Foursquare still struggling to become more than a niche app

By Kevin Kelleher
December 27, 2010

USA/When was the last time you played Foursquare? Not the mobile app that lets you check in at a coffeeshop or store in hopes of becoming its “mayor”. But the original game involving a red rubber ball and a grid chalked onto asphalt.

For me, it’s been years since I played Foursquare, and I’m tempted to get a game going with some of my friends who live nearby. That is more than I can say for the mobile app Foursquare. It’s been months since I’ve check in anywhere – in fact, I’d forgotten entirely that I deleted it from my iPhone – and after reinstalling it and trying out its new features, I’m still not crazy about it. It still feels more like a chore than a game, an act of discovery or a way to connect with friends.

According to Compete.com, I’m not alone. In a blog post entitled “I’m the mayor! So what?”, Karen Costa showed some figures suggesting that the number of unique visitors at Foursquare has dwindled from a peak of 1.8 million this summer to less than 1 million last month. Its rival Gowalla has seen its unique visitor count tread water at around 200,000 for several months.

It’s not that Foursquare and Gowalla aren’t popular, it’s that they are emerging as niche apps. A number of users loyally check in and make recommendations on Foursquare. But even Foursquare’s defenders know that the company needs to hit on some secret sauce to win over a bigger audience.

In an interview with GigaOm, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley acknowledged the work that the company needs to do to become more mainstream. Crowley compared it to the slow adoption of cell phones, although the early bulkiness and high cost were barriers to cell phone sales that Foursquare, which is a free app, doesn’t have to contend with. But he maintains that patience is a part of its business plan for now.

I think of what we’re doing is sort of interesting now, but it’s going to be super-interesting 24 months from now when more people are aware of things that we’re doing and aware of the value that comes out of it. We’re a little bit early.

Foursquare has made some small steps toward a more useful app, adding in photo-sharing as well as access to recommendations from all users and not just your circle of friends. But the most immediate promise may be in its marketing potential. Crowley says the company is working on combining “location-based services and social media to empower local merchants to connect with customers in different ways.”

The trick will be implementing new features in a way that can’t be copied easily by Facebook. Otherwise, Foursquare’s audience might continue to shrink despite the company’s best efforts to become appealing to a broader audience.

Reuters/Photo: Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai accepts an award for Best Mobile Social Networking at the Webby Awards in New York

3 comments

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I check in at 80% of the places that I visit. One of my annoyances with FourSquare is that it sometimes can’t find me quick enough. I don’t want to have to search for my location, especially if I’ve check-in there previously, yet sometimes I have to. If the application doesn’t get faster to use, fewer people are going to use it. (And the current changes didn’t help to make it faster.)

In my ideal world, FourSquare would combine with Yelp. Those two together would complement each other and provide great features.

And just like Facebook, FourSquare need to allow us to create different lists of friends, then allow us to broadcast information differently to those lists. This is currently another stopper for some people. They don’t want to broadcast their location to everyone that they’ve friended.

Since there isn’t another product on the market that is better than FourSquare (at least at the moment), I hope it quickly improves so those of us who like it will keep using it.

Posted by Jill_HW | Report as abusive

[...] It still feels more like a chore than a game, an act of discovery or a way to connect with friends. Reuters [...]

Don’t underestimate niche apps! Imagine a company that had a stable — dare say, network — of them. While there will only be one Facebook (at a time), the one size fits all model, and commensurate scale, isn’t everything because it tries to be everything.

Posted by johncabell | Report as abusive

@johncabell

There is nothing wrong with making niche apps, and there are companies building stables of them. I just think that Foursquare has set its sights much higher.

Posted by kpkelleher | Report as abusive

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