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?

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

94 thoughts on “Foursquare: will it be bigger than Twitter?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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 :/

  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. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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 :)

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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!

  25. 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 ;)

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

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