter.com/hjd1984 Hayley Davies

    Hey Charlie! Great post with some really interesting points. I’m sure we’re going to see some of these developments come out of the wood works over the next 12 months (especially what has surfaced from SxSW). There are a couple of apps that spring to mind that answer a couple of your points already. They’re not necessarily the holy grail; but they’re going in the right direction.

    Map.pr integrates Facebook Places and Four Square check-ins to provide a comprehensive map detailing popular places/venues/clubs in an area of desire. I’m not sure that it offers the ability to recommend to your network – but it certainly shows where the popular places are.

    Also check out http://www.weclic.net/ – currently in the beta stage it’s stated to be the place to “meet people in you city”; share interests, hobbies etc… I guess this is where meetup.com now looks out of date.

    In terms of pre-ordering food/drink etc, I recently read about Yorder: http://www.springwise.com/food_beverage/yorder/ This app allows you to order food/drink at an event – ready to collect when you’re ready… no more missing that vital goal!

    In terms of developments – I think I’d like to see a higher integration of traditional media forms with LBS – surely this would encourage visitors and more frequent check-ins/ loyalty?


    • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital Charliesaidthat

      Thanks for that Hayley.

      I’m going to have a look at all these services and then may end up having to write a follow up post. I still think that communication has to be made integral within the service otherwise it loses its appeal to me.

  • http://www.etcetconline.com/ Darren Leighfield

    I don’t get it, I don’t know why people use it and what the function / overall purpose of it is. I like the sound of some of your features Charlie, I think pitch them to 4 Square. I think I need to perform some due-diligence and see if it is something that will add value to my life, or just a gimmick – What do you think Charlie? :)

    • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital Charliesaidthat

      I think its an interesting point you make and would love to hear what you think after a week or two playing around with it. I still think Foursquare is very much in the “whats in it for me” arena. I don’t think there is much value in it currently asides the cursory deals you can swipe by being mayor or checking into places for the first time.

      However that said, on the flip side perhaps as a marketer (and if this platform is to survive) it needs us to set up small businesses on there to encourage more people to use it.

      Let me know how you get on Darren. :)

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