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Is FourSquare a Game Changer?

December 10, 2009Sparxoo


By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer

The emergence of location-based apps, the rise in smartphones, successful competitors… why shouldn’t FourSquare succeed? Mashable’s Jennifer Van Grove recently wrote a glowing review of the location-based mobile app — examining key trends that should catapult FourSquare to a Twitter-like status. “Everyone is making their predictions about whether Foursquare is the next Twitter, including me,” writes social media blogger Jason Keath.

FourSquare is a mobile location-based application for smartphones like the iPhone, Android and soon, the Blackberry. Users “check in” when they arrive at say a local cafe, book store, park or even a friends house. As more of your friends sign up, you’ll get a better understanding of their favorite hang out spots. Based on your “check ins,” FourSquare can suggest new places for you to explore. And as you discover new places and frequent your favorite spots, you’ll get points and work your way up to “Mayorship” of a local cafe or restaurant or movie theater — wherever you visit the most.

The location-based app is not alone, however. Brightkite and Google Latitude have developed similar platforms that utilize GPS enabled smart phones to connect users. And location-based apps are also getting attention from investors. Gowalla recently announced it received $8.4 million in series B investing. Grove asks, can a location-based app like FourSquare be the next Twitter? We’ll explore FourSquare’s potential as “the next Twitter” and the challenges they will face as they try to grow their user-base.

How FourSquare can Succeed

Media adoption — Ultimately it was the media that catapulted Twitter from an esoteric geek app to a revolutionary media reporting platform. Can FourSquare follow a similar path? The GPS enabled app could add a multi-dimensional experience to reporting. For instance, you notice an accident on the thruway and FourSquare could connect you with a journalist that can give you the story via GPS.

The Narrowing Gap Between Technology and Our Personal Lives — While Twitter was criticized for being an inane life-casting platform (“I’m brushing my teeth” or “Going for a walk…”), FourSquare enables users to bring the world even closer to their personal lives — via GPS. FourSquare turns exploring your surroundings into a game, through the “checking in” feature.  Each location you check into, you’re rewarded points.

It’s smart mobile — Smartphones are on a steep incline. With the iPhone growing 245% and RIM (maker of the Blackberry) 96.7% in 2008, smart phones are definitely making a big splash. FourSquare leverages smart phones apps (now available in Apple’s App Store and soon to come for the Blackberry) to “check in” and “check out” of locations. Dennis told Mashable, “80% of users are using the iPhone app.” While Twitter apps allowed users to essentially send text messages to the world, could FourSquare’s location based app add another dimension to smart phones?

Challenges FourSquare Will Face

People are not ready for a location-based app — FourSquare, like Google Latitude, Gowalla and BrightKite, are location-based. While there is not a clear leader in location-based apps, is there even an opportunity? If people are not ready for a location based app, then FourSquare, like Latitude and BrightKite, will remain a fun platform for a handful of people. “Historically, location-based services have struggled with creating an incentive for getting people to share their location,” said Josh Williams, co-founder and chief executive of Alamofire, the Austin, Texas, company that created the Gowalla application.

Not enough people are using it — It’s most enjoyable to use FourSquare with friends. You can compete to see who is the “Mayor” of your spot. But if no one else is using it, where is the fun? If FourSquare is to succeed, it will need an explosion of users (similar to Twitter) to make it worthwhile for the average internet user. If I feel everyone is using it, then I’m more compelled to sign on.

So what is next for the geo-social network? While we do not have a crystal ball, location-based apps like FourSquare are in-line with many emerging tech trends today. FourSquare recently announced it would be expanding to over 100 colleges — a perfect target audience for the geo-based app. “I can see college students, who are always looking for the next party, latching on to the ‘where is everybody at’ aspect of Foursquare pretty easily,” writes Keath. As more location-based apps grow, FourSquare is poised to lead the way.

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