Foursquare's Tips Growing Faster Than Yelp's Reviews

Foursquare is more than just check-ins. Its mobile-centric tips are becoming one of the startup's most valuable assets.

Foursquare, the location-based service, might be most known for its check-ins. But as its Explore search and discovery engine becomes more popular, the venue-specific tips its users leave behind for others using the app—where to find unbeatable burgers, what café has the tastiest soy lattes—are rapidly becoming one of the startup's most compelling assets.

The dataset is especially valuable for Foursquare not only because it gives the company insight into what locations are popular and why, but also because the number of user-generated tips on the service is growing at such a fast clip. Last month, Foursquare surpassed 33 million user-generated tips, up roughly 65% year-over-year. That means the number of tips added on Foursquare is growing at a faster rate than the number of reviews uploaded to Yelp, one of the startup's chief competitors. The numbers were shared as part of Fast Company's new profile of the startup's CEO and cofounder Dennis Crowley.

To be fair, the comparison of tips and reviews is a bit apples and oranges, some might say. Tips are bite-sized pieces of content that users leave behind on Foursquare like breadcrumbs. When a user "checks in" to, say, Umami Burger, he or she might leave a tip urging others to order the truffle fries—the digital equivalent of asking your friend for a dinner recommendation. The social and venue data are helping to make Foursquare's discovery engine more powerful.

Yelp's reviews, meanwhile, are almost notoriously more in depth, and range from being incredibly informative to downright snarky to hyperbolically comprehensive. They've even inspired entire memes and remain an incredibly valuable asset to the company, and represent one reason why revenue shot up 69% in Yelp's second quarter earnings, which were announced this week.

But because they are often so extensive, Yelp's reviews are traditionally written after the fact rather than during the moment—which is perhaps one of Foursquare's greatest advantages in this area. "It’s been our take that [long-form Yelp reviews] aren’t particularly valuable," says Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley. "It's better to have short, actionable bits of content that feel more similar to tweets because they are easier to consume on mobile. As a mobile-first company, you don’t want to read five paragraphs of a review."

Yelp declined to comment on the record about Foursquare for this article.

Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley

What's more, the tips on Foursquare are arguably easier for the startup to parse, enabling the company to call out popular venue features and embed them seamlessly in its search engine. They can range from highlighting the best bar cocktails to the best secret dance clubs to the fastest coffee shop Wi-Fi.

The mobile-centric platform also has its benefits. "It lowers the barrier: When everyone else has written two sentences, it’s easier for you to write two sentences, so we get a wider variety of reviews from people," Crowley says, "as opposed to that super passionate or super angry person that wanted to write three to four paragraphs. I’m glad we made the decision to have shorter snippets of content, which are more easily digestible." Only two years ago, Foursquare boasted just 7.5 million tips—a number that has since more than quadrupled. The company is now averaging more than a million new tips added per month.

While Yelp boasts more reviews than Foursquare, at 42.5 million, the growth rate is lower than Foursquare's, at 41% year-over-year. But what's most remarkable is that Foursquare is outpacing Yelp in the review department, despite having a fraction of the public company's users. Yelp has roughly 108 million users, whereas Foursquare has just 35 million.

[Blue background: Stacey Ann Alberts via Shutterstock | Dennis Crowley Image: Joel Arbaje for Fast Company]

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  • Daniel A Bernath

    Get paid for all the reviews that you wrote for Yelp! over the years. Federal and State laws state that as Yelp! had the right to control you as a reviewer/writer and as the reviews you wrote were essential to their business of reviewing restaurants and businesses that you must be paid wages for all the reviews you wrote.
      We will ask the Court to award approximately $100 per review that you wrote. For example, if you wrote 650 reviews, we will ask the Court to order Yelp! to pay you your wages of $65,000.00. 
      It doesn’t matter in the eyes of the law that you were convinced to work for Yelp! for free as you can’t legally waive your right to wages. As this is a class action, if you want to continue to work for Yelp! you can do so as it is likely that a multitude of Yelp! unpaid reviewers will share in the court ordered award.
      Clearly Yelp! owes you wages under the Nature of the Business test. Yelp! admits that it would not exist if not for you, a reviewer. But we’d like to know about Yelp!’s control of you in writing a particular way, how you had to do things their way at every stage, disciplined you for not following their rules and fired you.

  • James McDougal

    I work in the Med Spa industry and I'm having trouble getting anyone to check in with any service. Some people keep it so private they don't even talk about it with their spouse. on the off chance I do get a yelp review it is typically filtered out because they are not posting a lot of reviews. I have a FourSquare sticker on my front window but maybe need to focus a little bit on asking people more for check-ins.

  • Smeeks1

    Maybe offer a coupon/discount if the post and send you a link? Or since it's more private maybe give "special" paper invites for them to give to a couple friends with a coupon inside? Receiving beauty treatments is a dirty little secret, will have to think of something fun :)