Years ago I used Zagat for restaurant reviews. They offered a simple comprehensible review of every restaurant that I could think of. The concept of Zagat evolved with the introduction of Yelp. Yelp was a fun place to read reviews from other users. It became a great way to find trendy places and connect with the community that they had. Recently I have been using FourSquare and I do not think that I will ever go back.
My check-in is bigger than yours
Of course that is a mighty bold statement, who knows what other new thing will come along and divert my attention. But for now, I am in love with FourSquare and I think that 2011 will be huge for the relatively young company. For those who are unfamiliar, Foursquare adds a game mechanic to every day life. It makes something as mundane as grocery shopping suddenly exciting as you watch yourself climb the leaderboards to become the ever-elusive mayor. It also becomes a great conversation starter which ultimately is what leads to its success. Head out to a local bar and you notice that the mayor has also checked in.
“Who here is the mayor?!” you bellow.
“I am.” A voice smugly answers
“Well the next time you come back here you better bow down because you won’t have that for long!”
I’m the mayor of Falafel Hut!!! (almost…)
As far as I have noticed these exchanges are in good fun and are an excellent way to meet people that you otherwise would not have. Similarly your friends will find themselves in a heated competition to be the mayor of whatever dive bar you frequent. They also have fun badges that you can obtain through completing specific tasks. If this sounds unappealing, please keep in mind the millions of video gamers who will go through extreme lengths to unlock badges in whatever game they are obsessing over. Like in Foursquare, these badges mean nothing other than to add something else to strive for other than points alone.
So I’m the Mayor. Now what?
It is worth noting that Foursquare is nothing new at this point. It always fascinates me to see how fast something becomes the norm. Can you even remember life before Facebook or Twitter? Similarly, I feel that Foursquare has been a part of my life forever. So why write about it now? Because Foursquare has recently revamped its app with a nifty new button called Explore. Simply press the Explore button and Foursquare recommends businesses based on your check-in history or what your friends like. Co-founder Dennis Crowley said the idea is to find things near you, including the unexpected. This sort of customized search has the potential to be huge. Where you check-in gives an enormous amount of insight into who you are as a user and gives Foursquare the power to deliver personalized results that would make even Google jealous.
How Foursquare is edging out Yelp
While not a new feature, I feel that the tips will be the bread and butter for Foursquare in the years to come. This will be especially true as more people adopt the app. No matter how much you like getting points and badges, eventually this will get old. Similarly, not enough businesses (currently) connect with Foursquare to make it your go-to app for coupons and deals. So why check in? Because you want read the tips people have left about the business before you make your own selections. This is where Foursquare really starts edging into Yelps territory.
Recently I went to a restaurant and had no idea what to order. Instead of checking Yelp I turned to Foursquare and got what the tip recommended. This was easy because I already had Foursquare open from when I checked in. That is the real value in using Foursquare. I already have the app open to connect with friends and vie for points, but now I also can get tips for each location. Why would I use anything else for reviews?
Though its never a perfect world is it?
Foursquare does face an inherent problem with its review design. For example, when you check into restaurant you really are not in a position to leave a review since you haven’t eaten yet. The main advantage of Foursquare over companies like Yelp is that people already have the app open to check-in, earn points and view tips. That same advantage should exist for the people actually doing the work to leave a tip. Certain companies have seen this problem and have created apps with points given for checking-out of businesses rather than checking-in. It would also be nice for Foursquare to allow users to rate a business based on their experiences. Of course, I am sure that this would conflict with their ability to strike partnerships. A business with poor reviews probably would opt to not work with Foursquare on any check in deals.
The fear of using location based apps
Most complaints I have heard about Foursquare is that people do not want everyone knowing where they are at all times. Remember that you only check-in to places that you want to check-in to and it gives you a choice if you want to share that check-in with friends. Also, your check-in’s are secure. Recently, Foursquare announced that it is now using HTTPS across its website, mobile site and smartphone clients. HTTPS encrypts content as it’s transferred over a network, providing protection against attempts to access that data. Even if the network connection is insecure (like a public Wi-Fi hotspot), the traffic over the HTTPS connection is still encrypted and secure. This means that would-be stalkers/burglers looking to see where you are can not access your location.
So where can Foursquare go from here?
The beauty of Foursquare’s position is that the smartphone market is just beginning to flourish and they already have a heck of a foothold. According to the Market research firm, IDC, the smartphone market is predicted to grow 49.2% in 2011, due to an increasing number of users who will replace feature phones with smartphones. The report goes hand in hand with a recent study, also by IDC, which predicts that the number of mobile app downloads will grow from 10.9 billion in 2010 to 76.9 billion in 2014 (via Mashable).
Foursquare has just over 7.5 million users and is growing rapidly. They also have the advantage of being ubiquitous with location based applications, quickly overtaking other services such as BrightKite. Less than two years ago Mashable made the statement that Foursquare had the potential of being the next twitter. With a continuously improving user interface and a well thought out list of features, I think that the time has come for that to be true.