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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