The Look Ahead: History Suggests Game’s Not Over For Foursquare

Crystal Ball

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This week’s news was dominated by the announcement that Facebook was moving into the check-in turf that had previously been the sole domain of several startups with fewer than 10 million users — most notably, Foursquare. Facebook’s service, called Places, lets users “check-in” to physical locations when they visit them and share where they are with friends. That’s essentially what Foursquare does. So, the question is: Is Foursquare now toast? Well, history suggests that it doesn’t have to worry about its business just because Facebook is taking it on.

Facebook, with its 500 million users, has already leveraged its size to enter some other markets, and hasn’t upended existing players, despite some predictions to that effect. It launched a classifieds site in June 2007, for instance, that provided users with a “trusted environment” to buy and sell goods because they could see how they were connected to sellers. Last we heard, Craigslist was still thriving, while Facebook had outsourced its classifieds to Oodle.

Similarly, Facebook spent much of last summer imitating a series of features a la Twitter. It introduced a Twitter-like search service, a Twitter-like news stream, and even a streamlined version of its site that had a striking resemblance to the microblog. None of those moves have put a dent in Twitter’s growth.

Over its history, Facebook has also added other features that could easily be interpreted as copying those that already existed elsewhere online; it has added a built-in instant-message service, event listings, photos, videos and more. Companies that focus on each of those areas continue to flourish — evidence that people are more than willing to have more than one online destination, especially when they can find more features elsewhere.

As for check-ins, Foursquare executives said in a series of interviews over the last few days that they weren’t too concerned with Facebook’s entrance into their market — even though they admitted they hadn’t quite figured out how Places and Foursquare would work together. “Everyone is doing check-ins and we knew everyone was going to do check-ins. It

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