Thoughts on Foursquare

Last week, Mark Evans and I chatted over email about the merit (or otherwise) of the location based service Foursquare. Since then, there have been some interesting stats and developments. Foursquare announced that it now has 500,000 users checking in 300,000 times per day and this will undoubtedly surge during SXSW. For me, it shows the value of power users in driving a new service but also in the need to segment out active and lapsed users when evaluating services for your client or organization.

Foursquare has also signed deals with Metro News (to share contextually relevant content during check-ins), Bravo TV (to tie in with offline marketing) and now Starbucks (currently “just” a new badge with the promise of more to come).

Right now, I’m interested in seeing how the service develops – as I told Marketing, I’m sure there’s a finite number of people who want to share this sort of information freely.

Our email chat is below but you can read Mark’s full article on Is GPS becoming the new Facebook?

ED LEE: I’d like to preface this as much as possible by saying that I’m more interested in the general trend of broadcasting (or in my case narrow casting) a user’s location and of using that location to provide recommendations than I am in the specific Foursquare service. I’m as cognisant as the next person that this is an extremely nascent technology and way of behaving. Sites like Please Rob Me will put a dampner on its adoption but this speaks more to the need to adapt our notion of online privacy and best practices. I’m careful to delineate my social networks (Facebook and Foursquare are for friends and family while Twitter, LinkedIn and my blog are for anyone to follow), so I’m not either bombarding people who want to follow me with updates they aren’t looking for or that I don’t give out the wrong information to the wrong people. When it comes to online privacy, I think the standard has been slipping for a lot of people so if this trend causes people to take a second look at their privacy and how they share information through social media then that’s great. I think we saw this same question around privacy and culture when Books, Radio, TV, email and IM all came out. It’s never about the technology, it’s about how the population uses it. With that in mind:

MARK EVANS: Why do you use Foursquare? What’s the appeal in broadcasting your location?
ED LEE: As with most social media, there are two reasons I use Foursquare – for personal and professional purposes. Professionally, I’m using it to see how my clients and colleagues may use it in upcoming campaigns. I have many “real world” clients who operate not in the online space but who sell their products in real life. So while Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and podcasts are great for showing them engagement with their end consumers, mobile applications and specifically geo-location applications allow us, as marketers, to get closer to the point of sale and ultimately drive real business results – sales. My professional experimentation is always tempered by the knowledge that this is still a technology for early adopters. I’m not calling it a game changer, but I am interested in seeing the behaviour it draws out of its users. From a personal standpoint, I’m a competitive guy so the game portion of Foursquare really got me hooked. I want to be Mayor of my workplace and of places I visit a lot. If there is a competition, I want to win and the game element draws this out of me and kept me using it past the professional experimentation phase.

ME: What do you get out of using Foursquare?

EL: Professionally, I get real insight into consumer behaviour – will the trend of broadcasting your location be widely adopted and how can we, as marketers, use this new trend in a positive way for our clients. The game aspect really opened up a whole new tranche of thinking me as well – it’s a great way to motivate a certain mindset of person and if you are targeting that sort of mindset, then it is a fabulous way to engage with them. Personally, using Foursquare as a recommendation engine is very powerful and I’m always interested to see what people I trust are doing, where they are going and what they are recommending.

ME: Are you concerned at all about privacy given people know where you’re located?
EL: From a personal standpoint, I’m cautious not to allow anyone I don’t know in real life to follow me and I don’t give out too much personal information – but I’m happy for people to see that I’m playing football or that I recommend Ravisoups at Adelaide and Widmer…specifically the lamb curry and chicken hotpot combo. Not following people I don’t know can be a bit of a restrictor on the benefit I can derive from the service as if I’m in a new city where I don’t know anyone, it’s hard to get any meaningful recommendations but sometimes I’m grateful I don’t have a wide pool. As with all social media, there has to be a filter between the noise and the signal.

ME:Where do you see Foursquare going beyond being a place to check-in?
EL: I think the real benefit for Foursquare (or any location based service) will be when the service hits scale. When that happens the user will have a huge amount of utility from the recommendations placed on the map from other users – if a service can start to filter and weight those recommendations to help filter the signal out of the noise, it will stand a better chance of winning in the long (or medium) term. I guess the short answer is a data rich map with user recommendations served up based on their authority, their relationship to the user and the user’s location.


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