Foursquare Evolves From Gamification To Recommendation – But Why?

Of all the location-based social networks out there, Foursquare certainly has been the one to outlast the competition.

Notice how I chose my words carefully. I didn’t say “Foursquare has beaten the competition” or “Foursquare has succeed”…I just said they outlasted the competition. Competitors like Yelp, GoWalla and Loopt have fallen by the wayside, leaving Foursquare to be the one left standing. But that doesn’t mean they won…it just means the others quit or got bought.

Foursquare is evolving to become more of a recommendation engine, but is it a good thing?To be honest, I’m not sure how Foursquare has lasted this long and why investors keep pumping money into it. Those of us who have been on Foursquare for a while have the sense that there is something there…that it could be something big, but it hasn’t quite evolved yet to become something that could ever draw users from larger social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

They do have something, though. The combination of location-based check-ins, competition for points and “mayor” titles and the ability to add tips/photos is attractive to mobile-device addicts and business owners, alike. The ability to check-in at a location and get a discount was a very attractive offering, but the locations were sparse and the deals mediocre. I even ran into situations where employees weren’t informed of the discount and, in one case, didn’t even know what Foursquare was.

The fact is, I have pretty much stopped using Foursquare because it doesn’t really offer me anything anymore. I got tired of competing for the title of Mayor, I got tired of sharing my personal information, I got tired of random friend request from people in Croatia…I just got tired of Foursquare. I even started wondering whether these types of geo-location check-in networks were bad for small business.

Frontflip capitalizes on one of the weaknesses of Foursquare by making the potential discounts highly visible to everyone

Front Flip capitalizes on one of the weaknesses of Foursquare by making the potential discounts highly visible to everyone

In fact, other start-ups like Kansas City-based Front Flip (although now defunct) have offered me significantly more value by letting me know when there is a deal available with prominent placards, and then offering me discounts or freebies for participating in the game. I have used Front Flip in about 10 different locations and have won a discount about half the time.

Let’s see…a free chocolate-chunk cookie just for scanning a QR code? I’ll take that any day of the week.

So as Foursquare evolves to become more of a recommendation engine, I question whether the investors at Foursquare are ever going to find that magic that we all think is there. Instead, they’re just putting themselves in a place to compete with Urban Spoon, which already tells me the pros/cons of where to eat or Google recommendations, which allows people to share experiences.

I’d be interested to hear thoughts on how this change is potentially beneficial to Foursquare and its users. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know whether you use Foursquare anymore and whether you think the evolution is a positive one.



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Comments And Reactions

  1. Maybe I’m having the same thoughts with you Sean, Foursquare is really boring but one thing that I think foursquare stay afloat is because their competitors are already “dead”.

  2. I like FourSquare for 2 reasons: 1) social media – keeps things rolling on FB and Twitter. 2) recommendations and deals I didn’t know about until I checked in. Good for branding!

  3. Emma Geraln says

    I kind of enjoy the competing for mayorship’s but if Four square went bump tomorrow I would have forgotten about in a week πŸ™‚

  4. Brett Rosen says

    Personally I think Foursquare was recognizing there was not a lot of utility in what they were doing and looked around and saw where the utility was and realized it was in services like yelp and urban spoon. You either have a social network that is useful for socializing or one that is just useful and Foursquare seems to not quite occupy either territory. So as I see it what foursquare has is a large user base and they needed to provide something that holds on to them. They simply looked around to see what works and went that way.

  5. I use Foursquare all the time. The number of deals popping up seems to be increasing. I’m fine with it.

  6. Alicia Taylor says

    I hadn’t heard of front flip – but I will give it a try. I use FourSquare mainly to increase influence on social networks.

  7. cdogzilla says

    I’ll be very surprised if the recommendatons are useful, but I’d be happy to be surprised. Frankly, the only reason I use it is to have a little more activity on twitter for Empire Avenue πŸ˜›

  8. I find it interesting that Foursquare is still around. I still see a chance to use it well. I’d really appreciate if someone could give me really cool ideas for specials for a Bakery/Cafe client of mine.

  9. Catherine White says

    The only time Foursquare is really interesting is when I’m in New York, but Sydney is a much smaller city. The only use I have for it when in Sydney is blind check ins to keep my EAVE div up.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      I completely agree, Catherine! Foursquare is fun in NYC or in Washington DC…but in small cities it’s kind of a drag.



  10. For those who travel frequently, I see the recommendation functionality to have value.

  11. I got hooked on Foursquare for a while, but have to admit I’m cooling a bit. I do feel it can help pull together a community, especially where I am in a rural area where many of us work to support events and venues. However, the ‘race’ to be mayor and the privacy concerns – sometimes I don’t check in precisely because I don’t want to broadcast every move I make – have made me scale back my activity. Perhaps if Foursquare had a more compelling reason for participation I might reconsider.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      One thing that used to drive me nuts is when employees of a company that is customer-focused would own the Mayor title. They would check-in every shift and keep the business customers from ever achieving the title, and any benefits that came from it.

      Businesses that participate in Foursquare need to let their employees know that the promotions are going on and discouraging them from checking in.

      Just my $.02, though πŸ™‚



  12. Mike Bazaluk says

    Love foursquare and an addict to it, can see peoples concerns over letting them know where you are but since half tweet/instagram/fb their locations cant quite see what the worry is.

    The change from mapping to directing you at a location changes the application, but its still fun to earn the badge and log the new locations

  13. For some reason, I’m still compelled to check in although there’s not always a good reason. I do get a kick out of collecting points, in spite of the fact they have no inherent value. On occasion I’ve gotten a discount or freebie at a local place, although I need to balance that against announcing to the world where I am at any given moment, which also conveys where I am NOT. My husband is convinced that using Foursquare will get our home robbed.

  14. I joined Foursquare recently and don’t know much about it – I haven’t really checked in since I set up my account approx 2 weeks ago. I don’t like the sound of ‘real time’ check ins or anything invasive so I probably won’t continue to use it.

  15. Bill Lazdowski says

    I think the opportunity for businesses is where Foursquare’s at. I have not delved into the Foursquare scene as of yet, but we have been keeping an eye out for what others such as yourself feel about the site.

    Thank you for posting.

  16. decibel.places says

    I wasn’t interested in Foursquare, but I attended a MobileMonday meetup about barcodes and QR tags, and there on the screen was a QR tag that linked to a Foursquare check-in to help a clean water foundation raise money, just by checking in; so I joined.

    I am now the proud mayor of 2 liquor stores, a few convenience stores, a couple of bus stops, and usually wherever I happen to be working.

    When I am active I am near the top of my friends leaderboard, except for one insane guy who keeps his score between 300-400.

    A few months ago I “dropped out” and went a week without checking in, just for the heck of it.

    I have met people who tell me they learned about new places because of the check-ins I post to Twitter.

    I am unsure about the new mobile app for Foursquare, one change I like is that it “remembers” your choice for posting to Twitter/Facebook because I certainly don’t need/want to post EVERY checkin.

    decibelplaces on Foursquare

  17. Richard Townsend says

    I agree, I very rarely login to foursquare and don’t really get it. Maybe I just don’t have a need to become a mayor :-).

  18. Well written. I don’t use the app anymore…as you said…Mayor ?? I would know where the deals are ! 4 square will either evolve, or like the rest, fade away.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      Yeah, at one point, I was Mayor of more than 50 places. Then it just got boring since I didn’t get any value from being Mayor. I think I’m Mayor of my own house now πŸ˜‰



  19. Lynn O'Connell says

    Foursquare has not captured my attention, so I can only comment from the perspective of the Facebook hordes who have not adopted it. It’s on my phone, but I don’t use it. I think I might have used it when I was in college or if I moved back to New York. But, now that I’m in the suburbs of DC, I can’t get excited about checking in to Panera or Starbucks. And, I usually decide on a restaurant or other destination before I go out, so far more likely to check things out on my computer.

    Better deals might get me to check back in. Recommendations, probably not, as I already have apps for that. Game + deals + recommendations, maybe, but probably only if I was out of town… and would I think to check it, then?

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      I’m in the same boat, Lynn. Here in Kansas City, checking in at the local Applebee’s just doesn’t have any thrills. Sure, there are museums and niche eateries, but they don’t offer any benefits to check in to them. I usually only use Foursquare when I’m traveling to larger cities like NYC.

      I agree that good deals are what is missing. They have to start offering value and recommendations just isn’t what I think Foursquare will win with.



  20. Sterling Dee says

    I’ve never really understood the appeal of FourSquare.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      I think it’s one of those niche networks, right now. If you don’t travel a lot or if you live in a small city, it doesn’t offer a lot. If, however, you live in Los Angeles or New York City, there is soooo much to check in at, I can see how the game could become addictive.

      For me…not so much.



  21. Jeremy Crow (@JeremyCrow) says

    I’ve never signed up for Foursquare. It just seems to invasive to be leaving a real-time public record of every store or restaurant I happen to be at. In fact, I don’t typically participate in most location based services, especially if they leave a record. The closest I do is when I publicly RSVP to an event that I would like to promote or am hoping friends will also attend.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      Keep in mind, Jeremy, that you don’t have to share your check-ins publicly. I think Foursquare is banking on people using the private check-ins so that they can make better recommendations even for those that don’t want to share.



  22. Paulo Mealha says

    I have read some negative reviews about the recent changes in Foursquare. Personally I find it positive. Anything that increases the engagement between users is, in my opinion, a good change.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      I hear you, Paulo. I’d love to hear more about the new features that you like. Personally, I get my restaurant recommendations from Urban Spoon, so I’m not sure whether Foursquare recommendations will be a good option for me.

      We’ll see!



  23. Andreas Wiedow says

    I have an account on foursquare and occasionally confirm ‘known’ entities as connections. Otherwise I’ve never checked in nor left other traces. So foursquare to me is one of my blank profiles for good reasons. One of them is . . . why would I want to let anybody know where I AM.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      You can check in privately and I use that occasionally to keep a record of interesting places that I visit. For instance, when I’m in NYC, I check in at unique restaurants that are off the beaten path and then I use my check-in listing to remember their names when recommending to others.

      However…I don’t really need Foursquare to do that. Notepad or Evernote would do just the same πŸ˜‰



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