I love Foursquare

I love Foursquare. This is a note about my history with the platform, how I use the platform and how I don’t use the platform. Hopefully, this will help Foursquare non-users and skeptics understand how powerful & valuable the platform can be for an active user.

My Foursquare story

I’ve been an avid user of Foursquare for years. I joined in November 2009 as one of the first 100K users, and I’ve been an active, dedicated user since. Foursquare falls squarely into the category of apps I use multiple times per day. I’ve checked in more than 5K times in 3.5 years, which averages out to ~4 check-ins per day. The only other apps that exceed or approach this level of usage on my Samsung Galaxy Nexus are Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, SMS / Google Chat, and Feedly. In those 3.5 years, I’ve taken 166 photos, left 82 tips and conducted thousands of location searches.

I live in New York City where Foursquare is particularly useful due to the high density of people, variety of locations and great public transportation that allows easy access to newly discovered places. Over the years, my Foursquare usage has actually increased as has the utility of the service to me. My mix of friends has changed over the years: some early adopters have stopped using the app, some folks have dropped in & out over the years, and I’ve had many new friends join. In all, I see more activity in my Foursquare network today than I did 3 years ago.

How I use Foursquare

As a social network: Foursquare is a very powerful social network. It is a network of people & places that is dynamic, interactive and ever changing. For a segment of my friend base, Foursquare is a primary social communication service; here is how it works for me (and us):

  • Check-in: Acts as a signal to friends as to where I am and what I’m up to. I can augment the location with a picture and a comment. I can share select check-ins more broadly to the larger, less focused social networks (Facebook and Twitter) if I want to share a particularly notable check-in. In addition, the check-in is a way to share with myself. I will often search for a location on Foursquare to remind myself if I’ve been to a place, check how many times I’ve been there or put a specific date on the last time I was there. The pattern of check-ins creates a narrative of my day that many of my friends tell me they enjoy greatly.
  • Check-in stream: 1-2x per day, I look at my check-in stream to get a picture of where my friends are and what they’re up to. Facebook, Yelp and others have a check-in feature, but none can succinctly answer the question, “What are people up to today?”, which often leads to some great ideas about what I could be doing now or in the future. Learning what friends are doing as opposed to what friends are saying / posting is a vitally important function for me. Many times a week, the things my friends are doing put a smile on my face, and I enjoy observing the narrative of their days.

As a discovery & decision platform (pre-activity): Foursquare is great at curating a very specific set of choices around the “where should I do activity X?” question. The results are not yet displayed as comprehensively as I’d like, so I do augment a Foursquare search with a Yelp search. Typically, I’ll pull out one app while my wife pulls out the other. The tiebreaker always goes to Foursquare for us; we’ve simply found that Foursquare bubbles up options in a way that is much more in line with our tastes.

As a discovery & decision platform (in-activity): Foursquare is great at curating a very specific set of top recommendations and insights about a location that answer questions such as “is this place known for the veal parmesan or the rigatoni?” or “what should my expectations on service be?”.  Due to the ability to vote on tips / recommendations, Foursquare’s results are generally more valuable for me than Yelp’s. I only need 1-2 good tips per visit to any place, and Foursquare surfaces these at a very high hit rate.

On discovery, I hope that Foursquare blends pre-activity and in-activity decision-making by introducing “Tip” search so that a query such as, “Where can I get great chicken parmesan?” returns meaningful results prior to choosing a location.

How I don’t use Foursquare

As a game: Foursquare de-emphasized Badges and Mayors quite a while ago. Game mechanics were never a primary driver of my usage of Foursquare. 3.5 years on, I still don’t understand how points are allocated for a check-in. I don’t have a great sense as to what Badges are available to be earned; they usually come through as a surprise on a random check-in. That being said, it was fun to battle for Mayor of my apartment building with my wife.

As a way to save money: Foursquare has moved into the deals & offers space recently via promoted Specials & card-linked offers which supplement the check-in specials they’ve long supported. I’ve found that I don’t open the Foursquare app in search of deals & offers, just as I don’t open the Google Maps app in search of offers. Other users may find the offers enticing or appealing, but I simply haven’t found much use for them; my guess is that I’ve redeemed at most a dozen offers over 3.5 years across more than 5K check-ins. That being said, promoted Locations is something that does interest me –> if Foursquare believes that I would be interested in a merchant, and that merchant is willing to pay to get my attention, I’m all ears. It is key, however, that there is a match between the merchants promoted to me and my tastes; Foursquare has more than 5K data points on me to help them in that department!

The other side of Foursquare

It’s clear that I, as a user, gain tremendous value from Foursquare. It would be great to hear about the other side of the Foursquare platform, eg the constituents who use Foursquare as a way to reach users like me directly or to utilize my Foursquare data to create great services or products. The two large categories here are merchants who want me to discover & frequent their location and the developer who wants to use my data to create even more value for me as a user (a beautiful map of my historic check-ins, a personal guidebook for my trip to Paris based on similar venues I frequent in NYC, etc).

Are they getting as much value from the Foursquare platform as I am? Their satisfaction is essential to the continued growth & long term value of the platform.

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