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January 04, 2012

In-App Foursquare Community

PDX Check-insFOURSQUARE OFTEN GETS dismissed by pundits who think it's just a silly game. When that happens, I think those critics have never seen the in-app Foursquare community.

I first realised Foursquare could provide me more than a cute little badge when I rolled over in a Portland Hotel because of some loud music outside. I happened to glance at Foursquare and it told me the name of the place. In fact, the club was trending on Foursquare at the time. And inside venue on Foursquare I found dozens of in-app comments, tips and sometimes personal remarks that showed me the Foursquare app was connecting people with people often as much as it was connecting people with venues. That's happening here in Ireland as well.

I think it's remarkable that a small company like Foursquare can continue iterating, carving out a location-based system that holds true to the spirit that Dennis Crowley set out several years ago. Perhaps Crowley knew how reliable the GPS sensors would be on today's mobile phone handsets. Those sensors tie right into Foursquare's geolocation platform. They ensure places can be specifically identified and the Foursquare app helps people connect with place as a means of establishing an identity online. And that is why Foursquare is so successful. People want to be identified with place. People want to share expertise about places or about products and service at places. Foursquare facilitates this in a very elegant way.

But for me, there's another part of the Foursquare glue that holds my interest. It's very easy to hold a one-on-one conversation with people while they're in a venue. I've helped people get to the exact chair in a pub next to a perfect winter fire after they raised a question during a Foursquare check-in. I've talked directly to venue managers while making a drive-by Foursquare appearance, then returned for the real deal (and sometimes a complementary cup of coffee). Foursquare has evolved into a very targeted lazy web for me.

There's a design aesthetic behind Foursquare that has earned my respect as well. Anil Dash thinks it is "distinctive and playful without being cloying, in support of an interaction model that's surprisingly clear given the depth of features that the platform supports." I agree. There are very compelling things to explore and contribute in every flavour of the Foursquare app AND the Foursquare website invites contributions. Several of my friends have left behind more than 100 tips--real info, not promotions.

Anil cites the leaderboard, noting its "richness of functionality". I like it because it puts the faces of people I know in front of me without allowing me to stalk them. I also like Foursquare Lists and can't imagine traveling to a city without referencing lists of places and activities shared by those I know. This is rich information, elegantly presented. I automagically share photos from my check-ins directly to Flickr and when I remember, I put those shots into a set of Foursquare venues.

The Foursquare app also presents itself consistently across all platforms. I remember being amazed at how it worked so well on my Nokia E7 when other location services locked up the phone. Foursquare on Windows Phone is one of the best uses of the Metro UI.

I don't expect to see Irish hipsters wearing Foursquare-themed tees this Patrick's Day but I would expect the Irish foodie community to begin making better use of Foursquare as restaurants, cafes, and specialty shops start promoting each other through in-app Foursquare tactics. If I saw this happening, I'd be enticed to eat out more often.

I am Topgold on Foursquare. I used to be mayor of 100 places.

Anil Dash -- "Foursquare: Today's Best-Executing Start-up", January 3, 2012.



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