Analysis & Opinion

Foursquare breaking out of the “nerd ghetto.”

April 8, 2010 David Swaebe

This post is pathetically late by social media standards, but wanted to give you our take on the foursquare presentation that the Ad Club put together this past Monday. Dennis Crowley, one of the co-founders of the geo-based social networking platform, spoke to a crowd of 160 people at Microsoft’s Nerd Center in Cambridge.

Crowley was a principal in the creation of Dodgeball, a former Google location-based platform that was shut down when it didn’t gain traction. Crowley says FourSquare can succeed where Dodgeball failed because of the influence of GPS enabled smart-phones, and the micro-blogging mentality inspired by Twitter.

Here are some additional highlights from Crowley’s talk:

  • foursquare has reached the one million user milestone way sooner than expected according to Crowley – he had predicted it would happen by the end of 2010. They are pleasantly surprised.
  • foursquare sees its core benefit as connecting small groups of friends who live in a concentrated area and who gather socially in the physical world. It’s not about building massive followings like Twitter or huge friend networks like Facebook.
  • foursquare does not view Facebook or Twtter as competitive threats. They see room for peaceful co-existence and foursquare as a standalone entity, not a feature of some bigger network. Crowley said social media is “not a winner take all game.”
  • There are obvious retail applications for foursquare and success stories already developing with Starbucks as a pioneer. Crowley described a scenario where a consumer could make a purchase at a Tasti-d-lite yogurt shop and in the process of swiping their card, automatically generate a foursquare update.
  • Crowley praised brands such as JetBlue, Coke and Pepsi for using Twitter and other social networking platforms in innovative ways.
  • He admitted that the foursquare team is not set-up as yet to take advantage of the countless business development proposals they get from brands. Their biz-dev guy, Tristan, is going to grad school at Stanford and only working part time. The foursquare team is just a dozen or so people sitting around a table in NYC trying to perfect the technology.
  • Crowley said one popular way of using foursquare is as a “poor-man’s” Tweet, where you can stream your check-ins into Twitter to create content without having to put too much thought into what you’re going to say.
  • The tipping point for foursquare will be when it emerges from the “nerd ghetto” according to Crowley. He’s starting to see it happen as it becomes adopted by mainstream users and endorsed by mainstream media.

As a newbie to foursquare, I use it selectively and find it amazingly easy to operate and quite cool. By contrast, I have also heard stories of early adoptors bailing out and have witnessed people using it excessively and obnoxiously.

I polled a few Mullen colleagues who were at Crowley’s talk for their thoughts as well:

Nicole Berard (a native of Crowley’s hometown of Medway, MA): “What appeals to me about foursquare is that it truly delivers on the right info/right time promise. When you know someone’s physical location, the potential to hit them with relevant messaging just goes through the roof. I’m really looking forward to them releasing an API for us to play with and really happy that so many people in our biz get excited by new technology.”

Brenna Hanly: “First reaction: Hey, that’s Dennis Crowley? He is much younger and more attractive than I would have imagined.  He actually seems like a pretty normal, funny guy that is going to make a lot of money soon!  Maybe I should try to go on a date with him…I am a firm believer in the power of geo-location apps such as foursquare to create meaningful marketing opportunities. If advertisers can marry a consumer’s geographic information with a highly relevant message, they are likely communicating information that is actually useful.”

Stephen Hahn-Griffiths: “foursquare could be a key learning resource for marketers, in that it provides brands with a way to observe and respond to consumer behavior in “real time” based on an understanding of when and where they have “checked-in.” To increase its potential allure for brands, foursquare has to become more than a social gathering device – it can become a real social influence tool for retailers at or close to the decision making moment of truth.”

Eugene Kim: “One thing that really stuck with me is when he said “We’re trying to make life interesting through game mechanics and help promote serendipity through technology.” It’s incredible that he thought about this stuff five years ago. And it goes to show how intuitive and organic digital social media is; it’s a digital manifestation of human social-tendencies.

Boon Yap: “Competitors like Gowalla and Loopt capitalize too much on the game mechanics, but not the social aspect, and hence suffer from slower adoption rates. As smartphones proliferate, these GPS devices in the hands of everyone will create a “check-in” epidemic – at least until FaceBook steps into the game.”

High-praise to the Ad Club for putting this great event together.  Hot topic and perfect timing.