Foursquare’s Head of Search/Data Talks About The “First-Time User” Experience

A mobile app can really freak people out by attempting to collecting a ton of information on first launch, especially at inconvenient times. Imagine your user has to go to the bathroom–then reconsider your app’s sign-up flow.

Foursquare’s Head of Search/Data Talks About The “First-Time User” Experience

When you’ve poured energy into a piece of software, it’s hard to fathom how carelessly users will pick up and move on at the first indication of friction. You can’t inundate them with questions about themselves–but at the same time, you need some kind of data strategy, right? After all, most startups’ biggest asset is the information–behavioral, demographic, contact–that their software has collected about the people that use it. We asked Foursquare’s head of data and search to explain how Foursquare has developed such a valuable database with so little overhead in the user experience.


Does Foursquare have a general way of thinking about collecting information from people?

There’s a couple of things most apps want to do at sign-up, but beyond that, I think that the best data is the stuff that users don’t have to think about. Foursquare is in a good spot because we have this very explicit contract with users and they understand that you’re sharing where you are with your friends. You’re sharing it and in return you’re getting to know more about the things that your friends like. You’re getting to know more about the world around you. We use it to make better Explorer results. All this stuff is a very clear give and take with users about how they service information and how the value we provide for it.

What’s the benefit?


I think the benefit there is that people are going out and living their lives and giving off check-ins and things like that, leaving tips and other actions. They don’t have to worry about … we don’t have to like interrupt them. They came to the app to find a great restaurant. We don’t need to stop them and say “Hey, when’s your birthday?”

So you should really collect as little as possible by way of direct inquiry?

It depends on the app. Some apps you can’t even use unless they know a bunch of information about you. Other apps, it’s like: Why am I even creating an account in the first place? Somebody did a great write-up the other day about sign-up loads, talking about there’s an app to find the nearest public restroom which makes you jump through about 16 different steps to just find the restroom. The user literally has to go to the bathroom and you’re asking for their age and gender and like home address. Just let me go to the bathroom! Then, if there’s value to the app obviously if you go ahead and collect the rest of that information later on.

To read more about the first-time user experience, backtrack here: The First-Time User Experience: What Developers Need To Know.

[Image: Flickr user J Neuberger]

About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.