FourSquare is a location-based social networking service combining the web and mobile phone. FourSquare has incorporated a game element that makes it extremely viral among her users. Originally, the app only works for major cities in the US and Europe. Recently on 20 Nov 2009 (a day before Barcamp Singapore 4), FourSquare has expanded beyond 150 cities including Singapore. After evangelizing, stress-testing, discussing and reviewing the app, here are my muses, impressions and hacks on FourSquare for those who want to know more about the app.
FourSquare is a New York based company, co-founded by Dennis Crowley (who founded a similar service called Dodgeball which was acquired and then abandoned by Google) and Naveen Selvadurai. At the same time, it has obtained an early stage investment from Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter and Union Square Ventures (with an initial investment of US$1.35M). Initially, the service is launched in 100 cities within US and Europe and subsequently opened itself worldwide in the major cities in Asia, South America, Australia and Middle East on 20 Nov 2009. At the moment, the application is distributed through the smartphones, Apple iPhone and Google Android phones, and the company is trying to extend the app for the Blackberry and Palm Pre platform. For most Blackberry users, they can use the browser to access and use FourSquare like the iPhone or Android users.
Product Description and Features:
FourSquare allows users to register and connect with each other like a typical social network. In addition, the platform allows the user to check in upon an update of his or her present location via the mobile application. The users have the option to update their twitter status or facebook status upon checking in to the location.
The user can gain points when they do the following: (1) add information about a new venue using a crowd-sourcing strategy on the users (2) checking in at a designated location. While being in that location, the user can add a “tip” to the venue such that the other users within the vicinity can read it, or create a “to-do” list for their own purposes. If the user acquires enough “check ins” on a location that will be automatically calculated by the platform, he or she will be made “mayor” of the location. The “mayor” can acquire special privileges in the form of coupons or affiliate-marketing offers pushed through the foursquare app from the advertisers. Note that one viral element of FourSquare is that the users are constantly competing for mayor-ships across different location.
Since the FourSquare app is constructed for the user close to a social game, the user can also earn a series of badges for uploading new locations to the platform or check-ins to unique venues and revisiting previous locations. FourSquare also opens its API for third party developers and based on the current model, they follow similar trajectory like twitter in acquisition of users first before thinking about monetization.
Hacks and Tips on using FourSquare:
- Gaming Check-ins: In the current form, even the app is able to work out the exact location via GPS, the users can game the system in several ways. If the app is idle about 5-8 minutes, the user can repeatedly check in to other locations in where he or she is not around. One can check in 5-6 locations within a specific period of time and then wait for a while. While we did this for stress-testing, we note that the FourSquare also impose time-based check-ins and will cease to award points upon checking in too many times. Somehow, Android phones allow you to do that many times until you have exhausted the patience of the FourSquare servers.
- The geo-location search is better on an Apple iPhone 3GS than Android phone: If you use the search or nearby functionality of FourSquare, you will find that the iPhone 3GS will zoom into the region of interest which you are around much quicker as compared to a HTC Dream Android. While traveling with both phones from the central to the west of Singapore, by continuously doing search, the Android can sometimes throw out results which are further than the iPhone 3GS. The reason is that the iPhone 3GS has an upgrade of SkyHook that automatically detects your current location and pushes the maps application default to that point. SkyHook functions by triangulating your position from a number of cell towers and from local Wi-Fi signals in your location (GPS coordinates) with the cell tower service provided by Google and the Wi-Fi positioning system by SkyHook. While Apple absorbs the Skyhook costs for the consumers, Android phones do not have that capability, and hence the geo-location search for Android phones do not perform well for FourSquare as compare to the iPhone 3GS. Of course that leads to the following loophole.
- An Android Phone is better than an Apple iPhone in terms of checking in and getting points: One of the key discoveries made is that if you use an Android phone (HTC Dream) to do check ins, you get more points than you use an iPhone 3GS. I have done this experiment a couple of times (with different people holding on both handsets independently), by checking in simultaneously on one specific location (e.g. Hackerspace.SG) with both phones (dual sim capability) turned on. You will find that the Android FourSquare app will give you significantly more points than the other.
- Uploading locations on the web interface often runs into SQL problems as compared to the mobile interface: I have tested uploading several locations using both the web and mobile interface. In the web interface, there is a tendency to get load errors. This suggests that the data uploaded via the web interface have difficulty in syncing with the server. On the other hand, uploading the locations via the mobile interface is relatively easy.
- Nomenclature on Locations: If you read the support forums, the suggestion for locations for FourSquare is that you list it as the name of the place and then add its address. The best example to illustrate this is that the right convention to display Starbucks Cafe in Vivocity should be just “Starbucks Cafe” and then add the address into the location entry. However, it has that problem that what if there are multiple Starbucks Cafe located within Vivocity, and adding the unit number does not enhance the search in Google Maps. Hence a better nomenclature is to use the variables “place – location” rather than “place”.
- Privileges only available to users in US and sustaining users in other countries where mayors get no advantage: The success of FourSquare in US is the integrated of location based social networking with social gaming elements and rewards from the platform (for those who become “mayors”). Currently, the privileges are only available in US, and not available elsewhere. In fact, Daniel Cerventus (my colleague in This Week in Asia and owner of Malaysia Entrepreneurs) and the dudes in Hackerspace SG are trying to add mayor privileges to specific locations to see how the mayor privileges might just serve up in both Singapore and Malaysia. To scale up the usage of the app, there must be an automated and scalable way to get retail and food & beverage vendors to be able to utilize the FourSquare service.
- Lack of Social Bookmarking Features, for e.g. categories of locations: Currently, the user can only post a tip or reminder on the location where he or she checks in. The information on the locations on FourSquare is badly organized due to lack of social bookmarking features. At the moment, only tagging via the web interface is possible. To enhance credibility ratings of a physical location, they should implement social bookmarking features such as share or like into the platform.
- Analytics with FourSquare: In the web interface, the analytics of FourSquare is presented in Nicholas Felton’s way of reporting. At the moment, it records the number of checks ins, discoveries of new places, the usage behaviour across the week and your mayorships.
- FourSquare and Augmented Reality: Integration of Google Maps Street View and addition of augmented reality will enhance the user experience with FourSquare. That will be a future direction to go. Of course, FourSquare can also be viewed as an app for discovery and hence the users can actually use it to connect with other people within the location and also push conversations across.
Monetization on the FourSquare App:
The most important strength of the FourSquare app is that the app incorporate social gaming elements that encourages more users to sign up with the app very quickly. In the US, given that attaining the mayor-ship of a location come with special privileges, there is a race for users to continuously contribute to the location where they can engage in a form of social gaming with the app.
Here are some impressions, hacks and muses about the app which I have discovered.
- The App is only available for smart-phones with 3G connection: Currently, the Foursquare app is only available for smart-phones, for e.g. iPhone and Android phones. The current extension of the apps is moving towards Blackberry (where it can already be accessed via an opera browser) and Palm-Pre. One possible extension is to get the app into Nokia Ovi Store, where the Nokia handsets have dominated the Indian (85% based on sources from Nokia) and Chinese markets (40-50%) but mainly in the 2.5G space. With the 3G launching in China, there will be increasing adoption to 3G phones in the market, and hence implementing a J2ME or Symbian OS version of FourSquare can help to increase the number of users in the emerging markets.
- Business Model for FourSquare: For the app moving toward monetization, it is likely to go via affiliate marketing or cost per action business model. One possible way to improve the app is not to allow a user to check in onto another location that is not localized by the GPS of the handset. At the moment, FourSquare has not monetize its services and the focus is to scale the app with more users and it’s probably taking the same approach with Twitter and Facebook. The problem is because FourSquare needs to have an inventory of ads and services to distribute across the platform. However, Dorsey’s recent launch of the Square platform allows a user to pay quickly and securely whenever he is, and probably a disruptive technology that blends well with the large distribution of FourSquare. Note that Dorsey is also the investor of FourSquare.
Update 1: FourSquare for Blackberry is almost there as reported by GigaOm
Update 2: The leaderboard for the top users in Singapore will reset every Monday from now. Hence it will make the social gaming part fairer.
Update 3: You can request to add mayor advantage if you own a venue by sending your request via this form.
Update 4: There is a place in Singapore which has a mayor privilege for FourSquare and here are the pictures which depict how it looks when I got the mayorship.
Acknowledgements I thank Saumil Nanavati, my friends in Hackerspace (Ruiwen, Neng Giin, Adrian, Alex Toh, Daniel Tsou and many others) and TWIA (Daniel Cerventus and Mike Foong) for endless discussions on the many ways which we stress test and work out how the app really works.