Posts tagged well
SEO: Why Amazon's Navigation Works So Well
Judging by the number of Google searches for which Amazon ranks, it's easy to see that Amazon is doing a lot right when it comes to search engine optimization. It's hard to pinpoint one thing that Amazon does well in regards to SEO, but its navigation …
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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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ReadWriteReflect offers a look back at major technology trends, products and companies of the past year.
In mid-December 2013, Bitcoin took one of its most dramatic nosedives yet. Following a crackdown on yuan-to-bitcoin deposits in China, the price of one bitcoin dropped below as $540, less than half of its all time high in late November, $1,242. (It’s since bounced back to around $730.)
Bitcoin’s true believers aren’t treating its latest gyrations as a cause for panic. It’s not the first time Bitcoin crashed hard, and it’s not going to be the last. But it’s a further reminder, in case you needed one, that Bitcoin is volatile, and what it’s supposedly worth today may bear no relation whatsoever to what it’ll be worth tomorrow.
It’s been a big year for Bitcoin, the unlikely currency that started as a fad for cryptology nuts and ended as a mainstream obsession that had many of us all closely following its rollercoaster highs and lows. But the biggest impact of Bitcoin so far has not nothing to do with its actual value. Rather, the year of Bitcoin we’ve just been through has fundamentally changed the way we think about money.
In 2013, Bitcoin’s hold on the mainstream was undeniable. Even the most Luddite media organizations could no longer ignore the popular cryptocurrency. Each time Bitcoin crashed—first in April; then, after the Feds cracked down on Mt. Gox; and once more, after the Feds closed illicit marketplace Silk Road—it soon came back stronger than ever.
As mainstream coverage grew, an increasing number of small businesses hurried to accept Bitcoin, in part because it requires far lower transactions fees than credit or debit payments. On this year’s Bitcoin Black Friday, held the same day as regular Black Friday but with Bitcoin, nearly 300 merchants participated. BitPay, which processes Bitcoin transactions for business, processed more than 6,000 plus transactions in a single day and called it the most popular day in the history of Bitcoin commerce.
On January 1, 2013, the price of a single Bitcoin was $13.51. As the price fluctuated into the thousands over the course of the year, speculation drove the price and coverage into a frenzy.
Stories of Bitcoin millionaires, who’d found forgotten, unspent wallets of the cryptocurrency, only spurred an increasing number of newbies. When I bought Bitcoin in person, my seller told me that the higher Bitcoin’s profile, the more beginners enter the community.
“The membership [of the Bitcoin Users’ Group] probably has a mathematical correlation between the number of attendees and the price of Bitcoin,” he said.
In an age where people fetishize technology and convenience, banks are one of the stodgiest parts of our infrastructure. Bitcoin appealed to people who don’t see why we should still wait over the weekend for a bank to process a transaction, or why the government can deny your donation to Wikileaks. At its most successful, Bitcoin changed our global conception of what makes up a currency.
Why Bitcoin Can’t Do It Alone
However, for all the strides Bitcoin has made forward, 2013 has also shown that world governments can easily squelch the currency’s growth.
Proponents of Bitcoin are drawn to the cryptocurrency because it was designed to act outside of any governing body’s jurisdiction. Unlike dollars or yuan, which are printed and controlled by governments, bitcoins are mined by their users. And thanks to the blockchain, a ledger of every bitcoin transaction that has ever taken place, there’s no mystery about how many there are or where they’ve been. Bitcoins are private, but they aren’t secret.
But, if you’re not mining bitcoins yourself, you need to acquire them by exchanging government currency at a Bitcoin exchange such as Mt. Gox, Bitstamp, or BTC China. And when government money is involved, government cooperation is required.
Bitcoin got its biggest wake-up call in mid-December, when the People’s Bank of China froze yuan-to-bitcoin deposits to China’s largest Bitcoin exchange. The price plummeted.
Bitcoin has every ability to recover if BTC China is able to come to a compromise with the PBOC. Unfortunately, China isn’t the only country that has rejected Bitcoin as a currency. Germany, France, Korea, and Thailand have all looked unfavorably on Bitcoin. The European Banking Authority, Switzerland, Poland, and the U.S. are still undecided. Even if Bitcoin isn’t in their hands, their decisions on cash-to-bitcoin transfers could affect its future.
The U.S. indecision has already caused difficulty for Bitcoin ATMs and vending machines. While a Robocoin ATM for bitcoins is operating in Canada and a Lamassu bitcoin vending machine is now functional in Finland, neither maker has yet complied with necessary U.S. financial regulations. The companies blame the lengthy regulatory process.
See also: How To Sell Bitcoin—Legally
In October, the first U.S. client to buy a Lamassu obtained legal counsel and began the process of registering as a money transmitter, but is still caught up in legal limbo. The Senate’s November Bitcoin hearings helped to improve Bitcoin’s standing with lawmakers, but still proved only that government regulation is inevitable.
And at its worst, Bitcoin has given lawmakers reasons to question it. According to a 2013 users’ survey, 16 percent of Bitcoin spending went toward narcotics and other illegal goods. A Bitcoin assassination market has popped up to target world leaders—so far, fortunately, without any result. (Though you know the Secret Service must be taking a keen interest in that.)
Bitcoin has been accused of being a bubble, but it doesn’t exist in one. Outside factors could easily bring it to its knees.
The Legacy Of Bitcoin
2014 may not see the end of Bitcoin, but it will certainly see the end of Bitcoin as we know it.
Soaring valuations have made Bitcoin more of an investment asset than a transactional currency. Why spend your Bitcoin if it’s just going to increase in value the next day? And indeed, whether they’re being hoarded or lost, a full 64 percent of bitcoins have never been spent.
This just makes crashes like the mid-December one all the more upsetting to investors. Bitcoin has little intrinsic value and is backed chiefly by people’s belief in it. If that belief were to falter, investors would be left with nothing.
If you read Satoshi Nakamoto’s white paper on Bitcoin, it’s apparent that today’s inflated bitcoin-as-investment model is never what the anonymous founder(s) intended. Bitcoin was designed to be a peer-to-peer cash system with no third party arbitrator. Bitcoin wasn’t designed to be an investment asset, and it won’t last as one.
According to Andreas Antonopolous, founder of cryptocurrency company RootEleven, many of Bitcoin’s staunchest supporters believe Bitcoin is in for a change, and that’s not a bad thing. In his opinion, Bitcoin is either going to stabilize at a far lower value, or it will fail—clearing the way for a successor among the many hundreds of altcoins waiting in the wings.
Even if Bitcoin as a currency experiences more crises, he said, the invention of the blockchain—the universally shared record of all Bitcoin transactions—can support future currencies and other applications, forever changing the global culture of money.
“A trans-national currency without borders, without government interference and without political controls is now possible. As more people become aware of this, it changes the relationship between money and the state, money and individuals and eventually between individuals and their government. Bitcoin as an invention will survive even if Bitcoin the first currency fails.”
In this reporter’s opinion, Bitcoin itself won’t last. But the innovations that Bitcoin has brought to our financial transactions—increased privacy, a public ledger, censorship-free cash and freedom from a stodgy third party—are what it will truly be remembered for. Years later, when we’re using the latest and most stable digital currency yet, these inventions will still be going strong.
No matter what happens in 2014, Bitcoin has already left its mark. The cryptocurrency is not without its many flaws, but it has brought one major success: our concept of what a currency is has changed forever.
Photo by Zach Copley
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How well do you know Del Mar? Take this quiz
Here’s a trivia primer on the little town “where the turf meets the surf” lovely Del Mar. To test your knowledge of your hometown, answer “True” or “False” to the following nine statements. The correct responses will help you start the new decade off with appreciation and insight for the way things are today! 1. Del Mar was named by early settlers from south of the border who set up seaside …
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