It is today, your two year anniversary since becoming the belle of the ball at SXSW, that I write you this letter as someone who cares. I used to pull out my phone to check in and it was fun- beating others to it, trying to become mayor, showing off badges, explaining animatedly what you are. Now I’m a bit, well, embarrassed. I find myself checking in surreptitiously for fear of being judged. Just the other night I was at dinner with four other guys who at one time used your service. You should have seen the heaps of scorn thrown my way. “Really? You’re still using Foursqaure?” You would have thought I had pulled out a map and a few quarters for the pay phone the way they mocked. After the teasing and incredulous looks, the next question is always the same:
Why do you still even use it? What’s the point?
It’s a fair question.
Originally the promise seemed to be knowing where your friends were all the time. But the incentive didn’t seem enough to constantly pull out the phone, wait for it to search places, check in, etc. Then we all got excited because of your much talked-about game mechanics: points! badges! leaderboards! But you never really cared much about those, did you? It feels so half-assed. The set-up was promising- an ongoing quest to experience more than your friends and have the score and badges to brag about it. But nothing really ever happens, no sense of progress or accomplishment beyond a list of badges that quickly diminish and a leaderboard that disappears every week. I know you just announced some changes for Foursquare 3.0 but it doesn’t feel like it goes nearly far enough.
But I do have an answer for those who challenge my allegiance to you: I tell them that I like keeping an ongoing record of where I’ve been and how often and that I’m hoping one day you’ll make that data stream useful. I know. Pathetic ,right? That’s why I’m writing you as a friend. You gotta take this thing back off autopilot and really innovate. The seeds of your reincarnation are right in front of you. It’s that Stats tab on your website – a really great snapshot of my social activity in the past month. It’s fascinating. Because, as Facebook has taught us, if there is one thing we are fascinated by it’s ourselves. Here’s a record of where I’ve been, how often, on what nights, and with whom. But you’re only scratching the surface.
First of all, my favorite part of Foursquare is only on your website. You do realize no one uses Foursquare by going to the website, right?
Second, it’s only for the past month. I want to see my entire history. I want to look back at the end of the year. I want stats from more than just the last month.
Third, I want to search my history and then pull out the parts I’m looking for. Relive past vacations through my check-in history. Send a list of restaurants and wineries I’ve visited to a friend visiting Napa for the first time. Help me track how often (or not) I’ve been visiting the gym over time.
Fourth, I want to share this stuff much more with my friends than I can currently. Let them see my history and stats. I want to see theirs. I’m already taking in their Facebook photos and tweet stream – this helps complete the picture.
While we’re at it, why not also use all that data to make recommendations, Amazon-style? Where else have people like me gone to eat in Seattle? (Update: Apparently your new update does this though it only relies on friends vs. people with check-in patterns similar to mine.)
To sum all this up, it doesn’t need to be about badges and a free basket of fries at Chili’s to motivate me to check-in. Use my data more effectively to allow me to learn about myself and communicate with others. You should be at the forefront of this concept of data exhaust and what to do with it .
I won’t even get into how this could help you lure advertisers. If you think they like your badge programs, wait ‘til you show them ways to target based on what people do with your behavioral data. You have enough here for starters. And don’t worry about repaying me. Just give me my data and we’ll call it even. OK, and maybe a custom “You Saved Foursquare!” badge.
If you have any questions, you know how to find me. (Funny, right?)
UPDATE (Mar 14): OK so you unveil a newfangled version of your service on the very day I originally posted this. Well played, Foursquare. Well played. But you’re not out of jail just yet. I’ve been playing with the new version here in Austin where everyone still seems to use it. I appreciate you giving out more points and regularly displaying my ranking among friends but it still feels like a one-dimensional game that gets old. The Explore tab is a nice addition and I admire you trying to knock off Yelp but prioritize where my friends have been or “people like me” vs. the less-helpful category of “most popular”. And lastly, let me do more with my data! (see above) This update feels like a step in the right direction but still just a baby step.