Foursquare: will it be bigger than Twitter?

Go back three years ago. Twitter was being used by the same crowd that is playing with Foursquare today.

What is Foursquare? It’s a location game. When I visit somewhere, like Sequoia Hospital, where I’m hanging out with Maryam (we’re having a baby sometime in the next 24 hours) I check in on Foursquare.

What does that do? It gives me points and lets other people know where I am.

It sounds really lame, doesn’t it? But didn’t Twitter sound really lame to you when someone first told you about it?

It’s not lame.

Already I’ve met people because of the game and it’s weirdly fun.

The game gives you points for doing various checkins. If you do a lot of checkins everyday you get more points. You also get badges (which are sort of like achievements on Xbox games) for doing various things. For instance, I checked in so much at the Half Moon Bay Ritz that I became the Mayor of that location. It’s a lot of fun and great bragging rights.

Yeah, still sounds lame, huh?

But I think this lame little location game is going to be bigger than Twitter.

Why? Because eventually businesses will learn that this is an even better way to engage with customers than Twitter is.

Why? Because when you know your customers location the way this game is going to let you know you can really do some wild offers. Plus, I bet that they add in their own Twitter-style feature that will let people talk with each other.

I wonder if Twitter will build in its own version of Foursquare into Twitter? So far Twitter hasn’t built in any location-based services (other than to add in a new API which has yet to be turned on in any real way) so who knows?

Either way, this thing is growing remarkably quickly, just like Twitter did back in 2006. Now that Foursquare has funding, too, I expect to see more cities and more features turned on.

Why is Foursquare more useful than, say, Google’s Latitude? Well, you choose the moments and places you check into. With Latitude, if you leave it on and head to, say, an adult establishment, everyone will know. With Foursquare no one would know, unless you clicked checkin on your phone.

What about competitors, like Gowalla? I’ve been playing with Gowalla too and it doesn’t have the gameplay yet, which I’ve found is critical to getting me to use Foursquare. It also doesn’t have either the community (I already have about 1,000 early-adopter friends on Foursquare, but only a handful of friends on Gowalla) or the business listings that Foursquare has (every place I’ve visited today was easier to find on Foursquare than on Gowalla).

The really scary thing is how FourSquare could become a much better Yelp than Yelp. Or will know more about me than even Facebook. Think about what the stores and places you go says about you! Think about the advertising Starbucks could do with you if it knows you go into a competitor for coffee every morning at about 8 a.m.!

I see all sorts of things that can come out of this little “lame” game. Twitter better watch out. I give Foursquare 400 more days before it is on Oprah.

How about you?


  1. Scoble, I'm sorry, but you really have no idea what you are talking about. You predicted this with Twitter, Friendfeed, and almost every tool you've used.

  2. I absolutely love Foursquare, and the benefit it has over Twitter is that it is easier to explain. I posted an interview with Dennis a couple weeks ago and asked him if they saw themselves competing with Twitter and he said no, that he saw them complementing it well, especially when Twitter introduces its geolocation stuff. Now Yelp he was more tight-lipped about, and I think it could be much bigger than Yelp like you said, if it can find a way to tie “shout outs” into reviews, since a lot of people don't use the tips much longer after they go to a location.

    All in all, I mostly agree with you, except I'm not sure it will be bigger. It has some definite downsides, like people cheating to compete for mayorship, or employees checking in every day thereby thwarting mayorship from consumers, but otherwise it is gold.

  3. It won't or at least not as fast. For two big reasons : it is a localized product – it has to be designed for a specific country for people to be able use it – and it is not as simple as twitter.

    But for what I read, seems to be a great product, would love to be able to use it in France ;)

  4. The problem with localized things for me is that my state (ID) is one of the last states to get on board with anything. But this sounds like an early-adopter next shiny object prospect. Off to investigate!

  5. Lots of people wrote posts like that about Twitter too and one of the biggest problems for Twitter is churn, or people who sign up and then leave without using their account.

  6. I think you can turn off Google Latitude in one click when you don't want it to monitor where you are. You can also set rights in Latitude so only groups of people know where you are at certain times. Family can know at a certain time, friends at another time and colleagues at another time.

  7. Other than finding the Foursquare / Twitter integration a little annoying at times, I think Foursquare is a great idea. I have a generalized aversion to location-based services, and blogged about this back when Latitude was announced (link).

    It seems to me that the potential for Something Bad to happen is a little higher for women, so a bit of extra caution when it comes to location sharing seems wise. It's possible I'm being too cautious and missing out on the fun, though — I've been tempted to sign up for Foursquare and may yet do so in the future if I feel safe enough.

  8. I've never played with foursquare (sadly it's not avaiable outside U.S), but judging by everything ppl been saying about them, it seems they really nailed the location thing. The gaming dinamic is impressive and looks fun.

    And by they way, congratulations in advance for your brand new little scoble :)

  9. I've seen brief mentions about Foursquare in people's personal streams (I saw someone become Mayor of something at some point), but your post is the first detailed discussion of Foursquare that I've seen.

    One of my concerns with various location services is that I don't necessarily want to reveal where I am all the time – not necessarily because of the adult establishment factor, but just because I want to draw somewhat of a line between my online persona and my IRL persona. Thus, I'd be willing to disclose that I'm at Oracle OpenWorld, but I might not want to disclose which 7 Elevens I frequent.

    You're inspired me, however, to play around with Foursquare and see what I think. Hopefully I won't run into a Fail Square.

  10. Rachel, you're probably not being too cautious – I'm male, and also have concerns. I'm going to try the service, however, and limit the very personal information. I figure that if I inadvertently let something slip, I could just as easily do it on Twitter or FriendFeed or whatever – Foursquare itself isn't going to necessarily change that.

  11. Yes, that's true, you can turn off Latitude, which I do often, but then I forget to turn it back on again. I don't get any goodness by turning it back on, while on Foursquare at least I get some points and it's a fun little game to see if I can unlock another badge.

  12. I understand this, but really if someone wants to do you harm they probably won't be the type that stares into an iPhone all day long and, like that woman at Yale, will be done harm by someone who knows them anyway. Humans are very bad at judging real risks. We get all up in arms about kids on social software services like MySpace and Facebook because of the few times when harm has happened, but we ignore the 1,000s of times when kids get harmed by someone already in the home. Same with women. It's not that bad things won't happen because of these technologies — they will — but that you should worry 1,000 times more about people already in your life and with FourSquare you check in when you want, not when the software does it for you. Oh, and even with something like Google Latitude you must have missed that it already has helped catch a thief or two who stole a handbag. Our fears will subside after we realize that we get more goodness than the increased risks of some wacko doing something to us.

  13. Yeah, that's the one thing that will hold back Foursquare's growth. It needs to let me add my own city to it. I bet they were doing that to hold back database growth so they could afford to keep the service running until they got funding. Now they got funding so can afford to buy some more servers and people to keep things running so I wouldn't be surprised to see them turn everything on. Then watch growth explode.

  14. One problem with Foursquare: it's not truly location-based, and you can game it. Sometimes when I'm behind, I will just turn off the Twitter notices and check into the last two or three places I've been to. Cheating, but not really, since I have been there.

  15. Um, no.
    Twitter was open for the whole world from it's early days. Foursquare is limited to some cities … @ me when square space adds more cities please :/

  16. The only problem with saying Foursquare's growth will match Twitter's is that Foursquare is tied to a smartphone client, whereas Twitter has potentially a *much* wider application ecosystem (and much of this potential is already being realized). Foursquare can never truly reach any critical mass until either everyone has a smartphone, or somehow you can check in without one.

  17. I'm leery of the location-based services too because of my belief that females have to be more careful. I was stalked once by a stranger (very briefly & was able to elude the stalker) and because of that very traumatic experience, I think it caused me to want to keep my physical whereabouts private and even be overly cautious. Oh – I have no doubt I'm quite horrible at judging real risks. Maybe it's a good sign that I was curious enough to want to investigate and possibly try it out.

  18. As for the cheating aspect, this is all just a “casual competition”…so frankly cheating is just lame, as there is no tangible motivation other than recognition from others.

  19. Yup, this will be a problem, but not for Foursquare. Foursquare gives you control over who you share with (it's a double-opt-in system, you have to add me and I have to add you before you can stalk me), and because you are only sharing checkins you won't be in any one location long enough to get stalked. For instance, this afternoon I checked in at a Persian restaurant at the end of my meal. Now I'm somewhere else. So, if you are a stalker you will find Foursquare unsatisfying.

  20. But Foursquare is still tied to that user base, therefore their growth has limits that Twitter did not have. Are there any status on what percentage of Twitter usage is mobile vs client? And by mobile I mean non-SMS.

  21. Businesses will quickly learn that they shouldn't compete with their customers anyway and should reward customers who use this service in their place of business.

  22. As I mentioned elsewhere, Foursquare is just a “casual competition”, so cheating is lame, as there is no material benefit. Also, Foursquare just recently deployed a mechanism to check for cheating, I don't know the details but I have to imagine it's related to checking in when you are not at the venue's location (or within some reasonable small distance). Thus the somewhat common practice of checking in “later” will probably no longer be allowed pretty soon – just a guess.

  23. John I've been using Foursquare for a few months now and tweet about it fairly frequently. Regarding your privacy concern, there doesn't seem to be any issue with Foursquare given:
    1) Your friends are mutually agreed (unlike Twitter, more like Facebook)
    2) You can choose to check in or not check in wherever you like
    3) When you check in, you can choose not to disclose where to your friends
    4) You're generally not checking in to places like 7 Eleven anyway :-)

    Let me know if you have any other questions, would be happy to discuss further.

  24. I have a 3 year old phone, so Foursquare has no idea where I truly am and thus really can't check on cheating – although I presume that if I check in at Los Angeles at 5:00 and San Francisco at 5:15, that can be detected. I agree that Foursquare cheating is lame – kind of like amassing thousands of Twitter followers in one week for no good reason.

  25. I have a 3 year old phone, so Foursquare has no idea where I truly am and thus really can't check on cheating – although I presume that if I check in at Los Angeles at 5:00 and San Francisco at 5:15, that can be detected. I agree that Foursquare cheating is lame – kind of like amassing thousands of Twitter followers in one week for no good reason.

  26. Some interesting comments on the “Why I quit Foursquare” story, here's what I think:
    - Re: Foursquare is about showing off…”and that's not why I go to new places” – well no, presumably Foursquare is more a *result* of your social activity, not the primary motivator of it.
    - Re “I don’t want to make friends through competition” – I haven't actually seen Foursquare as a way to make friends – yet. Currently it's true, the only way to really “meet” someone via Foursquare you don't already know is via mayor oustings, and I agree that's not the best icebreaker. But they just added a feature to see who else is checked in, this and more features like it will be the start of the true social discovery part of Foursquare, not just the current “see and compete with my friends” aspect.

  27. Some interesting comments on the “Why I quit Foursquare” story, here's what I think:
    - Re: Foursquare is about showing off…”and that's not why I go to new places” – well no, presumably Foursquare is more a *result* of your social activity, not the primary motivator of it.
    - Re “I don’t want to make friends through competition” – I haven't actually seen Foursquare as a way to make friends – yet. Currently it's true, the only way to really “meet” someone via Foursquare you don't already know is via mayor oustings, and I agree that's not the best icebreaker. But they just added a feature to see who else is checked in, this and more features like it will be the start of the true social discovery part of Foursquare, not just the current “see and compete with my friends” aspect.

  28. My biggest problem with Foursquare? It isn’t available in Columbus, Ohio.

    Twitter is universal; if you have a cellphone/smartphone/computer, you can use Twitter, or at least try it out.

    I can’t even try Foursquare out unless I catch a flight to, say, Chicago.

    I think Foursquare’s biggest mistake at this point is limiting the number of cities available, as opposed to allowing users to mark new locations.

    Sure, it may be a big hit in Half Moon Bay, but there are about six billion people who can’t use the service at this point. That’s not a good way to launch a service/app like Foursquare.

    *Anyone* can use Twitter. Only the cities that Foursquare has set up can use Foursquare.

  29. I am a web designer/developer I spend 12 hours a day on the internet or more I’ve never heard of this site not once, if I don’t know about it than its not all that I live on the web, don’t tell me its a secondlife clone, secondlife is retarted all on its own.

  30. I totally agree with you. See my guest post on TheNextWeb on this (…)

    FS has one advantage vs Twitter: it's a game, which means it might end-up attracting the younger audience that Twitter is still missing. It has also a business model almost ready (have retailers pay for their promos). But it needs to prepare for the next phase. Users tend to get tired of games after a while.
    On the other hand, Twitter just launched its geo-location API-should have done it way earlier…given its mobile nature.
    But the 800 pound gorilla in the room is Facebook, the moment it adds location to its mobile service, things might change radically. And it is getting there (see their deal with Nokia). It blows my mind to think it is already one of the biggest carrier worldwide (well except for countries like China).

  31. I agree that Foursquare will be huge. I've started a Foursquare group on Linkedin because I think it has serious business networking potential.

  32. I'm digging FourSquare. It has potential to be huge if they can get businesses on board and participating with their community. Things like reward frequent visitors, first-timers and of course the mayor will go a long way in keeping the community active and engaged.

    The challenge I see however is the manpower that will be required to bring the small, local businesses online with FourSquare. Think of the local pub that does a banner business. How is FourSquare going to reach out to them? Are they going to call them? Are they going to rely on users to evangelize the service? If they can crack that nut by either targeting large chains first which may have a trickle down effect on to the local places or focusing their attention on the web development/marketing firms which build the sites for the locals they will roll.

    Two Fun Things BTW:

    1. Dennis Crowley (FourSquare founder) got a kick out of how my house was tagged when I first joined FourSquare:
    2. Jeff Cutler and I shared more of our thoughts on FourSquare on a recent episode of NomX3:

  33. FourSquare would probably be OK someplace like San Francisco where a lot of places are listed, but here in Fort Lauderdale I find it to be a big pain since most places I visit aren't listed and it's too much of a pain to add them from my iPhone. I find BrightKite to be nicer here at least since most places I go to are recognized so I can just tap one item to check in.

  34. I have been using foursquare for about 2 months, but only in the past three weeks have I really got the hang of it, thinking to check in wherever I go. What i have found is the following: My followers on Twitter LOVE seeing where I check in. A lot of them are older than I and I think they live vicariously through me in some ways, which is flattering and fun. Foursquare also nails the delicate balance between fun and not fun, by which its not THAT important to become a mayor of have the most points out of your friends, so you really need to be a certain kind of person to cheat. I dont think early adopters and twitterati care all that much, but just enough to keep them interested, check in with their stats everyonce in a while. I have DEF converted some foursquare friends to real life contacts now, and thats just since the newest build was released. I think the fact that they now have “tweets nearby” when i check in is HUGE, because I've been able to see location based tweets that are definitely out of my orbit when on Tweetdeck.
    Furthermore, the new functionality of seeing who else is around or who has checked in as great, but i think they need to install a way to ping someone who is not your friend but who is in the same bar or restaurant as you are. Or at least give the option. In a city like NYC, if someone is on foursquare and they are in the same restaurant as me, chances are one of us is likely to come over and say hey, have a drink and chat about how funny it all is, and ya never know…meet an important new business or personal contact.

  35. The problem is that Foursquare requires the location to be registered with them. Anyone, anywhere could use Twitter. Foursquare is restricted to people in certain cities with certain carriers. I think it could be huge, but not until its easier for people to get it everywhere. I understand its a young company and they're getting there. The problem to me is they're restricting themselves and Twitter didn't do that.

  36. In one word no. Why? Because twitter is available worldwide, and foursquare is only available in the US. Has to be a level 'playing field' for both before they can even compete. Same thing as the Zune HD can't compete with Apples iTouch

  37. Let me take the plunge and go on record as to it's being lame (and also note that I'm perfectly willing to me proven wrong — it won't be the first time).

    But why might I take this stand? Because not only did people think Twitter was lame, but it was originally intended to do pretty much the same thing and people turned it into something else (and the peeps who still insist on using it that way I generally unfollow). Twitter itself morphed into something else because the original purpose didn't hold sufficient value for the 'masses'.

    The concept has only been proven valuable as to 'presence' on phones ( Opt/in out? That's just a matter of simple experience design. Choice is a relevant design attribute.

  38. If it is enabled world wide then it could become big but……I presume that you really need to be accessing and using it on your mobile (as you visit a place) and as the cost of using the web and internet is exorbitant on mobiles certainly in this country (UK) that would obviously be a factor. I use twitter at home using my ISP. (free broadband) I couldn't afford to use foursquare (or anything else for that matter from my mobile) no matter how fantastic it was. Unless I could have it on my mobile and then send updates via text message that is.

  39. And not just to some CITIES, it's closed to everyone outside of the US. I just tried to join, but can't. I joined Twitter and Friendfeed a few months after they launched but I can't do that with Foursquare so growth must be naturally limited. And don't forget that Oprah is aired through out the world…

  40. At this point, I'd have to say no. Foursquare's biggest problem is that it is *too* location centric. It can't be used by people outside the US (and if I understand correctly, it still can't be used in all US cities?). Sure, they'll open it up eventually, but by then it will be too late. Far fewer people will care.

    Right from the off, Twitter allowed anyone to use their service, irrespective of their location – remember how mesmerised we were by Twittervision? Watching those realtime updates come in from all over the world woke people up to the impact that Twitter was about to have.

    By limiting who can use their service, Foursquare has damaged their potential to make a huge splash. I'd predict that in 12 months, if Foursquare is still around, it will only be used by a small but hard core number of fans.

  41. Eric, you don't need to be using their app, it supports SMS and they have a mobile web client that works on any phone with a browser, which is a lot bigger than the smartphone client population.

  42. Living in Italy I can't play Foursquare. But I will, if they expand the system. I strongly believe that the next era of the web is to add gameplay to social networks, to make they fun and enjoyable while retaining their usefulness.
    I'm working a lot on this stuff, and I think that projects like Foursquare are only scratching the surface.

  43. Brightkite, on the other hand, can be used anywhere Google Maps knows about, so it has a much better chance of catching on worldwide before Foursquare. Sure, Brightkite doesn't turn your mundane daily life into a bunch of Xbox achievements, but with everyone's checkins available in RSS format, anyone could build game elements off of it as a third-party web app.

    Brightkite is doing what made Twitter successful, whereas Foursquare is a nice crayon drawing that we should hang on the refrigerator to make the founders feel special.

  44. I've been on Foursquare since day one, a big fan of Naveen and Dennis, and was a user of Dodgeball, the similar game that preceded it by the same guys before it was sold to Google. I love foursquare, but think it's a mistake to imagine that foursquare will grow to the size you imagine. Again, I am a huge fan of the app, but I think its appeal is limited, based on specific location criteria. I love in Los Angeles, but spend a great deal of time in SF and NYC. Being “walking cities”, SF and NYC are prime candidates for foursquare. Being notified about where your friends are makes for great near serendipitous meetings — learning you a few blocks away from a bud and can hook up at a bar is the main tenet upon which foursquare was developed. This works when your friends are in SOHO and you're in the West Village. It works when you're in the Castro and the chick you want to know better is at a bar in SOMA. But it's much less effective or persuasive to cause action when you're in Santa Monica and a friend is in Pasadena, which could easily be a 45+ minute car drive. When I'm home in L.A., I still use it, but more to gain points and out of habit. When I'm up North or in New York, I feel like I'm using the app for the reasons it was designed.

  45. I'm a huge fan of FourSquare. They've got a great team and The usefulness only gets better as more of your friends join in your city. I look forward to a Windows Mobile version.

  46. Interesting idea, Robert, but I'm not sure I understand the value yet (although the value to merchants is clear). I have experimented a bit with Foursquare but find it's limited function just that: limited. It does indeed tell me where people are and who the “mayor” of the W Hotel is, but my social and business relationships are not based primarily on consumption. Unless Foursquare can, as another poster mentioned, evolve the way Twitter did to fulfill a broader function, I'm not hooked yet. I would much rather know what people are thinking or reading than where they are spending money.

  47. I still don't get the point of Twitter for most of us. I mean, I get the point of a fan signing up to read the tweets of a celebrity he or she is obsessed with, but why would you care to read a tweet from me? Why would I care to read a tweet from you? If I'm interested in your thoughts, I'll read your blog for something at least semi-fleshed out. Twitter seems like the text version of stream-of-consciousness.

  48. it seems everything starts off “lame” when it's just us geeks, but when the celebrities get involved is when it takes off, can you imagine Oprah on foursquare?

  49. Enjoyed this post ( and congrats on the baby!)

    In reading the comments, it seems there are underlying assumptions about “big” and “success” in that they are essentially defined by a huge, international customer base. While I would not (publicly) say I think fourquare would out grow twitter in terms of user numbers, at this point, it is entriely possible it could surpass them in terms measurable ($) long-term user engagement and value to customers ( both the individuals who use it and the venues/merchants who are participating). I cannot wait to see the mayor/venue connections grow, for example…

    As a woman I actually find foursquare far LESS creepy than twitter or facebook -I've had people I barely know comment on my facebook status (and since changed my privacy settings) but with fourquare it's very easy to moderate on a person-by-person basis. So, if my creepy neighbor were to sign up, I'd just know to moderate that… whereas on facebook and twitter making those tweaks feels more cumbersome.

  50. Robert,so far its 100% lame, hy:-
    a) Your telephone number has to be 10 digits long – OK for USA maybe but in uk numbers are 11
    b) No country codes allowed – nope we don't ll live in the USA.
    c) Drop down list of towns- are these guys jokers?
    Note that twitter was world wide and yep it did crash a lot but at least you got to see glimpses of what it could be like

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  52. Hmm Interesting concept. I know people love, love, love to get “points” even if they don't lead to a prize. Location concept plus college campus has legs.

  53. Hmm Interesting concept. I know people love, love, love to get “points” even if they don't lead to a prize. Location concept plus college campus has legs.