social media toolsThere was an overwhelming number of users checking in using Foursquare at the South by Southwest Conference (SxSW), held in Austin, Texas recently.  The application changed itself up a bit for its second conference appearance, allowing users not only to check in at buildings, but at each event at the conference.

It is mind-boggling to think that the now-famous location-based app launched at the very same conference only a year ago. Geo-location apps like Foursquare and Gowalla took center stage at the event, with Foursquare being the clear winner.


Foursquare Roots

Foursquare founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai can thank Apple for their recent success with the application. As desktops become a thing of the 1990s, smartphones and GPS devices are becoming a necessity in the age of Web 2.0. The Apple iPhone broke new ground and paved the way for inventive apps like Foursquare to become as popular as they are.

It was all playground games for Crowley from the start. He first developed a mobile web service called Dodgeball. The idea behind Dodgeball was simple: First, you text your current location to Dodgeball. That information would then be sent to other Dodgeball members in the area. The idea was that you could use it to meet up with old friends and make new ones while out and about.

In 2005, Google purchased Dodgeball and later decided to shut it down. Crowley didn’t let that discourage him and instead worked with Selvadurai to create Foursquare, combining new social elements to make the application stand out above the rest.

Foursquare Basics

Foursquare doesn’t just broadcast your location to your selected friends; it also serves as a game, pairing virtual rewards with real activities.

Users earn badges as they visit different spots. Visit one location enough times and you become the mayor. You can use Foursquare to meet new friends, find out who else is in your area or compete against other people in your city.

Elizabeth Fisher just checked in at the Algonquin Hotel.” This message is now famous as a supposed shout out to Foursquare, which popularized the phrase “check-in” on the deliciously tech-savvy show, “Gossip Girls.”  Even Crowley couldn’t resist and took to Twitter to post, “Check-ins on Gossip Girl?”

As of March 2010, Foursquare has 500,000 users and 1.4 million venues according to Tech Crunch, keeping Gowalla at a solid second place. Why are more people checking out Foursquare, leaving Loopt and Gowalla in the dust? It’s simple.

Foursquare Offers Privacy

Privacy?  In a geo-location application? You’re likely thinking “That makes no sense!”  Since the very start, social media has received heat for being a violation of privacy. Sites like Facebook have undergone multiple user interface changes in an effort to retain users and promise privacy. Now, with geo-location becoming the next wave in social media, new concerns arise.

Gowalla and Loopt have both promoted the notion of having your location constantly beamed to your friends. Even Google Buzz attempted the same notion and received tons of negative feedback. People love social media and it’s here to stay, but they won’t let it compromise their privacy and security, and Foursquare ensures that. With Foursquare, you can select who you share your location information with.

The Marketing Impact

Foursquare is growing at an exponential rate and has the opportunity to revolutionize social media marketing. They have tapped into something priceless.

Marketers and companies are quickly realizing that it’s effective to know where consumers choose to go and purchase items rather than what they purchase. Foursquare is teaming up with neighborhood restaurants and chains to offer promotions for those who check in to their location with their app.

One such example is their recent partnership with Starbucks. As of March 11, 2010, frequent Starbucks customers who check in at locations using Foursquare will earn customer rewards. If you think this is a straight-up play to offer location-based mobile coupons, think again. The New York Times Bits Blog writes that the company is “hoping to use Foursquare to provide even more meaningful prizes, like invitations to special events, photo-sharing or online reputation scores.”

For businesses, a Foursquare “check-in” has become the equivalent of a new “fan” on a Facebook fan page. But is Foursquare quick enough to compete with the social media giant Facebook? Only time will tell.

In a recent study, it was revealed that more people use Facebook via their smartphones than their PCs.  Rumor has it that Facebook is working on a geo-location integration into their Facebook mobile app.  If this is the case, then Facebook may just blow Foursquare out of the water.

What’s your take on Foursquare? Please comment in the box below.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Get Social Media Examiner’s Future Articles in Your Inbox!

Join 480,000+ of your peers! Get our latest articles delivered to your email inbox and get the FREE Social Media Marketing Industry Report (56 pages, 90 charts)!

More info...
  • Natebw

    I’m a big foursquare fan, both as a user and business owner, so I agree with the general point. However, some of the information on on users is a a bit dated, almost as if it was written in March. First, foursquare as now crossed the million user mark ( Second, it didn’t mention any of the significant increase in user from the purely grass root movement Foursquare Day (

    I do hope foursquare succeeds, but as you point out, it is hardly certain at this time.

  • Location-based games are absolutely the next social tool marketers and businesses need to keep an eye on. But I don’t think Foursquare will end up on top. From a branding and consumer engagement perspective, the features of Gowalla’s platform are far superior. Foursquare is just benefiting from being the media darling — just because it’s getting more buzz doesn’t mean it’s the best option. Here’s my explanation why: (

  • I love FourSquare. Now if only I can remember to check in more regularly…it’s usually: “Darn, forgot again!” AFTER I leave a venue. Working on making FourSquare a habit.

  • 2headedboy

    My online friends are so spread out over the world that updating my location won’t mean too much, since I live in a small coal region town in PA. I’m trying to get my local FB friends to try out Foursquare, otherwise I’ll be mayor of the whole town 🙂

  • Great post. I’ve been checking in with both Foursquare and Gowalla until a clear winner is determined. You’re right, for businesses, knowing when potential shoppers (or current customers) are in your area, that’s a huge potential.

  • I was wondering when the the “mainstream” would pick up on Foursquare. I’ve been writing about it since last Fall, but I don’t have a lot of traffic, so I’m really glad to see SME picking it up and running with it.

  • I am a huge fan of foursquare, thank you for writing this post. I like to see what my friends in other cities are doing as well as discover new things to do in my city. It is also fun to steal a Mayor title from someone. =) Interesting to hear what Facebook might develop. I see that Yelp is doing something similar as well.

  • adamnapell

    I guess this Foursquare thing is really taking off? Kidding aside, this presents a great opportunity for small retailers to test the waters with location-based offers. I am just starting to see retailers begin to utilize Facebook as a means of connecting, and their foray into the location-based messaging could be huge because of the number of users they already have. Does it also seem to be that Foursquare users are of a younger age demographic than Facebook?

  • gregstuart

    I also have gotten to know Booyah’s MyTown developed by real Game Developers. From what I hear, they are 3-4x the size of FourSquare. MyTown uses a check-in orientation but turns the world into a giant game of monopoly.

  • marie

    that sounds scary to me, I had a weird experience in a mobile shop the other day & felt as though they knew I was coming, it was probably just them finely tuning there selling skills, but I thought if stores know when you in the area coming to buy a certain item it will feel like your being hunted down like prey to a pack of hunger wolves especially if its a slow sales day!! There needs to be a more power balance for the consumer.

  • wpaccione

    Ha! I thought it was crazy when people I didn’t even know started saying to me “I’m following you on Twitter!”.
    Re: With the power to the consumer- We do have the power. You’re never obligated to check-in. Or, you can keep your check-ins private so only the people you want to see them will. Though I’ll bet you’ll eventually be able to block certain people/stores if their being a pain in the butt.

  • Foursquare is fun, and I can see how it’s helpful for businesses, but I wonder how it benefits the average solopreneur (without a brick and mortar business?)

  • Nice post, Natasha. Have you seen my company’s mashup of Foursquare and Google MAPS? Makes Foursquare even more useful when searching for reviews in your city. Check out
    Keith Lobo
    Sysomos Inc.

  • helenconnor

    Thanks for the post – it will be interesting to see how Foursquare’s relationship with small businesses evolves. On another note – has anyone heard of any security breaches given the GPS tracking ability?

  • I confess that, at this point, I have little patience for an app that doesn’t allow for engaging user profiles, including urls.

    When someone friends me, I like to check out their profile, maybe click on that link that opens up a new tab of their blog or website.

    Location-based apps that launch without this basic social feature baffle me. As for adding the feature later: …really? By then, I’ve probably already moved on.

    I want to like Foursquare, but so far Gowalla seems far more interactive and fun to use. And it allows me to put my blog url on the profile.

  • I think Foursquare can do some cool things for retail, brick and mortar businesses. I especially like the idea you mentioned about Starbuck’s partnering with Foursquare as a sort of virtual frequent customer card. I hope to see more ideas like the one Keith Lobo mentioned (Fourwhere–pretty cool) as Foursquare becomes more popular and accepted. I do think it is still a bit away from wholesale adoption by the general public. It needs to go through further refinement and adoption by both consumers and businesses.

  • As someone who doesn’t own a smartphone (but has several friends who do) it’s tough for me to avoid Foursquare even though I don’t use it. For marketers it’s excellent – people in droves willingly supply their purchasing information in fun game like fashion. I hope more local businesses get on the bandwagon with giving people more incentives (discounts, events, etc.). Will Facebook overtake Foursquare? I’m not totally sure. I think it may overtake Yelp though as a way people find out which places near them are worth going to or not.

  • sarisignorelli

    I wonder if Facebook will look to purchase Foursquare. Regarding Sam’s comment about Yelp, I just used Foursquare for the first time in NYC and found that it did affect my amount of Yelping. I think as Foursquare matures it will fill in the gaps that I was using Yelp to deliver on.

  • Decent article, although feels a wee bit dated. One of the criticisms I’ve been hearing from small business owners is that there’s a complete lack of Customer Service available at Four Square.

  • Decent article, although feels a wee bit dated. One of the criticisms I’ve been hearing from small business owners is that there’s a complete lack of Customer Service available at Four Square.

  • j Franklin

    I have a real security concern. People will know when I’m out of town and my house is therefore vulnerable for robbery. When I’m out of town for three or four months at a time, I am terrified of what is going on ‘back at the ranch’. My last name and the number of my house is on the gate entrance to this community, and these are tough economic times. It’s easy if you live in Manhattan with a doorman; not so the rest of the world.

    And for businesses that are using this for more than a hoot and a holler, there is the very real danger of business or industrial espionage. My small office contains thousands of dollars of equipment and hard drives. I’m a one-man shop. I can be devastated in a heartbeat. What if you’re in a lawsuit using a sole-office attorney (which is what I can afford these days) and that attorney likes to broadcast his GPS position constantly? The opposing side has a clear timeline of when his office is vulnerable with my material.

    Facebook has gone way over the line with this.

    Just wait until the Russian and Chinese can start putting home addresses, credit cards addresses, together with careless notices that we’re about to board a plane for a two-week vacation, into a real-time database. Everything you own will be vulnerable.

    And if you dont think this is coming BIG-TIME, you’re naive.

  • Hi Jeffrey, as you can see, I deleted your duplicate comments. Thanks for giving us your input on FourSquare. I’m curious though. Would you like to share what else you know?

  • Hi Natasha.

    I also felled down on 4SQ vs Gowalla. But they look fairly similar.

    Beside that I see some great potentials in these kind of programs in future. Geotagging is not 100% reliable yet, and it has been to easy to cheat the system. But they have started to work on these issues.

    Also a bit unsure what Jefferey refers to as lack of Customer Service from 4SQ.

    Cheers.. Are

  • Foursquare is a very interesting app indeed, but the fact that facebook is working on their own geo-location based features is not good news. Facebook is the biggest player in the game. They have the user base and therefore the ability to do pretty much everything when it comes to developing apps that focus on interactions between social media users.

  • I love and the other Location Based Apps! I work in a smaller sized city and live in an even smaller one (It’s actually a village) – so it’s not quite taken off as much as in the larger locations. But I still try to remember to check-in everywhere I go.

  • I drank the Kool-Ade and spit most of it out.

    I used to be a 4sq addict, checking in everywhere from the local pub to the supermarket to the city park. Over time, I kept it to restaurants and retailers. I also used to share the checkins to Facebook and Twitter, and later stopped that distribution.

    Nowadays, I checkin once in a while.

  • As long as you are only 4sq friends with FRIENDS and keep the updates within the site and don’t share it beyond, there is no concern about privacy.

  • Hi Nate!
    Thanks for the update on the information and letting me know about Foursquare Day. I also hope Foursquare becomes more successful, but only time will tell! Have you tried Gowalla?

  • Hi Stacy,
    Great article on Gowalla vs. Foursquare! I especially love your chart. You make valid points but then again only time will tell! Facebook and Yelp seem to want a piece of the geolocation action as well.

  • Yes, this is a problem with Foursquare and until it figures out how to fix it, I suppose many people will feel the same way as you do. It’ll be interesting to see if Facebook does in fact start rolling out similar features.

  • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. Since you use both, which one do you like better so far?

  • Hi Dawn,
    You are welcome! I enjoyed writing it. Yes, Yelp is doing something similar. Do you by chance use Gowalla as well? Why/Why not?

  • Hi Adam,
    I am not sure, to me it seems like the age demographic for Foursquare users is spread out. I did a quick search but couldn’t find anything on the average age of the Foursquare user. If you find anything let me know, I’d be interested in finding out!

  • Oh! And on more thing. I did a quick search and found out that back in Feb. Foursquare began partnering up with Zagat to better compete with Yelp. You can read more here:

  • Hi Keith,
    Thanks! I am glad you liked the post. Thanks for the link on fourwhere! Great idea! Do you plan on including Gowalla postings in this mashup as well?

  • I’m still a bit undecided. I started with Gowalla, but their restrictions were so tough, I couldn’t check-in when I was standing in the location! So I put Foursquare on my phone also. Gowalla seems to have a bit more of a colorful interface, but the numbers show Foursquare is pulling ahead.

  • Hi Ari,
    Out of curiosity…what made you stop/slow down?

  • Hi Natasha, great summary / update on the situation regarding Foursquare.

    There is a nice case study on how a local Wisonsin burger place uses a rare badge to draw a crowd – and some publicity:

  • Lack of necessity. No different than why I used to play songs and share them via for many months; but haven’t done such in many months.

    As an early adopter of web tools, I grasp their benefit and wish there were ways for improvement but that doesn’t mean I need to actively use them.

  • Dan L

    Had an account but hardly used it until visiting New York. I live in a large city, but content is not as rich. Having lines for EVERYTHING provided a real opportunity to check-in, and sometimes get tips that showed me how to skip unnecessary lines (getting just a bagel? skip the line and go around to back)…or better yet, finding recommendations for other nearby eateries, etc. Also, were plenty of businesses offering perks that were worth vying for mayorships (free daily pint, etc.)

    Was easy to check in after I left a place if I forgot, since the geo-location was often blocks off in NYC.

    Granted, I probably should have stuck to the yelp ap, since the content on Yelp is more address specific for recommendation finding (people enter some bad addies on foursquare and get you totally FUBAR’d when you walk cross town for something)

  • I’d have to disagree a bit. As I think one of the biggest aspects lacking from Foursquare is a really cool look. Sure you’re thinking that’s just a paint job. But, I think it’s more than that. At Gowalla they offer thematic and custom links for not only locations but events. For instance, just last week the fellows over at Gowalla created a custom featured icon for the Newport Beach Film Festival. It was a hit, and just looked beautiful and even more so, it represented what we are much more than a pin point on an icon-sized map to your facebook page. For a look at the icon and it’s page on Gowalla look at this:
    It just looks nicer… and it makes you feel just that much more special than that Foursquare pin map thingy does.

  • adamnapell

    I have to believe that most people that are actively “checking in” to their
    various locations are under the age of 30, probably even under 25, just
    because of the dedication that is required to do it! Thanks… Adam

  • Another privacy control: You can check in “off the grid” and still accumulate points without sharing your information.

  • Pingback: Foursquare 3.0 is Here!()

  • Pingback: The Intersection » Blog Archive » Location, Location, Location()

  • Pingback: Nerd Alley » Checking Out on Checking In()

  • Pingback: Billy's blog » Entrepreneurial business: Foursquare()

  • Pingback: Why You Should Check Into Foursquare - C. Blohm & Associates, Inc. - Public Relations for the Education Industry()

  • Pingback: 3 Steps to Getting Started With Social Media |()