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 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.

Cheers!

–Sean

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