Foursquare still struggling to become more than a niche app

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, 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.

Gowalla shoots for 1 million users with new version of location service

Location service Gowalla launched within days of rival Foursquare in March 2009, only to see its competitor grow to more than 4 million users while Gowalla seemedGowalla 3 Activity Feed left in the dust. This summer’s introduction of Facebook’s location service, dubbed Places, didn’t help the perception that Gowalla was on a challenging road.

But Gowalla, which says it has “north of 600,000” users, has not given up. The Austin, Texas company released a revamped version of the service on Thursday that co-founder Josh Williams says will help bring its number of users to the million-mark by year’s end.

So what’s new in Gowalla 3? For one thing, you can now view check-ins by friends who use other location services, including Foursquare and Facebook Places, directly within Gowalla, as well as check-in to those services from Gowalla. That could provide a common window to keep track of the whereabouts of friends currently kept apart on separate location services.

Google unveils new ads in bid to tap into local merchant market

Google is revamping its efforts to court local merchants, as the Internet search giant faces a growing band of rivals aiming for a piece of the lucrative small business market.

On Monday, Google introduced a new way for local merchants to advertise on its Web site, as well as a variety of additional features to entice small and medium-sized businesses to use Google more often.

Store1Google’s local business center, which allows merchants to provide more information about their business listing on Google, is being re-branded Google Places. According to Google, some 4 million businesses worldwide have already “claimed” their listings among the 50 million generic business listings in Google’s directory of Places Pages