It’s not Facebook or Google. It’s Foursquare.
Don’t get me wrong. Facebook and Google have a really impressive presence here at the Where Conference. They’re doing incredible things in location.
And might I add, parenthetically, that Google has a really awesome booth – the letters in the word Google light up!
But the thing is, location is just one part of what Google and Facebook do. A very important thing, but one thing nonetheless.
Foursquare has location in its DNA – it was founded on geolocational “check-ins” – and everything else it has done and has become is built on that foundation.
I was very interested to attend Foursquare’s presentation yesterday, “The Power of Place.” As an active Foursquare user, I was curious to look under the hood.
I wasn’t alone. There has been a lot of attention on Foursquare here, and the room was full.
Part of what’s interesting to me about Foursquare is also a bit aggravating. They are the leader in one of the most important technology arenas, yet they seem very much like a start-up. They are young. They have titles like Platform Evangelist. And somewhat annoyingly and ironically, they seem not to realize anything exists outside New York or San Francisco (how about some examples other than Soho and Central Park, guys?).
Their presentation was informative; it focused in large part on the challenges around search. Essentially they have scads of check-in data, and they are working hard to make that data useful in a meaningful way.
And by meaningful, I mean made meaningful by social proof. When you search, you learn where your friends have been and what they have to say about places; if you are in a place where your friends haven’t checked in, you are presented with locations that are “popular on Foursquare.”
What was really impressive was the check-in data they shared. They showed the distribution and density of check-ins at popular locations such as the Golden Gate Bridge and JFK Airport where you could actually see the characteristic physical outline of the locale in the data rendering. They also had an animation of check-in patterns throughout a typical day in Manhattan, where you could clearly see the swarm into the city in the morning, the lunch rush to restaurants, and the nightclubs and bars hopping at night. Cool stuff!
There’s no doubt about it; Foursquare has a gargantuan treasure-trove of data. Now they are rightly focused on using the data to improve the usefulness of their service.
But I can’t help but dream of other uses for that data. What could academics tease out? A whole lot, I’ll bet.
And, of course, there is a vast potential use of Foursquare’s data for market research. I asked Foursquare’s Platform Evangelist, Akshay Patil, after the presentation whether they’ve considered the potential use of their data for market research purposes. He told me they realize that potential but that their primary focus is on respecting the privacy of their users.
That’s the right answer, of course. But I’m hoping they get creative and find a way to serve not only their users but also businesses who would pay top dollar for the insights Foursquare data could yield.
A company, like a person, can typically only be a rock star for so long until they move to the next phase. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future brings for Foursquare.