Foursquare's Crowley on Facebook, Check-in Fatigue & the Copy Cats

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


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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