Feeling Foursquare fatigue and perhaps wondering what’s the point of checking in at times? Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley sometimes feels it too — but he’s got plans to keep you interested. More on that as well as turning Foursquare into a “product building machine,” from my interview with him last week.
Why Check In?
I’ve had a few long-time Foursquare users I know tell me they’re tired of the service, that they don’t really find it as fun or interesting to check in any more. I’ve felt that way myself, at times.
Maybe we’re only a tiny slice of Foursquare’s nearly 5 million users that feel this way. But I wondered what Crowley thought and put it to him as we talked at Foursquare’s headquarters in New York last week.
Crowley surprised me. He’s the head of Foursquare, yet even he wonders at times, “Why bother?”
“I was at the Orlando airport at 11:30 at night recently. I’m thinking, ‘I’m not going to get the mayorship, there’s nobody nearby to alert that I’m here.’ So why check in?” Crowley said.
Building The Next Generation
The answer is coming. Fueled by recent investment, Crowley said that Foursquare is now able develop a next generation of ways for people to find the service useful, interesting and fun.
“There are things, a road map we have and the vision of what we have to build. That’s the frustrating part. Building a product is easy. But building the company that builds the product is hard,” he said.
Facebook hadn’t yet announced its latest location services moves when I talked with Crowley last Wednesday. However, Facebook had already launched Facebook Places in the summer, which made some question if Foursquare could survive in the long term. Did Crowley see his internal changes as helping push back competitive concerns? Definitely.
Product Building Machine
“When you build a machine that turns out products, the machine is going to get more efficient each month,” he said. “If we get that running the way we want, we’ll be rolling stuff out very quickly, and it will be very hard to compete with us.”
Foursquare is “getting close,” Crowley said, to being the product producing machine he wants. So what are the next products or changes on the road map? First, getting what’s out there improved.
“Some things don’t fully work the way we want them too. Part of it is we’ve grown so quickly, hitting nearly 5 million users. We need to go back and fix some of the core things that differentiate Foursquare from others in the space,” Crowley said.
Getting Past Easter Eggs & Becoming A “What To Do” Guide
This fits into the “three acts” that Crowley describes Foursquare as moving through, as it has grown.
“First, everyone checks in and gets positions and badges. Act two is moving Foursquare from check-ins as the only things to do to making lists of things to do. Act three is taking stuff from first two adventures and tightening up in ways that incent people, reward, and offer ways they can discover,” Crowley said.
For example, it can be unclear to people why exactly they’ll win a badge. To get the “I’m on a boat” badge, you either need to check into a location that’s tagged as being a boat or check in and “shout” something to your friends with the word “boat” in it, depending on which unofficial source you check.
Foursquare lacks an official guide on how to earn badges, in part because it wants people to be surprised. But these “Easter Eggs,” computer jargon for hidden things that turn up if you know the secret code, can also be an issue.
“Some of these are a little Easter-eggy, and we could do a better job. If I’ve landed in New York, Foursquare should be like, “There are three badges you haven’t gotten. Here are three of your friends, and here are four things you should do,” Crowley said.
Instant Check-Ins, Better Deals
After our interview, Crowley immediately dashed off to speak at the ad:tech conference in New York. Mashable has nice coverage of that, where he talked further about things like customized recommendations:
“Based upon these bars that you’ve been to, these are six other bars you may be interested in.”
Or instant check-ins:
“We’ve done experiments where when you go into a familiar place, [your phone] should buzz you and say ‘Oh, you’re at that coffee shop again. Do you wanna check in.”
He also talked about making it easier for people to find brands to follow on Foursquare as well as bringing in better deals and specials for users.