On Foursquare, I rarely check in anymore. I'm nearly in last place on my leaderboard--a feature designed to create competition among friends who earn points for check-ins--and I can't remember the last time I unlocked a badge.
The odd thing is, however, I'm now using the app more often than I ever have before. Obtusely, I used to think of Foursquare as a check-in service--a way to keep track of my and my friends' whereabouts. But the startup has evolved the service into something much greater, and something that's arguably much more valuable: a mobile, socially powered version of Yelp.
The feature that's most driving this evolution is Explore, a simple, well-designed tool that enables you to find nearby restaurants, bars, and other venues recommended by friends and tastemakers. Sure, Google Maps, MenuPages, and Yelp offer similar mobile search features--Yelp's is the best among these three options--but none of these apps are anywhere near as polished or easy to navigate as Foursquare's UI.
That's partly why Foursquare has started to promote use-cases around Explore ("Find the perfect flowers on Mother's Day!"), whereas before, the startup's blog centered on new badges and the like. This week, for example, Foursquare launched a partnership with OpenTable to offer reservations at over 15,000 places across the country. Users can now use Explore to find a restaurant, look up recently added business hours, peruse the menu (a feature unveiled in January), and book a table for two.
Cofounder and CEO Dennis Crowley has highlighted this trend of Yelpification. In March, Crowley said he's noticed the service's user base drifting away from check-ins. "People are using the app, but they’re not checking in,” Crowley told TechCrunch. “I asked myself: Did we break something? But in fact, it’s because people are using Foursquare to look for where their friends are, to find things, and as a recommendation service. It’s almost like it doesn’t occur to them to check in.”
It's a sign not just that users are more and more taking advantage of Foursquare's newest features, such as Explore, Tips, and Lists ("Top 10 Burgers," "Must-See Tourist Attractions"), but that they are becoming more discerning with their check-ins. I've noticed my friends' check-ins are occurring less often but are far more interesting now: They'll only check in if the event is interesting enough (Caps vs. Bruins playoff game), if the venue is especially cool, or if a spot is explicitly in my neighborhood, which acts as a sort of polite nudge to get me to join.
In other words, we've moved beyond the daily (and boring) coffee-shop check-in. It's no longer a rote task that cheapens the check-in. If a venue wants to get users to check in, they're going to have to earn it--and they're starting to, thanks to deals and discounts in partnership with American Express.
That makes the data powering Foursquare--from its 20 million users and 2 billion check-ins--especially powerful and valuable to both users and brands.
But that's not to say Foursquare's competition in the mobile space isn't ramping up too. Yelp's cumulative reviews rocketed 59% last quarter, to 27.6 million. Google just bought Zagat. And Seamless, which recently acquired MenuPages, could finally make MenuPages' app usable.
[Image: Valentina_S via Shutterstock]