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Summary:

Yelp is stepping up its game against Foursquare and Gowalla by adding “check-ins” by users to its reviews. But will be enough? Or will Foursquare and/or Gowalla make for a simpler user experience and therefore a significant competitive threat?

Yelp, which recently launched “check-ins” via its iPhone app in a move that put it on the same playing field as Foursquare and Gowalla, is making those check-ins an integral part of its user-review services. As shown in the screenshot below, a review of a particular retail outlet or service in Yelp will now show whether that user has checked in at that location, and if so how many times. Users who check in frequently will get small “R” logos beside their names to show that they’re a regular at that spot.

Yelp — which was rumored to have had talks with Google recently about a possible acquisition of the company — is also looking for financing instead of either being acquired or going public via an IPO, according to what Bloomberg calls “a person familiar with the matter.” This source says Yelp has been in talks with Elevation Partners LP about ongoing funding, something other sources have reported as well.

Although Yelp doesn’t mention Gowalla or Foursquare in its blog post, it’s pretty obvious that the user-review site is feeling the heat from the two location-based upstarts (at least one Foursquare founder was irked by what he said was Yelp’s copycat response, a post that was taken down but not before being captured by one fast-thinking Tumblr user).

As Om pointed out in a recent post, the combination of Twitter reviews (from friends and other trusted sources) and Foursquare tips and reviews from those who check in regularly makes a pretty compelling competitor to Yelp. In his post, product manager Eric Singley makes a point of noting how large the company’s user base is:

Last month, 26 million people connected with local businesses via the (now!) 9 million reviews on Yelp. Yelp Check-ins is a natural extension of our core product: increasing the ways users can share their information about local businesses with their friends and other users, as well as adding a way folks can contribute meaningfully to the site without writing a review.

Although some users of location-based services are signing out for good because of privacy concerns, the growth of Foursquare and Gowalla and similar apps seems to show that they have plenty of steam left in them. The big question dogging Yelp is whether check-ins added to its reviews will be enough, or whether Foursquare and/or Gowalla make for a simpler user experience and therefore a significant competitive threat. (For Gowalla’s perspective, see Om’s recent video interview with that company’s CEO.)

The Yelp blog post says that check-in information will be appearing only on specific reviews and user profiles for now, but that the company is working to integrate that data into other spots as well, and will also be providing statistics about user check-ins soon to retailers and other establishments through its Yelp for Business Owners service. Apps with check-in capabilities are also coming soon to other mobile platforms, he said.

  1. Such a hot topic. I do think the simplicity of Foursquare and others is a huge competitive threat to Yelp. As with Twitter, do one thing and do it well (Twitter? Sort of, but you get the point).

    The brick and mortar of biz, e.g., restaurants and geo-loc is very interesting. Real and measurable ROI is there if biz can leverage the nexus between checking-in and rewards to customers. i.e., getting 50% on dinner for checking into a restaurant at particular time or w/frequency. And possibilities from there are many.

    On this topic, we(Bancroft)just sold out our event, Geo-Loco! The future of geo-loc services in San Fran, part of Social Media Week.

    However, come out to the after-party for haitian relief. (100% of the profits go to Haiti Earthquake Relief)http://squareup.eventbrite.com

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  2. All of them cannot win in this very odd yet promising space. The world needs ONE check-in system, not 4 or 5.

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    1. I think we’ll have an answer to that question before the year is up. :)

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    2. The world needs one proprietary, non-interoperable check-in system. It could very well stand to have multiple interoperable systems.

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  3. I was glad to see check-ins come to Yelp. I’ve been a long time user and would rather build on my time there than start over on some other service. Its easier to stay in an app I’m already using on the iPhone than switch back and forth.

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  4. No check-in app for Android, and no badges or mayorship at all = FAIL

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  5. Chekins will become a commodity quite fast, if you already have a location+social platform, adding checkins is an easy fix. Just wait for this feature on Facebook…

    I completely agree with @MarkJaquith that interop is the current question that needs to be addressed/solved. The Geo-Loco event will be a good place to discuss just that…

    The hardest part to solve (imho) is privacy and distributed permissions on checkins data, this hasn’t quite been solved yet for other types of data (in an open and distributed manner, facebook connect comes close).

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  7. i think Yelp should focus more on their site before trying to compete in app space. the site’s functionality and search is average at best and has a long way to go…

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  8. [...] agreement is a counter-punch at Yelp, which last month continued to take its offering to mobile by launching check-ins for iPhone users. (The friend-finding app Loopt has joined the bandagon, too, adding local reviews [...]

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  9. [...] With Yelp and Twitter recently adding location-based check-in features, it’s clear the trend is that consumers are getting information about the places they’re going to while they’re getting there, and sometimes then declaring themselves there when they’re there. [...]

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  10. [...] as Michelin or Zagat, but also digital review-based services such as Yelp. Although the latter has added Foursquare-style check-ins in an attempt to keep pace with the location-based service, Om has noted before how the combination [...]

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