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Summary:

Earlier this week I met with Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley and we discussed everything from Facebook to check-in fatigues and the copycats. I have synthesized our conversation to give you a good idea of how Dennis is thinking about Foursquare, social web and geolocation.

I was in New York this week, and as part of my visit, I decided to check-in (pun intended) with Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley. He showed off the company’s massive new office that is under construction inside the Village Voice building on Cooper Square in Manhattan. What’s gotten him most excited: small conference rooms where he can have private phone calls versus standing in the corridor trying to talk to partners.

But a new office isn’t the only reason why these are happy days at Foursquare – it is also fresh off the money-gathering trail. The hot location company raised $20 million (with a rumored $5 million going into the pockets of the co-founders) in what seemed like a Silicon Valley reality television show. The valuation of the 26-person, two-year-old company is now rumored to be around $100 million. It recently announced its first million check-in week and now has had 100 million check-ins in total.

Social Web Dreams

On the flip side, Crowley – who was previously very open with his product plans and roadmap – has become more cautious and cagey. Why? Because there are so many apps such as Yelp, Brightkite and Loopt which are being inspired by Foursquare and are imitating its features. And while he has concerns about these copycats, Crowley has his eyes set on a bigger prize. “Facebook and Twitter is what we aspire to be,” Crowley says. “We want to be one of the three big players in the social Internet and we have a shot at it.”

“So much of the social stuff is confined to online,” says Crowley. “Mobile and location are a bridge between the online and offline world and Foursquare can be a key part of moving what is online and moving it into the offline world.” I think just as Google indexed the web, Foursquare wants to index the real world and marry it to the web.

Foursquare Needs More Fun

denniscrowley.jpg

The grand vision aside, I told Dennis that he has a problem – even hardcore users and fans like me are getting bored with Foursquare and finding it hard to constantly check-in. As the number of folks on the Foursquare network has grown (over 2 million), it has become virtually impossible to get mayorship of any location. From a personal experience, my daily usage of Foursquare has dropped down to a handful of check-ins every day.

Dennis acknowledged that, and said the only way around the check-in fatigue is to keep the game mechanics fresh and interesting. “We are aware of it and are building new features to engage and keep you checking in,” he says. “Clearly we don’t want check in fatigue to set-in.” The company is gearing up to release a slew of new features to keep Foursquare fun and useful.

How is that going to happen? Crowley says that check-ins give it a lot of interesting data and that in turn allows them to tell people on their social network interesting things, including tips, locations and destinations. “Location is yet another way to cut and filter data,” he says.

Just as it tells me what to order (via tips), Foursquare could develop an algorithm which can tell me what to do and where. Serendipity, a near obsession of mine, is finally becoming part of start-up strategies and I am pretty excited to see what Foursquare comes up with. “We are ten percent of where we need to be,” Crowley notes.

While there has been a lot of talk of seamless check-ins, Crowley feels that Foursquare’s check-in model has an advantage over services such as Google’s Latitude. “Passive tracking stuff is going to prove to be shortsighted,” he says. In other words, it can cause some unforeseen problems, because you don’t want to disclose all the locations all the time. Crowley thinks that that there is a middle ground, where subtle reminders could encourage check-ins giving people the ultimate choice — whether they want to share their whereabouts.

While he refused to share his product’s evolution, he was explicit in saying: Foursquare will be more than just dots and maps — it is going to be about experiences and places.

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  1. I think that we are going to see a lot of Foursquare copy cats going around

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    1. I think there are quite a few already, so you won’t have to wait for long.

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  2. I think the grand vision of bringing back the social stuff to the real world is nice (and also ironic :)).
    Foursquare has definitely got a big challenge ahead of it to avoid the check in fatigue and to become the Number 3.

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    1. I think this challenge is what is going to define his company. If he and his team can figure it out, FSQ can be very disruptive in many different industries.

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  3. I love when leader takes on a challenge and has assuredness of his ability to lead and still have fun. Much success to you Mr. Crowley and those who work with you most diligently to achieve the desired goals set before you all. Twitter at one time wasn’t convincing everybody either but look now! Keep going until you are undeniable! Thanks Brian Solis for sharing your reading today.

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  4. Foursquare has a huge opportunity ahead of it, but they need to move quickly to capture it. iPad version, check-in reminders, better web platform to share knowledge being accumulated about check-in locations, etc.

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    1. I am in full agreement with your assessment. My view is that you are going to see a lot of new things emerge from these guys in next few months.

      They have been sitting still for a while mostly because they were busy raising money. Given that Dennis is a hard core product guy, I know he is itching to release new stuff to FSQ-ers.

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  5. Here comes the Resquare button :)

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  6. Most of the people in my age demographic and surrounding areas are skeptical and won’t use foursquare, for fear someone will break in their house.

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  7. Sorry, but foursquare is done, I signed up in December checked in maybe 100 times and haven’t used it in 2 months and forgot it existed (didn’t miss it).

    It brings me no value, unlike Twitter it doesn’t connect me to interesting people and informaiton, and unlike facebook it doesn’t keep my “weak” social ties for me.. so honestly unless they bring some value quickly I suspect many more of their 2 million users will be like me.

    Anecdotally I checked yesterday when the last time that my foursquare friends checked in and I saw that most of the people that started using it back in December all had “last check ins” in early June… hence done.

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    1. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, I actually think Foursquare is a fad and kind of silly and useless. I used it for a few days and won’t — ever again. The utility isn’t there for me.

      So, you heard it here first: Foursquare = Fadsquare!

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      1. +1. 4sqr is boring.

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  8. foursquare has also done a good job (better than anyone else I’ve seen) in truly engaging the local business community. I’m really curious to see what they do with the small business management tools.

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  9. I’ve been a heavy 4sq user for a while. I’m in a market that is clearly lagging, so I was mayor of up to 29 places at my peak. Now, we’re seeing more users in my area and I’m down to 18. We’ve had 1 special in the area and that was because of the national Starbucks mayor discount. We clearly need more mayor deals, and more regional badges to keep things interesting and grow adoption in new markets.
    I think it might help to have a 2nd tier below mayor. Perhaps deputy mayors (1-3 of them based on traffic). Then, you have something more for people to strive for and maybe more targets for discounts.

    (BTW, I sent my resume to jobs@foursquare.com… Just saying) :-)

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  10. What I have found interesting in the Foursquare/Gowalla battle is how they have appealed to different audiences by imolementing different features. While most of my friends are on Foursquare (and I attribute this to popularity and game play) my ‘foodie’ friends tend to lean toward Gowalla with it’s ability to upload photos.

    In the end, I believe game play/mechanics will determine the winners and losers. I look forward to seeing what Dennis and co. have in store.

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