Most people think of Foursquare as an app. But with more than 50 million people flocking to Foursquare.com every month, the startup's homepage is increasingly becoming a draw for web search and discovery.
Toward that end, today the startup introduced an overhaul of Foursquare.com, the first refresh of the company's homepage since November 2011. The mobile service, which enables users to check in at venues and share their location with friends, now boasts a much cleaner counterpart on the web that's better organized and based on its impressive data set of 3.5 billion check-ins. The redesigned listing pages, which serve locations such as restaurants and bars and coffee shops, give users an instant snapshot of a venue's information, from store hours to tips to social recommendations. The refreshed website should help Foursquare become an increasingly strong player in the space compared to competitors such as Yelp, Menupages, Urbanspoon, and Zagat. "Everything you need is now at one glance," says Mike Singleton, Foursquare's head of web engineering.
Certainly, an endless number of services fulfill Yellow Pages-like functionality, giving users access to business information such as phone numbers to addresses. What sets Foursquare apart is its unique social data. Users can sift or search through reviews, even filtering down to discover popular dishes or cocktails at restaurants; they can see which of their friends have visited a certain location (and how many times); and the website also offers recommendations, including similar venues and nearby suggestions.
"If you look at a place like [restaurant] Joseph Leonard, you'll see that people like to go to [bar] Wilfie & Nell, perhaps for a drink after dinner, or to a coffee shop, or to Washington Square Park," Singleton says. "Those are incredible results—taking all our data points and showing that people who go here often then go there. We're in a unique position to do that better than anyone else."
Indeed, while other sites such as Yelp offer arguably more comprehensive reviews, such feedback is often siloed, disconnected from venues around it. Because Foursquare's data is based on check-ins from users, the company can see where and when people visit a location (a brunch spot, say, is likely to be most popular on a Saturday at noon), which spots garner repeat visits, and what those users are likely to do afterward. "A lot of websites have star [ratings] and all sorts of other things to help you make a decision [where to go]," Singleton says. "But if I'm in a city I'm not familiar with, I would definitely go to a place that a bunch of my friends have been to, regardless of what the start rating is."
The redesigned listing pages are a part of Foursquare's larger strategy to shift toward search and discovery. Only recently, the company redesigned its mobile apps to emphasize its Explore search feature and already, according to Singleton, the startup has doubled its usage.
What's perhaps most promising is that Foursquare.com is rapidly becoming an online destination, and thanks to the new listing pages introduced today, that trend is likely to continue, if not accelerate.
"Google is now our number-one source of referral traffic to the website, which changes the way we think about pages," Singleton says. "If we have a really good page for places, then it is in Google's and every other search engine's interest for it to be highly ranked."