The New Foursquare: Rebirth or Last Gasp?

New 4SQThe new Foursquare app is coming. And, depending on the reaction, it represents new life for the company or a last-chance prelude to a sale. My guess is probably the latter but I hope for the company’s sake it’s the former.

Yelp is 10 years old and Foursquare is half that old, having launched at SXSW as a sort of location-based game (collect badges, become the mayor). Today the company characterizes itself as a “50,000,000-strong community.”

The question that has never been satisfactorily answered, however, is how many active users are there? Anecdotal evidence suggests that usage has plateaued.

In its email letter this week to registered Foursquare users the company encouraged people to download Swarm, the new app that now houses check-ins. It says that “three quarters of you” are already on the new app (this is probably active users). It also previewed the new Foursquare app (and logo: “mix of map pin and superhero emblem”).

The company also provided a glimpse of how it will try and stand out and differentiate from Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor and others — in a word: personalization. It will offer different recommendations for everyone based on history, tastes, context, connections and more:

Everyone explores the world differently – guided by their own unique tastes, their friends, and the people they trust. Local search has never been good at this. It doesn’t get you, and, as a result, everyone gets the same one-size-fits-all results.

Why should two very different people get the same recommendations when they visit Paris? Or the same list of places when they’re looking for a bar? We’re about to change that. In a couple weeks, we’re rolling out a brand new version of Foursquare that’s all about you. Tell us what you like, and we’ll be on the lookout for great places that match your tastes, wherever you are . . .

No two people view the world exactly the same, so no two people will have the same experience with the app. 

The home screen will be the place that Foursquare’s new “personalized local search” (and local discovery) most obviously expresses itself. But sophisticated algorithms will also rank category results based on numerous signals that include individual history (“all of your check-ins and history will continue to help shape your recommendations”).

This personalization strategy is both smart and about the only major card Foursquare had to play. Execution will not be easy and harder still will be creating an overall UI/UX that is sufficiently familiar but simultaneously different enough so that users have affirmative reasons to use it rather than Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor, YP or Google.

I still think the endgame for Foursquare is an acquisition. Would be buyers now include Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple and maybe even Google. I’m sure there are potential others too. In other words Foursquare will find a buyer; the question is how much.

I know that CEO Dennis Crowley is very ambitious and wants the company to realize its potential. However investors are not as idealistic or patient and will likely start agitating for a sale if there isn’t substantial traction within six months of launch.

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