I remember clicking on the shortcut section of my web browser and navigating to Facebook about a year and a half ago. I started going through my newsfeed, trying to kill time time before class and I saw something new. It was a geolocation checkin from some application I have never seen before. A friend of mine was at the Penguins game in Pittsburgh and "checked-in" from the venue. I remember feeling a pang of jealousy but moved along with my day
But these kinds of checkins started popping up more and more from different people on my friends list. And I saw so many places I wanted to go that my friends were visitng. And this is how I started to understand the basis of the "check-in" feature. It was turning into an interesting way to share what your doing with your friends based on where you are. I found that to be insanely cool, downloaded the app to my iPhone and started to play around.
The first thing that I noticed was that most of the places I tried to check in to around me already exsited in the application's list of venues. Which indicated to me that a lot of people around me had been using this app and I had no idea. (Literally every building on campus was on there and they all had different mayors, so for the first time in a long time I felt really left out of a technology trend).
The second thing I realized was that in order to check into places, I actually had to go out of my dorm building and to that particular venue. And so I actually felt compelled to leave the building and go do something! Especiallly when I saw that other people I knew were out and about, around town and camups, doing things while I was inside studying or wasting time.
I used the app for a while but not religiously, not like I used Facebook.
And it didn't seem like many people I knew were using it religiously. Although I did get into a battle for the Mayorship of my office building with a co-worker, which was a lot of fun.
Recently Foursquare has been in the news for making another appearance at SXSW with their recent update to version 3.
Don't get me wrong, I like the app and use it alot to share with my friends and family all of the cool places I go. But the real improvements here are only theoretical.
I read the blogpost on the Foursquare blog and the only thing that I really took away from it was that the company changed their idea about the size and scope, and therefore, possiblities of their service. Like most great ideas (I.E. Facebook) the scope was initially pretty small compared to what is possible. While the app has a new look and feel and directs your attention to different areas than before, it isn't quite 'there' yet. It is missing key elements that would appeal to a wider user base, including the casual technology user and those who own smart devices but don't fully utilize them (like my father, haha. I could see him being the 'Mayor' of the his favorite pizza shop).
So, here come the suggestions. I have given these a lot of thought and I believe that if they were incorporated into the application, user loyalty and participation would skyrocket in a very short period of time.
First: Don't attempt to re-invent the wheel.
The feature that allows a user to auto-scan their Facebook for other users is great, in fact it was how I found out that my friends were using the app. But people are already online, they have already bulit a social network so why try and re-create it? There needs to be more integration with what is already out there, to include Twitter and Facebook.
I suggest that Foursquare use Facebook as a platform to grow from. Use it as the main marketing avenue (it got me into it!) to show what the app can do. Ask if you can display more information about the venue the user is at when thier friends click the "badge" on their newsfeeds.
And for the love of God, give new users the ability to connect the app to their social network tool from within the app. Having to log onto the site makes no sense for a tool you use while you are not at home.
Second: Lets take the concept of sharing to the next level.
Irrational privacy-phobes, turn away now.
I propose the concept if the "lifestyle Snapshot" (or maybe 'Lifeshot', or 'Life Snapshot' Idk).
I think that in addition to sharing your location (and only implying what you're actually doing) and maybe including a comment or something, a user should have the option of sharing as much information about what they are up to as they want. For example, if I were at the gym and listening to a little Black Sabbath to get in the zone, about to run a mile or two, what if I were able to post all of that information up there, example: Current song playing, GPS location, a text comment, picture of the track I'm running on, current speed, time elapsed since running etc.
That information is not only useful for the user and interesting to their friends, but also useful better targeting offers!
Which is the third point.
Third: There is nothing more annoying in an app than constant, erroneous advertisments.
So target better! But we really are seeing a major improvement on this front. For one, the app now more directly encourages local specials and offers in the area (as of the new version) with its listing for "specials nearby" (which is a great word to use, instead of 'offers' btw, feels less like an advertisement and more like an opportunity). And they have had highly publicized deals recently with Starbucks and AMEX.
I don't mind advertisements, as long as they are offering me true, clear, real values and actually apply to me!
But that is easier said then done. Personally, I think a partnership with a Groupon would work great! Like I said before, don't re-invent the wheel, just take what's out there and incorporate it for the benefit of the users.
And don't become an enormous advertisement hub like Facebook. Keep it about the users and the geo-based social networking. We hate having our info tossed around like pawns.
The final, and I think easiest, feature to implement would be letting users 'checkin' to venues with their friends who may only users of Facebook. All it is is a simple @ tag when the 'badge' is submitted to the user's wall, so enable the feature already! People want to checkin with their friends and share (or brag) when they are doing fun things so, let them! The only reason people use the checkin feature on Facebook (which was created to compete with you, no doubt about it) is so that they can tag the group of people they are out and about with. But Foursquare has a better system, actual maps and more features than just location checkins. Its all about associations and thats the easiset way to satisfy the casual user right off the bat.
Keep in mind, I already believe that this application is a winnner. In fact, crossing the threshold of 6 Million users is quite an indication of that. But you never hear people talking about using Foursquare on TV or in pop culture the way they talk about Twitter. And people who dont use the app don't really know what it is yet, certainly not the way that people who don't have a Facebook still know what it is and what it does (some people don't use Facebook?).
It all boils down to this, go big or go home! Preferably the former rather than the latter!