Foursquare’s future may lie in search and discovery, but its game is what enabled both. Every time users check in to a location, the company learns something new about their preferences and those places. It’s Foursquare’s game that built its database.
There’s just one problem, says Rebekah Campbell, the founder of a new location service called Posse. "That game was designed by guys for guys."
Women, she argues, are most interested in social recommendations—and they’re finding popular Foursquare places have the best turf wars, not the best businesses.
Posse, which asks users to create lists of their favorite places, uses a different kind of game to built its database: status.
"If you share all of the top bars that you’ve discovered in San Francisco," Campbell says, "the fact that you built that list, a lot of it is about being able to say to your friends, 'I’ve been to San Francisco. I travel there quite regularly and I go to all of these cool bars.' Or if you make a playlist of bookshops you’ve discovered around the world, a lot of that is saying, ‘I travel, and I read books, and I go to these shops. Women compete as well, but we find it’s a lot more about signaling lifestyle status."
Posse’s lists aren’t plain. Users add places to illustrated "streets." If the street is about New York City, it might have a background filled with skyscrapers. If it's about yoga studios, there might be mountains and a Buddha statue. Each shop is a customized illustration that, if the business has signed up, incorporates its logo.
Completing a street creates the same kind of satisfaction as curating a beautiful Pinterest board. And that's why, Campbell says, 71% of users recommend five or more places to their friends.
Designing Posse’s game around status signals rather than check-ins, works also works well for merchants. Since users are making lists only for their favorite places, for the most part, they leave only positive reviews. Shops that join Posse, about 25,000 of them so far, can send coupons to users who add them to streets and wishlists for a subscription fee of $50 to $100 per month.
Posse's pretty streets fix a problem that an app called Livestar once tried to solve by having users ask their friends for reviews (it has since been acquired by Pinterest and shut down) and another called Stamped tried to solve by making it super easy to recommend things (it has since been acquired by Yahoo and shut down).
"They all had the idea that it would be really cool to see your friends’ favorite places, but they never quite figured out why people were actually going to tell the platform what their favorite places were to begin with," Campbell says."That’s where they all seem to get tripped up."
[Update: We clarified the language in the headline of this story. Mari Sheibley, a woman, was Foursquare's first designer, hired by founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai. Sheibley left in November 2012.]