Posts Tagged ‘Foursquare’

Article from GigaOm.

“Originally, Foursquare was designed with the goal of “making cities easier to use.” But along the way, it became synonymous with check-ins and the game mechanics behind it. That was a good thing when it was new, unique and fun. But the world has moved on, and so have location competitors, who are looking beyond simple games to expanded deals, bigger competition and recommendations of places. Foursquare is now taking a big leap ahead in its story with version 3.0 as it matures into a much more complete and polished location-based service capable of tackling its original vision.

Founder and CEO Dennis Crowley said in a blog post that the service is now closing in on 7.5 million users after adding about 7 million since last year’s annual South By Southwest event. Users checked in almost half a billion times in the last year. That’s a lot of check-ins, but Crowley rightly understands that the check-in is just a starting place. Now with Foursquare 3.0, available tonight on iPhone and Android, the company has made strides on a number of fronts that should keep it at the front of the location pack.

Interestingly, many of the updates put the focus back on check-ins, but infuse the action with much more meaning. Now users have more reasons to check in to places, instead of just broadcasting their location. Here’s a look at the improvements:

Discovery. Foursquare has been talking about offering recommendation services, just like many competitors, and now with a new Explore tab, users can get suggestions on where to go. The recommendations factor in a bunch of signals, from the places a user and their friends visit and favorite, to the categories and types of places they frequent. Interestingly, Foursquare said it will also tailor suggestions based on the day of the week or time of day. Crowley said the recommendation engine will shine with both basic and quirky inquiries. This is likely why the company was casting about for a data scientist a little while back: so it could build a recommendation engine that made use of all of its data. The Explore feature brings Foursquare up to par with many competitors, though as we’re learning, there are many ways to do recommendations. The Explore feature also puts more emphasis on the check-in, because it helps provide Foursquare with more data to build its recommendations.

Rewards. Foursquare was out early with its game mechanics, but the system has become stale for some time. Now, Foursquare is revamping its leaderboard, awarding points for a wider range of activities. Users can get points for trying a new type of restaurant, visiting a new place, traveling to new cities, getting friends together and many other actions. The leaderboard is now limited to the last seven days. This again re-emphasizes check-ins, because the system rewards a lot of different activities. And the week-long time frame encourages people to keep trying out new things and remaining active. There are still mayorships, which are increasingly hard to get. But with a revamped leaderboard, users have more ways to compete and get recognized for their efforts.

Loyalty. Keeping users engaged is paramount for a service like Foursquare, which can burn through new users if it doesn’t give them a reason to stick around. Now the site is expanding its specials deals for mayors to more sets of people, enabling merchants to engage with customers in a lot more ways. Merchants can now extend specials to swarms, groups of friends, regular visitors, new customers, mayors or to everyone. This is an important element, because it gives people some tangible benefits of participating. Points and mayorships only work for more motivated users, but deals are always attractive.

Foursquare got out early in the location game, but in many ways, it was in need of improvements befitting its status. Crowley said many upgrades didn’t take place as fast as he’d like, because the company had to deal with a lot of internal growth as it increased its headcount to about 40 people. Now, finally, Foursquare’s larger vision is starting to take shape, and it’s a good thing. The company is showing no signs of slowing growth, but the name of the game is engagement, not just downloads. I have no insight into Foursquare’s churn, but it’s a definite concern for any app with a large following like this. Now with some key improvements, Foursquare has a chance to keep those users engaged and grow into something more useful than a real-world game.

UPDATE: Foursquare has provided more information about its updated specials program, which now allows merchants to instantly set up special deals at multiple locations for users and get additional insight into user engagement through a new dashboard. Early partners include Sports Authority, Applebee’s, Radio Shack, Barnes & Noble, Chili’s, Whole Foods, Toys R Us and others.”

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Article from NyTimes.

“With Facebook’s membership approaching 600 million, and more features and apps continually being added to the site, it sometimes seems as if it’s the only social network around. But it’s not the only one, even if it’s dominant. Specialized networks are catching on with users who prefer a more focused way to share photos, videos or music, or who simply don’t want everyone on Facebook looking at their pictures.

Some of these networks leverage the existing huge audiences of Facebook or Twitter to let their users reach the maximum number of friends. But if you’re worried about Facebook’s potential privacy holes and want to steer clear of them, there’s a network for that, too.

INSTAGRAM Instagram, a photo-sharing network based around a free app for Apple’s iPhone, is the breakout hit of specialty social networks. The service, which was introduced in October, says that more than a million users have already signed up.

Instagram’s secret weapon is its built-in photo filters, which modify your pictures before you upload them. Some effects are corny, but some — like the sepia-inspired Early Bird filter or the soft-color Toaster — work wonders at removing the often harsh lighting and jarring colors of cellphone photos. With the help of the filters, the images may look better than those uploaded to other social sites, like Facebook.

Davin Bentti, a software engineer in Atlanta, uses Instagram to control where he posts photos.

“Instagram lets me share photos on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Posterous, Tumblr and Foursquare,” he said. “When I take a photo, I can put it everywhere without having to think much about it. But I can also put it only where I want it to go.”

For example, Mr. Bentti said, he skipped Twitter when posting a recent photo of his dog, because his Twitter followers are mostly professional colleagues.

To get started, download the free Instagram iPhone app, and sign up for an account. If you own an Android phone, be patient; an app for that operating system is in the works, the company said.

To find friends to share your photos with, start the app and tap the Profile option at the bottom right of its screen. Instagram offers several ways to find people: log in to Facebook or Twitter to see lists of your friends there who are already signed up with Instagram; search your phone’s contact list to match the e-mail addresses with existing users; send invitations to those in your contact list who have not yet signed up; search Instagram’s database of users and usernames; browse a list of suggested users whom the company has deemed worth following for their photos.

“We don’t see ourselves as an alternative” to Facebook, said Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s chief executive. “We see ourselves as a complement, to allow for sharing on multiple networks, all at once.”

PATH Path, a photo and video sharing network, also sees itself as an enhancement to Facebook; users can log in to Facebook to find Path users to share with. But Path limits the sharing to 50 friends at most, rather than with everyone you know. And you can’t post your Path photos to Facebook itself. Your friends need to check their Path app or Path’s Web site to see your images.”

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From SF Gate.

“Facebook‘s latest move to add “where” to the list of personal information members share with the world gives the social networking firm yet another tool in its march to become the Internet’s most dominant destination.

And yet predictably, the new Facebook Places check-in feature has ignited a new round of debate over whether the Palo Alto firm is doing enough to safeguard its members’ privacy.

Facebook Places began rolling out Wednesday night to the company’s members in the United States with an upgraded application for the iPhone and iPod Touch that includes an icon that resembles a Google Maps location pin.

Launching the app lets members share their current location, which is automatically plotted by their phone’s GPS technology. They can tag Facebook friends who might also be there and use a “Here Now” function to see who else might be in the area. On Facebook.com, the Here Now map is powered by Google-rival Microsoft’s Bing Maps.

Tapping into trend

Places taps into the same social sharing game of “check-in” that has caused technology pundits to declare startups like Foursquare and Gowalla as part of the latest hot tech trend. This year, microblogging service Twitter also launched a location-tagging feature to its tweets and online recommendation service Yelp enabled check-ins on its mobile application.

But Facebook vice president Chris Cox said Places represents more than just a game, because it uses virtual technology to connect people in the real world. Over time, locations can accumulate stories and memories that later generations can access, Cox said.

San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, for example, could be tagged as the place “where your parents had their first kiss,” Cox said. “What starts to happen is the physical reality we’re in comes alive with the human stories that we’ve told there.”

Facebook worked with other location-based services to integrate their apps with Places.

“This basically validates that we’re on to something, that this will be something much, much bigger going forward,” Holger Luedorf, vice president of mobile and partnerships for Foursquare, said during a Facebook news conference.

But analysts say Facebook’s entry into the location-based services could blow the others out of the water because the social network has such a broad reach with mainstream audiences. Worldwide, Facebook has more than 500 million active members who span all age and marketing demographics. Foursquare, by comparison, has at least 3 million members and is growing quickly.

Working with Facebook may give companies like Foursquare “a little advantage, but the advantage is minimal and it’s not going to last very long,” said Susan Etlinger, a consultant with the Altimeter Group of San Mateo. “My Aunt Sue might not be on Yelp, but I know she’s on Facebook.”

Places also completes the public picture of members, who are already encouraged to share who they are, what they are doing and when. Facebook has become one of the Internet’s top destinations for finding news, viewing photos and watching video. And according to Internet researcher eMarketer, Facebook is on track to bring in $1.28 billion in online advertising in 2010, up from $835 million this year. The company is also developing its own virtual payment system, Facebook Credits.

Facebook officials sidestepped questions about how the firm plans to generate revenue from Facebook Places.

But analyst Augie Ray of Forrester Research Inc. said Places enters Facebook into the emerging mobile advertising space.

“There is no question that knowing where people are and what places they visit will be valuable data for Facebook and its advertisers,” Ray said. “It will permit Facebook to better understand individual’s likes and dislikes, not simply based on what buttons they click, but on their actual real-world behavior. And knowing where an individual is at a given moment will permit Facebook to serve better and more relevant ads based on user location.”

ACLU raises questions

But the San Francisco office of the American Civil Liberties Union immediately questioned whether Places has again left Facebook members open to privacy problems.

“Facebook made some changes to its regular privacy practices to protect sensitive location-based information, such as limiting the default visibility of check-ins on your feed to ‘Friends Only,’ ” the ACLU’s Nicole Ozer wrote in a blog post. “But it has failed to build in some other important privacy safeguards.”

In a sharply worded rebuttal, Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said Places “sets a new standard for user control and privacy protection for location information. We’re disappointed that ACLU’s Northern California office ignores this and seems to generally misunderstand how the service works.””

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