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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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32 Responses to “Foursquare's Crowley on Facebook, Check-in Fatigue & the Copy Cats”

  1. Expecting users to constantly check in seems unrealistic. Instead rules that capture people’s routine preferences (e.g. show my location to my colleagues 9am-5pm on weekdays and only when I’m on company premises) can significantly reduce user burden. See for a location sharing app that does exactly that. The rules also mean more control over who you’re sharing your location with…which people need in many situations where Foursquare just doesn’t cut it (such as sharing your location with just a few friends)

  2. I love the concept of geo-location social media like Foursquare and Gowalla, but with so many recent tales of false-checkins and blatant abuse, maybe related applications will have more potential. Especially specific types, like “food-related” or “tourism related”.

  3. I do think that Four Square has a real shot of being the Facebook and Twitter of location based services eventhough as competition swirls around them.
    They are very innovative in their product delivery

  4. I truly hope that foursquare and Dennis succeed. I briefly met Dennis at SXSWi and he was a great and approachable guy and you can tell he loves what he does.

    They have a great team and we just worked with them to get our 200+ offices offering specials. Being a fan/user of foursquare that’s a fun away to spend my work hours, so I hope they do well and will allow us to grow with their service.

    Good luck!

  5. No one has mentioned that one of Foursquare’s idol companies, Facebook, is likely entering this market very soon. Once that happens, we will start to see all these other services disappear. Foursquare has done something interesting with layers, but if adoption remains weak with only a few, they don’t stand a chance. They could try to be the Tivo of check-in, but they have to offer something compelling that the big guy doesn’t. And I think Tivo (which I love) would have a much harder time if the cable companies starting giving away DVR capability for free, which is exactly what Facebook will do with check-in.

  6. Rob Paterson

    Serendipity – finally someone else shows an interest in this. We don’t always know what we’re looking for. Think this may be a game changing area – applications or services that help us discover without having to search, now that would be engaging. Would be interesting to know what other start-ups are doing in this area.

  7. Check-in without incentive gets boring after a few weeks.

    I wait for the Sunday paper knowing that there are going to be new coupons in the ‘smart source’ but then after 4 weeks I trash it if these are the same about fix your teeth, lingerie, stamps and tomato trees being peddled again and again.

    They shud learn from Zynga — people go back coz there is “new stuff” to do on every visit.

  8. Michael L.

    In the last few weeks I’ve met 4 people in person that I knew from Foursquare. It’s fun seeing where people like to go. I’m getting tired of the people doing drive by checkins and stealing mayorships. I’ve also quit checking in to locations except those where I go to have fun. The media hype over someone using social media to rob your house such a disservice. There are much easier ways that burglars use to choose locations to rob. The same goes for the hype over people using Foursquare to stalk other people. All of this media hype is causing features to be removed and the value of the service to be lessened. If you are concerned about your privacy and safety just stay off of location based social media and stop wreaking it for everyone else. People should learn about what the real threats to their safety are and stop being paranoid about imaginary threats.

  9. I agree with @tebas – I am experiencing the same over here in Berlin. A lot of the early (enthusiastic) adopters now rarely check-in, if at all.

    The most active 4sq members at the moment are those that are gaming the game. Which leads to the inevitable question: What business value lies in check-ins at bus stops?

  10. It’s true that Foursquare’s not the only checkin game in town. There are the likes of Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt, Whrrl, Hot Potato, Yelp, Where and others. The checkin fatigue people speak of comes not only from checking in a lot but checking in on multiple services. While I expect to see lots of innovation to make checkin more fun, Footfeed recently launched the first multi checkin app for the iPhone. The app let’s you check into Brightlite, Foursquare and Gowalla simultaneously. While not the end all be all to curing checkin fatigue, it’s a good step in the right direction. Check it out for yourselves at

  11. What I have found interesting in the Foursquare/Gowalla battle is how they have appealed to different audiences by implementing 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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 [email protected]… Just saying) :-)

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

    • 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.