Will the New Foursquare Attract Usage?

New Foursquare

I wrote a relatively broad overview of the new Foursquare mobile app at Search Engine Land. If someone held a gun to my head and said, “Do you like it — yes or no?” I’d say “yes.”

The app does a nice job of being able to make very recommendations for places and specific items (e.g., menu items) whether where I am now or where I’m going. There’s a lot of sophistication going on behind the scenes in the new app to create a much more personalized local search or discovery experience.

Arguably this app will help you to find good “fish tacos” faster than others, where you have to do a search (or multiple searches) and then refine.

Beyond this the new app’s UI/UX also are sufficiently unique that it doesn’t look like a “me too” app. Personalization is the big selling point here. It’s enabled by a range of data and behaviors. For example, your location profile — where you go in the world — contributes to Foursquare recommendations.

There’s also explicit personalization in the form of what Foursquare calls a “taste game.” Years ago before Yell bought it, Trusted Places offered something quite similar (“taste matcher”), although that user experience was more like “hot or not.”

I think Foursquare has produced a new app that isn’t a radical departure from the pre-existing one but which makes some of the app’s virtues more obvious to users. I do think there’s a bit too much clutter and even complexity here however. Yelp, TripAdvisor, YP and Google are all simpler (if less efficient) in several respects.

Foursquare argues that the new app offers a better, more trustworthy local search/discovery experience. And that may well be true but it will need to become a bit more streamlined before it can attract the kinds of audiences and adoption that will allow the company to remain independent.

See related:

Update: The WSJ picks up on location profiling or “persistent location tracking” in the new Foursquare app. In my discussion with Foursquare, when I heard this was going on, I warned the company that there would be articles about “surveillance” and surreptitious tracking.

As I indicate above, Foursquare told me that the location profile data are used only for individual personalization and not provided to any third party. Later on the temptation of course might be to use this for advertising purposes. Indeed, most mobile ad networks are doing a version of this already, but creating aggregated categories of users rather than focusing on individuals.

I don’t believe that Foursquare is doing something sinister here. Yet the company must be clear with consumers that this is going on and why. Otherwise the conspiracy theories and “surveillance” memes will take over the personalization narrative.

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9 Responses to “Will the New Foursquare Attract Usage?”

  1. Andrew Shotland says at

    I’ll definitely keep trying it, but for me for now it still feels incomplete.

    It’s algo is really off for the booming city of Pleasanton. I have tried several different queries and all of the suggestions assume that I am going drive a few miles out of my way to get what I want.  There are perfectly great sandwich places about 500 ft away from me that it missed. 

    The check-in feature that sends you to the Swarm app seems like they wanted to have it both ways but it feels weird/wrong to have to go to another app. If they don’t want you to check-in then just shoot the feature in the head (with your gun Greg) instead of slowly smothering it.

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    My usage in the “real world” has been limited so far. Sounds like your main complaint is about their database?

  3. Andrew Shotland says at

    It’s the algorithm as far as I can tell. Even in older versions I had similar issues. It’s non-trivial to know the correct radius to use depending on where the user is located and I have not found that 4sq has ever solved that issue, for me at least.

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    There are simple ways to solve it I think: have a default or multiple default — if people go farther for dinner than lunch for example. And then give users the ability to search a wider area through the touch of a button or filter

  5. Andrew Shotland says at

    the problem is you need a default radius that takes into account at least the following:

    1. Location (e.g. dense city, rural, small suburb, etc.)
    2. Query (sushi has different radius perhaps than auto repair shop)
    3. Time of Day
    4. User History

    I haven’t tested it extensively but in my experience 4sq has not had a good hit rate for any of those yet.

  6. Greg Sterling says at

    I would say 1) and 2) are most important — this is just a question of enough data and putting stakes in the ground; 3) is do-able (that’s what I was suggesting with different distances for lunch or dinner). User history is more difficult. However by letting someone expand the radius you could eliminate having that challenge.

  7. Malcolm Lewis says at

    At PG we addressed these issues by replacing a fixed search radius, with an elastic radius that expands until you have “enough” results. So if 50 results is deemed enough, progressively expand the search radius until you get 50 results. For a “coffee shop” search, the radius might max out to a few miles. For a “Porsche dealer” search the radius could expand to several hundred miles. This elastic radius approach automatically takes care of (1) and (2). 

  8. Andrew Shotland says at

    It’s possible the elastic radius is part of the problem. “Enough” results also could mean “too many” results. So the backfill crowd out the more relevant results. They should be “smart” elastic results.

  9. Malcolm Lewis says at

    Isn’t enough always enough? ;)

    Enough is not a minimum – more a mechanism for dynamically expanding the search radius for remote locations and/or long tail searches.

    Backfilling with irrelevant results is always a no-no. If there’s only 1-2 nearby results then just show those imo.

    To see what they’re doing, I tried my “Porsche dealer” search on Foursquare – https://foursquare.com/explore?mode=url&near=Newport%20Beach%2C%20CA&q=porsche%20dealer.

    They do indeed backfill with some questionable results. Including result #6, “Drug Dealer”, complete with a surprising Tip, is certainly overreaching.

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