Posts tagged Foursquare
A small number of Instagram users have seen Foursquare, the location-sharing network, replaced with Facebook Places in the Facebook-owned photo-sharing service. Facebook confirms that it’s testing the swap.
While it’s a small-scale move, it has a number of implications for Foursquare and Facebook—and anyone trying to map out the future of location on the Web.
Locating The Future
It’s nearly impossible to own the flow of social media, but if anyone could, it’s Facebook.
When Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, Mark Zuckerberg promised to let founder Kevin Systrom continue to run it independently. One example of that independence: The photo-sharing application exclusively used Foursquare’s application programming interface, or API, to tag photos with locations. Until now.
While Facebook failed to popularize a check-in feature that it launched in a direct challenge to Foursquare, it’s maintained its own directory of businesses and other points of interest, which people use to tag photos and status updates with a location. It also uses this directory to create pages for local businesses—a crucial part of its advertising offering.
The Facebook Places test doesn’t mean Facebook is ditching Foursquare entirely, but it could be the first step toward bringing more Facebook data in-house. Today, even if Instagram users don’t send their photos to Foursquare, they still share their location with the service, which improves the accuracy of Foursquare’s map data.
“Foursquare is a great partner, and people will continue to be able to share their check-ins to Foursquare from Instagram,” an Instagram spokesperson told ReadWrite in an email. “We are constantly testing experiences throughout the app to provide the best possible user experience as part of future planning.
We’ll spell out the implication of “future planning”: Foursquare today is privately owned, but it’s quite possible that it could be acquired by a Facebook competitor at some point in the future. One way to look at this test is some sensible scenario planning by Facebook.
WhatsApp, a messaging service which Facebook is in the process of acquiring, also uses Foursquare’s database of places today—which means Facebook has even more reason to worry about Foursquare’s fate.
And even if Foursquare remains independent, it has signaled that it hopes to make money off of its API. Already, Gnip, a data-mining service, and Microsoft pay Foursquare for access, and it’s reasonable to think Foursquare will aim to charge other high-volume services that use its API.
In that light, Facebook’s move could be seen as a negotiating tactic to preserve its free access or secure favorable financial terms from Foursquare.
Controlling The Flow of Content
Besides the financial risks of losing Foursquare to a rival or having to pay up, there’s Facebook’s mobile strategy to consider.
With Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Paper, and WhatsApp, Facebook is building a flotilla of social apps to keep users in its orbit. It already requires users to click on a link in order to see Instagram photos posted on Twitter. By sending people to a Facebook Places page rather than a Foursquare venue, it could hold more sway over users.
As ReadWrite pointed out last year, big players like Facebook are seeking to control the lifeblood of the social Web—status updates, images, video, and check-ins—in the same ways rulers of ancient empires sought to dam rivers. It may be a grandiose goal, but you can’t blame them for trying.
Facebook is the one social network that could really choke off vast portions of this social flow. It has all the tributary rivers of data already: people, places, and photos.
Over one billion people use Facebook each month to share status updates with friends and family. Instagram has over 150 million monthly active users, and 465 million people use WhatsApp, Facebook’s newest addition to the family, each month. The only thing Facebook is missing to completely own social engagement? A well-used and hence accurate location service.
Facebook Places, and other services like Google Maps and Yelp, have directories of businesses, but Foursquare excels in so-called “points of interest”—unique venues where commerce may not be transacted but memories are formed. Those quirky locations picked by users are the same kind of places where Instagram photographers snap pictures.
By jettisoning Foursquare in favor of its own data services, Facebook can finally tap Instagram’s users to add their memory-making places to the social network.
Great For Business, Not For People
If Facebook controls the flow of information and works to keep users inside its own services, the social network will own even more of our online lives.
I’ve said that Facebook is the last great social network, in part because it’s so big no one startup can overtake it. But it’s also because Facebook continues to stake claim to the aspects and information the make up our social identity, and forces us to rely on Facebook as the one social login that powers the Internet’s applications.
It’s smart for Facebook to want to own location services. But the prospect of losing this tie to the Web’s open flow should give us pause. We can check in any time we like. But our memories can never leave.
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Dennis Crowley’s vision for Foursquare extends way beyond the check-in.
The cofounder of CEO and Foursquare envisions a future where our mobile devices learn our behavior and provide suggestions for events, or what to eat for dinner based on a taste profile the company has developed by observing our behavior over the years. People will spend less time on decisions and more time on experience, because our phones can make them for us.
The simple act of “checking-in,” or sharing your location data with friends on various social networks, does more than alert followers to where you are—it creates a data point that contains significant personal information about you and the businesses you patronize. Foursquare’s aim is to turn that data into new services for you—and its advertisers and partners, of course.
Foursquare check-ins help map out the physical space of buildings, businesses and organizations around us, often with more accuracy than Google Maps or other location services. By using the data of 45 million users, the company has created a kind of crowdsourced map, or as the company calls it, “venue polygons.”
Beyond mapping location data around the world, Foursquare is also mapping interests—in the process, profiling its users based on where they eat and shop and what they say about their experiences. The company learns your habits—what restaurants you like, when you visit them, and what you order. Using a variety of tactics like sentiment and time analysis, Foursquare can build a cache of personal information it then uses to provide you with suggestions on where to go in the future. (Some of those suggestions will be delivered on behalf of Foursquare’s advertising partners.)
The idea of your mobile device telling you where to go next is still fairly new. The company only rolled out real-time suggestions last fall. Foursquare is still experimenting with how to deliver the best possible suggestions in hopes of ultimately turning your mobile device into the friend that plans your next night out.
I sat down with Crowley to talk about the decision engine Foursquare is building, and how that factors into the future of anticipatory computing.
Building The Check-In
ReadWrite: What was your idea behind Foursquare? Where did you see it when it began compared to now?
Dennis Crowley: Back in 2009, I had a company before this that we brought to Google called Dodgeball. It was very much about how to use mobile phones, awareness of where all your friends are, and the way they’re moving through the city. We were working on that project at Google before we left, and we realized that even though check-in was really interesting in the right tense, what was really interesting was if you had all this check-in data going back months or years. What could you do with that?
Could you predict the types of places that people would want to go to and can help people find places and neighborhoods that their friends have been to that they’ve never known about? That was early exploration with Foursquare. Now we fast forward; this company’s five years old, and it’s a big part of what we’re doing.
How do we make software for mobile phones that enables people to find discover all these hidden gems in the real world that are all over the place, and could be in your neighborhood, they could be round the corner from where you work, or could be in a new city? How could we get all the signal that we’re getting from all over the world to help people find these awesome things that are in the real world?
RW: Can you talk a little bit about Foursquare demographics?
DC: We’re at 45 million users at this point, and we still see somewhere between 5 and 6 million check-ins per day. In 2009, 2010, we had that explosive growth in Japan, and were surprised to see it picked up all through Europe and through Southeast Asia. If you look at it now, there are three markets that are growing very quickly, which are Brazil, Russia and Turkey.
We’re all the point now where our revenue model in the U.S. is working very well, with six different revenue generating products, four of them advertising-based. How do we take those advertising products, and bring them to the international markets that are proving to be very successful for us? Can we monetize those markets as well? It’s a big part of a lot of stuff we’re thinking about this year.
RW: We talked earlier about the Foursquare API. Something like 50,000 developers have accessed it. How do you work with developers or encourage developers to implement Foursquare for either locations services or other parts of the application?
DC: A lot of the usage of the API is tagging the places. So it’s [like], I took a photo, a video, soundfile, creating a blog post here, which is great. I think there’s a lot of other things that can be done with the API.
Some of the interesting [uses] with Flickr, for example, you can tie your Flickr photos to your Foursquare. Pinterest is using Foursquare places to power your custom list. With Uber, you can say “Hey pick me up at JFK,” which is powered by the Foursquare data set. That stuff is pretty great.
Early on, we were really selling the API to folks—not with money, but like, “Hey, you should use our platform, it’s better than what’s out there.” It was tricky in the beginning, but now it’s the default location database that people use. It’s really rewarding for this team to see an app of the week that people are talking about on TechCrunch, and see they’re doing something with location and using the Foursquare API.
RW: So the API has been open for as long as Foursquare existed?
DC: Since the summer of 2009. I remember Naveen [Selvadurai, cofounder of Foursquare] and I had to decide: do we want to build an Android app, or an API? If we build the API we can get an Android app out of it. And we got a Blackberry app, and a Windows app. And 10 other things got built on top of it. Then it blossomed into a huge developer community.
RW: So going back to the location-based services, sometimes I try to get my friends to use Foursquare, and people are a little worried about security. What do you think about security? What would you tell somebody who says that?
DC: People think that Foursquare has a tendency to know where you are all the time. We’ve made it very explicit—it’s when you check into places. That’s when we share externally, when we share with your friends, Twitter, Facebook.
So I think most people that have been like, “I don’t know if that’s for me,” maybe they don’t fully understand the product or the privacy model, which is a little bit our fault. Maybe we haven’t done the best job in the world communicating that.
Overall for people who use the service everyday we very rarely if ever hear complaints of, “I didnt mean to share this.” That’s the whole point of the check-in. It hasn’t been a big thing for us.
Our Mobile Devices Will Tell Us Where To Go
RW: Let’s talk about anticipatory computing. What does Foursquare envision people doing before or after the check-in?
DC: The check-in is a means to an end in a lot of ways. It’s a mechanism by which people tell us about the real world. Google has this amazing knowledge and understanding of what’s going on in the Web, and where to find stuff in the Web because they have software robots and crawl the links.
We do that for the real world, but we don’t have robots. People go out and and experience places and tell Foursquare about it, and Foursquare can have a great understanding of the real world.
We know about the shapes of places, we know which places are interesting in the morning versus the afternoon, and the seasonality of them. Are they trending up or down? Is it less popular on Wednesdays or Saturdays? What are the brunch places in this neighborhood that your friend has been to that none of your other friends have been to? It’s a really powerful data set.
What we wanted to do with Foursquare since the beginning, before Dodgeball, we were thinking about what you do when this thing [points to phone] is smart enough to understand what you like and what you don’t like. What direction you want to be walking and what places are interesting to you and what aren’t.
How do you pop things up in front of you so you don’t have to be on the phone all the time? All the goodness of Foursquare is locked in a thing which is hiding in your pocket. So how can we get Foursquare to wake up at various times and then let the user know, “Hey we found something awesome around the corner that you didn’t know about,” or “Hey, you just sat down at this restaurant, you have to order this particular dish.” The mechanism that we are using right now, your phone buzzes and you take it out of your pocket, and you’re like, “Oh Foursquare has something cool to tell me about this place, this neighborhood, this moment.”
We think about how this is going to change over time. Is it always going to be in the phone? Will it extend to your car? Will you be wearing it on your wrist, or your face? If you’re asking me about the Foursquare API, what can it do?
Right now we’re powering a whole bunch of apps that are helping people make sense of location. Eventually I think the Foursquare API will be powering a whole bunch of hardware devices, and a whole bunch of different things that are designed to give people really strong contextual awareness.
Everything we’ve been doing in the last 4 or 5 years has been leading up to things like this. We can run software in the back of your phone. We can push messages to screens that don’t just live in your pocket but live elsewhere.
RW: For people that aren’t necessarily familiar with contextual awareness or anticipatory computing and suggestions, can you explain to a Foursquare user why these notifications will be beneficial and what data Foursquare is using to suggest the local coffee shop?
DC: It’s a little bit of everything. The number one signal is probably the check-in history that you have. Every time a user checks into a place, it gives Foursquare an understanding of, do they like this place more than this place, this neighborhood, more than that neighborhood, this time of day more than that time of day? Do they like to go to a lot of new places? Or the same places?
We have a really good understanding of a lot of users because the Foursquare community has given us a lot of check-in data. For brand new users, if those users have some friends that are also on the service, you can take advantage of that. Even though I may not have a lot of check-ins in Chicago, a lot of my friends have been there, so I can draft off the places they’ve been to. What are the places that all my friends have gone to here? Which suddenly makes the city more accessible.
What we’re starting to get is, what can we know about a specific user’s specific interest in specific places? Do they go to these places all the time because they like the steak frites, or the bourbon cocktails or because they like cheap hot dogs or beer? How do we understand?
We’re doing a lot of work here to make this stuff a reality. How do we understand the specific things in specific places, and how do we steer people to specific things that are similar to those things at new places or neighborhoods or unfamiliar context.
We have so many signals coming in and out of our database. We can use all of that to personalize our search recommendations.
The Marauder’s Map
RW: So it’s not just the location—it’s also the tips, the sentiment analysis and taking and analyzing all of the data people provide Foursquare?
DC: It’s our ability to go through the one thousand tips that were left at any bar on the corner here to tease out, These are the 5 things that are most interesting here. People talk about: great beer selection, Irish car bombs, the curry fries and fish and chips. And those are the things that will gravitate to the top of the list, because people talk about them all the time.
Then we can associate the sentiment with each of those things and see everyone talks about this in a positive light, so that thing is really good. Everyone talks about this in a negative light, so let’s push those tips down.
The moment my phone locks into a restaurant and it stays there for 5 or 6 minutes, the app that’s running in the background [can recognize] the phone stopped— it takes like 6 minutes to figure out it’s at Puck Fair. And then it’s like: what are the things that are interesting here? It’s the beer selection, it’s the curry fries, it’s the fish and chips; so let’s pop open the phone and let the user know that this is the thing that is the most interesting about this particular place.
It feels really magical when that stuff happens. It’s also still kind of primitive. Even though we have this amazing technical accomplishment that we’ve done, and this amazing technology base that allows us to do that, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done to make it feel personalized, and to make everything feel super special.
I’ve talked in the past about how Foursquare should be a version of Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map—this external awareness of what people are doing and where they’ve been.
How do you make social networking tools that can be active when you’re not? How do you make things run in the background and make this ambient awareness of what people are doing, or the way that they’re moving, or are they close or are they far? And I think that’s what fascinates all of this team. When you do this stuff right it feels like super powers or it feels like magic. That’s what we shoot for.
No Longer Just A Social Network
RW: Do you even consider yourself a social network? I was looking at my own phone and I have Foursquare in the travel bucket instead of social.
DC: We’ve always had a social networking component, and it’s one of the things that drives our model. But really it’s about search and discovery. How can Foursquare take all this data that users have been giving us over the last 5 years, and how do we recycle that and give it back to people in the form of, “Hey we know something about this neighborhood that you never would have known otherwise,” and it turned out it was an awesome coffee shop recommendation that made your day.
How do we do that in a way that is proactive as opposed to having the user think about Foursquare, take their phone out of their pocket and do something? That’s going to be huge. Anticipating people’s intent, or anticipating people’s downtime or interest in ambient data and our ability to serve up really smart things about particular spots.
I don’t know any other companies that are approaching it as seriously as we are. There’s so much data that we’ve collected over the last couple years, so much technical infrastructure that’s designed to solve this one specific problem. We have a really nice head start over pretty much everyone else in this space.
RW: How often would I get a notification that says, “Oh, I see you’re walking down Broadway, I suggest you check out this art gallery.” What can someone expect for this future of Foursquare?
DC: We have the ability to do it often. I’m running a version of Foursquare on my phone that is very aggressive about the pings we send. What we’ve done for most users is we turn their dial down a lot because not every place is super interesting, and not everything interesting is brand new.
When you stop at a place, especially if it’s a new or interesting place, or someone has left a tip there, when you’re at the right place at the right time, then it pops up and says, “While you’re here you need to try this dish.”
That happens to me regularly, which is awesome. We can do that for people once a week, twice a week. At this stage where we are, I’m very happy about that.
The Future Of Foursquare
RW: How do you use Foursquare personally? Obviously you’re testing things all the time, but beyond that.
DC: I check into most of the places I go. I like to keep a record of the places I go, the social history is a part of it. I find a lot of places and share them with people. If I go someplace and I order something and say it’s awesome, then I’ll write a tip and share it with 4 or 5 people and say, “You have to try this fried chicken.”
I leave lots of tips, almost everywhere I go, I try to think of the one little nugget I want to leave behind for users to discover, and once a day or couple days I go through my Foursquare history and say, “I’ve left a tip at this place and this place.”
I found a really cool restaurant outside of the city this weekend, and I went to the ballet earlier this week and I have a great tip I left: “Make sure you read the program before the thing starts so you know whats going on.” [laughs]
RW: Do you think that there’s any company that has the amount of data on people at the scale that you do? It seems that there’s no one that rivals you with the personalization factor.
DC: Google has a lot of data about folks, and Facebook has a lot of data about folks. I think those are the two that are really being smart about putting this data to use and building amazing consumer services on top of it.
But remember, a lot of Google’s data comes from search queries on Web, or on phone, and a lot of the Facebook data comes from the news feed—it comes from what you’re doing with social connections, what you Like and don’t.
I think Foursquare data is super unique. It’s peoples’ relationships with places—it’s very specific. That’s one of the things we’ve done really well for the past five years or so, we knew that was our space. We’ve always stuck to that.
There were many opportunities in the company to say, “Why don’t we do this thing, or why don’t we do check into TV shows?” We kind of laugh at it now, but that was a big decision in 2009, 2010. Are we the check-in? Or are we people’s relationships to things in the real world? We were always doing the real world thing.
RW: Do you think how people use their mobile devices in the future is going to be reliant on their location? When you go out somewhere you get a notification that says, “I guess you’re going to the movies—why don’t you see this?” Afterwards, it says, “Why don’t you go to this restaurant?”
I just know I personally use my mobile phone when I’m on the go more than being sedentary at the office or at home. Is that what you’re building Foursquare to head towards in the future?
DC: How do you build super powers into software? It’s the ability to know: the text messages you get that are annoying, and what do you want to do tonight. Foursquare is a mix of those things.
It’s like, this is where people are and these are the things that are interesting. You can imagine Foursquare will be very prescriptive: “Here’s what you do, go two blocks up and over, and go to this place and get the fried chicken. After you leave, go to this bar and get a drink and then go across the street.”
How much fun is it to go out with someone who really has a plan? How do we do this with software? How do we take all the experiences that your friends are talking about, all the things going on in New York or LA and put that in the format that is very easy to tease content out of?
RW: I feel Foursquare has solved my biggest problem. I’m that person who’s like, “What are we going to do tonight?” I always joke that my biggest decision of the day is figuring out where I’m going to eat dinner.
DC: If you me and Brendan [Lewis] all go to Google Maps and search for dinner or food, we’re all going to get the same results. That’s insane. It should be different based upon who you are, what you’ve done, your relationship to the place and what you were doing yesterday and what you’re supposed to be doing 3 hours from now.
All that contextual information lives in here [picks up mobile device]. It’s just a matter of teasing it out and cross checking it with a bunch of other results. We’re knee-deep in solving that problem, we just haven’t. There’s a little bit of a lack of awareness of how really good Foursquare is at solving search and discovery problems.
I think 2014 is the year in which we address a lot of those issues and start to change people’s perceptions.
Images courtesy of Foursquare
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Business 2 Community
Microsoft Invests $15 Million In Foursquare: What That Means For SEO On Bing
Business 2 Community
Microsoft Invests $15 Million In Foursquare: What That Means For SEO On Bing image simpsons An exciting new partnership has been announced between Microsoft and Foursquare. It promises to bring benefits to each of the companies, as well as to the …
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Microsoft has invested $15 million in Foursquare and said it will license the former’s location data according to news released yesterday. Foursquare aspires to be “the location layer for the internet.” With real-time feedback about local data accuracy, based on user movements and…
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Not long ago, most people had written off Foursquare as a has-been, the Mayor of Debt Town, saddled by a $41 million loan from Silver Lake and its current investors. The check-in service it offered was no longer a hot trend, and its prospects for revenues looked weak after reports surfaced that it had only done $2 million in business in 2012.
Now Foursquare has done something unexpected: It has not just survived but seemingly thrived. The company just raised $35 million in fresh cash, wiping some of that debt off its books. Its revenues are growing quickly. And its usage is expanding around the world, in surprising places like Beijing and Istanbul—wherever there is a mess of urbanity to be mapped.
Perhaps most importantly, Foursquare has become the favorite way for mobile-app developers to add location as a feature. Everyone from Uber to Pinterest and WhatsApp uses Foursquare’s directory of places.
The Foursquare Bidding War
So who ends up with this prize?
Don’t get me wrong—part of me, after seeing founder and CEO Dennis Crowley’s stubborn struggle to realize his vision, would applaud an independent Foursquare. But it’s hard to see how the company gets to public-company scale. Crowley may want to soldier on, but his troops are getting tired—like longtime collaborator Alex Rainert, who recently stepped down as Foursquare’s product chief.
Foursquare’s growing advertising revenues have bought Crowley time. But ultimately, the value of Foursquare may lie in its appeal to app developers. And first and foremost among them is an app called Instagram.
Facebook, of course, bought Instagram for $1 billion in 2012. True to his word, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has not interfered with Instagram, letting founder Kevin Systrom run it independently. The fact that Instagram still uses Foursquare’s database of places, not Facebook’s, is a telling example of that.
That seems like a dangerous dependency. Instagram has far outgrown Foursquare—it has 150 million monthly active users, while Foursquare, which does not give numbers for its active users, says 45 million users have registered with the service.
But Foursquare may have the upper hand. It is uniquely hard to replace. While Google, Yelp, Yext, and Facebook have directories of businesses, few services match Foursquare for its collection of quirky, noncommercial points of interest. Those are naturally the kind of places Instagram users like to document.
And Facebook has not given up on weaving place information into its social network. When he unveiled Facebook’s first attempt at matching Foursquare, Facebook Places, product chief Chris Cox described it as a way to create “collective memory.” Facebook may not have nailed that idea, but when you look at a collection of Instagram photos tagged to a Foursquare location, you see Cox’s vision realized.
So imagine this scenario: Google or Microsoft or Apple, eager to bolster their mapping services, will inevitably bid for Foursquare in 2014. Or perhaps PayPal, eager to chart anywhere you can spend money, may make a move. That may well force Facebook’s hand.
As part of Facebook, Foursquare will have far more value than just a directory of points on a map. It will be part of a growing suite of services Facebook offers to mobile-app developers, from Facebook’s own login and friends list, to the back-end services offered by Parse, and the distribution Facebook offers through the News Feed and App Center.
It could also launch Facebook into new areas of business. Already, Foursquare’s real-time recommendations for where to go next offer glimmers of anticipatory computing—a form of artificial intelligence where computers smartly take into account a variety of external inputs to mimic human decision-making.
Facebook is currently designed around the act of remembering. It anticipates only what you might want to read from what your friends have already posted. That’s so over. Its Timeline profile pages are built for nostalgia. This might be why teens are growing bored with Facebook, even as adults warm up to it: It’s about the past, not the future.
So picture Foursquare’s anticipatory algorithms applied more broadly to Facebook—to music, movies, news articles, even people. It’s kind of scary to imagine Mark Zuckerberg, who already knows what we’ve done with our lives, telling us what to do next. With Crowley’s help, though, he might just have the chance to do it.
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