Foursquare, a mobile social networking application waiting for Apple App Store approval, could be the next breakthrough location-based service. Created by Dennis Crowley–founder of Dodgeball, a niche location-aware SMS service acquired by Google in 2005 and shuttered last week–and partner Naveen Selvadurai, Foursquare aims to take the growing ubiquity of LBS apps and the accompanying copycat features, and actually add something new. What a concept, eh? Foursquare does provide a base platform centered on finding your friends, sharing where you are, and sharing what you’re doing by why of GPS and instant messaging, but it adds another layer with a firm focus on trying new things–especially bars and nightspots–and moving away from boring routine. So here’s the good and the bad.
1. It’s simple–probably the most important feature an application needs to gain a massive user base
2. It hinges on the popularity of video games–video games are popular and that won’t be something that changes anytime soon. By creating a mobile social network bolstered by GPS into a fun challenge reinforced by incentives–like a video game–Foursquare moves beyond the boring Google Latitude-like “find your friends” functionality and provides a new measure of stickiness
But it’s also a nightlife game. Users rack up points based on how many new places they visit, how many stops they’ve made in one night and who else has been there. You become a “mayor” of a hot spot if you’re there often. Mr. Crowley used an example of Spitzer’s Corner, where Nate Westheimer, N.Y.T.M.’s head organizer, hangs out. “If you check in there one more time than Nate, then you get a message, ‘Oh you stole the title of mayor from Nate,’” Mr. Crowley told the Observer in a phone interview this morning. “People get kind of competitve about this.” There’s a “Leaderboard” which lists the most adventurous users with the most points.
But, Mr. Crowley said, “If you keep doing the same things over and over again, if you go to the same place several times a week, your points get taken away.”
Back to number 3. Over time users or players can eventually acquire virtual badges for doing new and interesting things. “Bender” badges are awarded to those who go out 4 nights in a row, “Douchebag” badges are awarded to those who check out a few of their city’s seedier nightlife, and while there will be 16 total badges at launch, Foursquare aims to have hundreds as different users create badges for each other.
4. Tips and lists–many social networks don’t provide an aggregated view of cool things being done by their app users in a given location. It’s really up to individual friends to communicate with each other. But Foursquare makes things easy, allowing each user to create a Top 12 list of recommended things to do and a To Do list. New users or for example, people visiting a city, can check out these lists and have a real-time look at the best spots to hangout or activities to do near them.
1. It’s another social network–there are just so many social networks available now it can make your head spin.
2. It’s launching when privacy is a hot media topic–privacy concerns in regard to social networks, advertisers and other users of your personal information have been a hot topic of conversation in the media lately. Because most of these conversations have been started by advocacy groups and extreme thinkers, the media attention hasn’t educated consumers in the least. Rather it seems to have sparked fear among the general public–not good news for a company debuting an application that knows where your are.
3. It’s initial launch is iPhone-only–plenty of you will probably argue with me here, but I think Foursquare should launch on as many popular smartphone platforms as possible from day 1. Mobile social networking is still a nascent industry and achieving a large user base is tough for many of the current market players. Without a large user base, the service becomes useless and won’t last long. I think a huge, noisy launch on multiple platforms from day 1 is the best way to go. (Update: Dennis Crowley just notified me via Twitter (@dens) that Foursquare will also be available via the mobile web and SMS at launch–in addition to the iPhone if accepted. The Blackberry and Android apps will be built on the Foursquare API which I’m excited to see.)
Foursquare is just waiting for Apple’s acceptance for its iPhone application. Should it be granted–and I’m sure it will–it should be available within days. The company also has plans for Blackberry and Android apps in the future.
I’m not sure how Foursquare plans to make money at the moment. But I’m guessing it’ll be one or a combination of: charging a small fee for the app, embedding advertising in the app, or charging for premium virtual goods.
I don’t have an iPhone, so it looks like I’m going to have to wait for the Blackberry app, but should you try Foursquare when it’s released I’d love to hear what you think.
(Photo Credit: Dennis Crowley)