Could the expansion of Foursquare's API allow it to become a universal look-up list for venue and location data for all location based services online?
In a blog posting late yesterday, Foursquare tried to summarize where it stands in its long-term vision, and set out its thoughts about "the foundation that underlies a lot of the location-based world." The post pays particular attention to Foursquare's API—the open code framework that lets other third-party apps access certain aspects of Foursquare's system for their own purposes. Right at the end there's a bit of a revelation: Foursquare is "breaking out" its Venues API and making it accessible to third party coders at high data limit rates.
Foursquare's list of venues is powered by its userbase—the site notes, "Over the course of the last two years, you guys have entered more than fifteen million venues," and so, "we have one of the largest 'rights-free' databases in the world," which "even includes random things that nobody else has, like food trucks and college classrooms." Foursquare seems to be realizing the potential of such a rich trove well organized data and accurate geolocations. None of its competitors even come close. Plus the various services aren't all compatible. So Foursquare, the leader in this space, is offering to "unlock" its venue database to give startups location startups a hand.
In its Venues Harmonization plan, Foursquare has to act as the "Rosetta stone" for location—a system to make sure that venue data contained in other location-based systems is cross-linked to Foursquare's, so, for example, if "you know the URL of a restaurant on Thrillist, you can find that same restaurant in our data." Apart from other uses, it should be "easier to create mash-ups, link to pages on other sites or add Foursquare widgets like 'Add to Foursquare' to publisher sites." To enable it to really take off, Foursquare just unlocked the API hooks that let users search and find by using "third party IDs and URLs from the New York Times, New York magazine, Thrillist, and MenuPages."
The blog post explains how the database could be useful since it includes an "API endpoint for trending" so that real-time popular venues can be unmasked—the API can be useful in tagging photos with real world venue data (for Instagram's photos or Untappd's drinks, it suggests) and it's also possible to "build neighborhood photo or tip browsers to create local resources."
For the time being it's difficult to see how Foursquare could monetize this aspect of its plans, short of garnering some enthusiastic PR in support of what would seem to be an altruistic act. The cross-referencing trick could result in Foursquare becoming the "go-to" site for location data, but consider the cash to be made if Foursquare required, at some point, third party database users to include links to Foursquare's own venue data and thus advertising partners?
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