News & Views

Foursquare / SXSW Debrief

by Contagious Team

Foursquare founder's SXSW keynote focuses on the potential for location services

Since Foursquare launched at SXSW in 2009 it has grown to 30 million users and it continues to add 1.5 million users a month, according to founder Dennis Crowley, in his keynote at the Austin festival this week. 

However, the location service, which Crowley described as a software for sharing the best of what's nearby, has moved away from its early gamification focus on mayorships, points and badges. Foursquare now powers the location API of numerous social platforms, such as Instagram and Vine, proving the location element of the picture or media that is shared, in a similar way to how Facebook's Like button has been baked into numerous websites. This information, as well as Foursquare's user check-ins, provides the site with a rich seem of data. 

Crowley showed the video above and explained that while an individual check-in doesn't provide much interest, patterns of repeated locations, movements, and data all help the service get smarter around places as more sources are integrated. He explained: 'It's not the ephemeral moment in time, it's the connections that we make.' 

Describing Foursquare as in a 'transition phase', towards becoming a local search product, aiding search and discovery, Crowley went on to cover the benefits that its location data could bring to mapping services and retailers.


Crowley shared his frustration that despite the advances in digital technology, mapping products 'are essentially the same as what we've been using forever'. He believes points of interest, such as friends, recommended locations or suggestions, should all appear on personalised maps, which he sees as a real equivalent of Harry Potter's Marauders Map (a magical map that identifies the location of those at Hogwarts). He added: 'Local is so important and we are in a better position to provide that social layer.'


Crowley believes retailers should use the app data and patterns to carefully target and personalise offers - coming up with different suggestions for loyal, lapsed or potential customers. Similarly, targets could be identified by picking up on patterns of where  people usually shop or their daily habits, to target them with specific, personal offers that chime with the restaurant, shop or service they are searching for, or even passing by unaware. For example, if someone usually for coffee at 11 am and are passing by a coffee shop that is highly rated, and their friends have previously shared Instagram pictures of coffees from that establishment, it would be great for them to receive a recommendation for that coffee shop.

He acknowledged the need for this process to be as frictionless as possible, made easier by not forcing people to check in or interact with the service via their phones. He cited the deal between Foursquare and Amex, which allowed discounts to be automatically deducted when payment was made with the card, rather than fumbling with vouchers and confused sales assistants. 


Crowley concluded by speaking about Foursquare's commitment to and focus on location - the element of its business that it knows well and where it has the lead on competitors. He believes that Foursquare can play a part in the intersection of services and data, helping to provide nudges that fit into people's lives, locations and habits.