Will Foursquare Go The Way Of Gowalla? Does Anyone Still Care?

October 29, 2013

I used to be a huge champion of Foursquare. I guess you could say I was an early adopter.

Fast-forward five years later, and my interest in the app has rapidly declined. I check-in maybe once a week for no real reason, and rarely look to see where my friends are checking-in. That said, I did have a fabulous experience last week when I did check-in: One of my good friends was at the Mall of America on Saturday, and we were able to grab lunch because she saw I was at the mall as well – all because of my Foursquare check-in.

That experience made me question my disinterest in the app, but after a quick survey of my colleagues at Fast Horse, I confirmed that I am not the only one. Many have slowed their usage, or uninstalled the app all together. Well, everyone except power-user Doug!

Photo courtesy of Mashable

Photo: Mashable

After sky-rocketing to social media fame as the hot new social media start-up and a valuation that was once as high as $760 million, things have slowed for Foursquare over the past few years.

According to a mobile app research firm, usage among U.S. iPhone users has declined over the past year – from 5.5 percent in July 2012 to 4.0 percent in August 2013. And even though a different research firm reports an increase in global visitors to the Foursquare app, the figure is paltry compared to the explosive growth in users for both Instagram and Pinterest.

But Foursquare is not rolling over. In fact, they’ve been busy trying to figure out how to monetize their platform and live up to their valuation. Here’s a look at the big news from Foursquare over the past few months.

  • July 16 – Foursquare introduces a new ad offering called “Post Check-In Ads.” Served to users after checking-in at certain locations, businesses are able to target users with full-screen ads. For example, Captain Morgan ran a campaign where users who checked-in at certain bars would see an add suggesting they order a “Captain and Coke.”
  • July 23 – Foursquare announces it’s testing a self-serve ad platform for small businesses. The creatively named “Foursquare Ads” (sarcasm mine) will allow businesses to build their own ad campaigns, and only be charged if a user visits the business (either in-person, or the listing on Foursquare).
  • Aug. 1 – Reports confirm that Foursquare has inked a deal with an ad-buying system to allow retargeting of Foursquare users based on check-in data. This service allows retargeting of Fousquare’s users once they leave the app, and marks the company’s first effort to make money outside of their own app.
  • Aug. 29 – The New York-based company announced it was testing a new version of the service that automatically detects where a user is, and offers up personalized recommendations accordingly, based on past user data. The test-run with Android users was eventually expanded to select iPhone users in October, meaning that Foursquare is that much closer to no longer needing users to even open the app to engage with the company.
  • Oct. 14 – After a seemingly successful pilot program, the company opens Foursquare Ads to all small businesses.
  • Oct. 22 – In an effort to expand beyond mobile, Foursquare rolls out a new look for Foursquare.com. The new and improved website shows day-parted recommendations and nearby deals.
  • Oct. 27 –  Just a few days ago, the winning idea at TechCrunch’s first-ever European hackathon  was “Foursquare PreCheck-in.” The app would allow people to express their intent to visit places before they go – making it easier to plan trips with friends, as well as allowing ample time for businesses to offer up services and products to potential customers. This news would indicate that there’s still value in the concept behind Foursquare.


My prediction:

An example of automatic recommendations from Foursquare

An example of automatic recommendations from Foursquare

Foursquare will soon quit introducing new in-app ad offerings, and they’ll shutter their self-serve ad platform by the end of 2014. Instead, they’ll focus more on the  user experience in order to keep people checking in, because that’s where their best shot at making money is: in the data. The company has an extremely valuable amount of data about people, including where they go, what they like, who they’re going with.  It’s the biggest playing card that they have since while their location-based platform isn’t the only option, it is the most robust – with more than 3 billion check-ins. It’s the reason why other companies like Uber, Instagram and 50,000+ more app developers use Foursquare’s platform for location services.

Foursquare will find new ways to make money off that data, and the company will survive. Heck, I might even check-in here and there.

What do you think about my prediction? Have a prediction of your own?