Friday, June 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm.
Exploring The New Foursquare
- The big-picture thing to remember for a company like Foursquare, which has raised a lot of venture capital, is that growth is what keeps the lights on. If your growth isn’t accelerating — or, worse, you’re not growing at all — your days of freedom are limited. This is actually fair: Why spend millions of dollars building something if many millions of people aren’t going to use it?
- So when Foursquare makes big changes to its app, the way it did this week, the underlying hypothesis is that they’re going to make Foursquare more attractive to more people than it was before. This may even annoy some old-time users in an effort to win new ones — it’s a delicate thing to balance. But overall, growth is how to judge these things.
- With almost five years of the App Store in the books, it’s now clear that “checking in” to share your location with friends — Foursquare’s first, most basic feature — isn’t something that everyone wants to do. For some people, it’s a great feature. For others, it seems creepy or useless. It’s just not for everyone. Most of the “check-in” companies — Whrrl, Loopt, Gowalla, etc. — have been sold off.
- So: Foursquare has been evolving to a company that no longer simply answers “where are my friends?” but instead “where should I go right now?” This is smart: Everyone’s gotta eat. That’s why Explore is rapidly becoming Foursquare’s most important feature. This has always been part of the plan, I think. But it’s certainly carrying more emphasis in this new version of the app than ever before.
- A large benefit to Foursquare’s new mission is that it frequently carries purchase intent — you’re opening the app because you want to find somewhere to spend money. This is valuable to potential advertisers and merchants, and should help propel Foursquare’s revenue opportunities. (Similarly, this is why Google ads are more valuable than Facebook ads.)
- Something Foursquare has long lacked is a simple, measurable reviews system. Foursquare can guess that you like a place if you become a repeat visitor, show up again with friends, leave a photo or comment, or add it to a list. But with its new like/don’t like buttons, Foursquare can constantly refine its algorithmic understanding of your taste. That will help it make better recommendations in the future, which is the whole point of Explore, and therefore, the whole point of Foursquare. A subtle but important new feature.
- Foursquare seems to have somewhat demoted Radar, the always-running-in-the-background feature introduced last year that pings you with suggestions based on your location. (It was previously on the home screen, but is now buried in settings.) I have a feeling that this will be re-highlighted as it becomes more practical for your iPhone battery, as it allows Foursquare to proactively ping you with special offers — potentially driving revenue. But for now, it’s not crucial.
- The new Foursquare also takes a global approach to your friend list and activity stream, whereas it previously showed only local activity by default. This is probably not a big deal to most users, especially new ones, who don’t have a lot of Foursquare friends and mostly have friends within their home city. (Most people don’t travel much.) My guess is that Foursquare made this change to promote simplicity. But for this long-time Foursquare user with many friends in other cities, it seems more annoying than useful. I think they’ll add location filters back. In the meantime, it’s encouraged me to de-friend a bunch of people that I don’t really care about.
- Foursquare’s app looks different, yes, but the best thing I’ve noticed is the speed. Compared to Facebook’s iPhone app, where everything is alwaysso slow, Foursquare is much more fun and pleasant to use. This suggests Foursquare is becoming one of the premier app-building companies in the industry, along with Instagram and Path. This is very important. (Speaking of Instagram and Path, their influence on Foursquare is obvious. But they’re good products to take cues from: If any apps over the past year have taken mindshare from Foursquare, it’s probably those two.)
- Lastly, it would be irresponsible to write all this without mentioning some of the big personnel changes at Foursquare. Long-time (and popular) business guy Tristan Walker recently left, co-founder Naveen Selvadurai left earlier this year, well-known recruiter Morgan Missen recently left to start a talent agency, and others have left. Without trying to dig up any inside dirt, I don’t think this says anything general about Foursquare; it seems each case is a little different. The company is maturing, only one person can be CEO, a new (ex-Apple) revenue chief just joined, and times are really good right now for young, smart people in Silicon Valley. So it goes.