Last month Foursquare officially started calling itself a local search site and redesigned its homepage accordingly. It’s now displaying a prominent search box and emphasizing utility (“find great places near you”), rather than the social or gaming aspects of the site. With the changes Foursquare took even more direct aim at Yelp.
Foursquare also opened up to non-registered in users and started employing a numerical score for local businesses. This development was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the changes.
The scores are a calculation based on tips, likes, dislikes, popularity, loyalty and check-ins. In other words, there’s a heavy behavioral aspect (as opposed to pure opinion) in the ratings.
In a post yesterday announcing an upgraded Foursquare iOS app that mirrors some of the earlier online changes, the company took a swipe at Yelp’s star ratings: “Instead of other sites where every place gets 3.5 stars, we come up with our scores using the same Foursquare magic that powers Explore.”
It’s true that star ratings tend to average out and you get lots of businesses with 3.5 stars on Yelp. However the new Foursquare iOS app isn’t quite ready to displace Yelp. Fourquare’s app looks great and has some very nice features. It’s also more cumbersome to use than Yelp in several ways.
In doing my archetypal local sushi search, I found a number of places on Foursquare with lower scores ranked above places with higher scores, presumably because of social signals or distance. However Yelp results are easier to use. Compare Foursquare on the left and Yelp on the right below:
At a glance I get more information from Yelp. With Foursquare I have to scroll through more results, which might be fun and interesting (from a social networking perspective) but not if I’m just looking for information to help make a decision about where to go for lunch.
Yelp’s mobile app is more “useful.” The Foursquare profile page offers helpful suggestions and tips once I’m in a location. But the Foursquare mobile SERP isn’t as good as Yelp’s in enabling me to make a decision.
Interestingly, the PC version of the Foursquare SERP (above) is cleaner and more straightforward — letting you see SMB scores “at a glance” as well as filter and compare businesses more easily than on the Foursquare mobile app.
If Foursquare truly wants to become a mainstream competitor for Yelp it’s going to need to make additional mobile changes that may require the sacrifice some novelty or “style” for greater utility.