Foursquare are not stupid. They know that the location game has not turned out in quite the way everyone thought it would, as it seems that using location based services is still the reserve of a minority group of people, that are die-hard fans. But while Foursquare’s future might not be in location based services from a pure gaming or social aspect, they have still built up a valuable location-based platform that can be adapted to keep up with the way in which people use location based services. In March they announced they were launching their push notification API, and as Denis Crowley recently tweeted, this is now set to launch:
Their Twitter moment
This move essentially turns Foursquare into a platform much like Twitter – where they are providing the data and the tools and invite other people in to come and create the magic. By introducing a push notifications API, it allows developers to create different apps that can make use of notifications without having to rely on the ‘check in’ model, which is pretty much dead by now. In practice this means things like notifying you when a friend is in a nearby coffee shop, or making use of locations you frequent such as your local shop and sending you a notification that you’re out of milk.
It’s what location based services have needed for a while, if they are to really succeed : the power of crowdsourcing knowledge through an open API and enabling location apps to not just be something that you use if you happen to remember, but allowing it to become more prominent and actually add value to you, instead of being simply game-based.
Beyond buying milk
There are some obvious uses for the new push notification API that add little quirks to the service currently, but the fact is that location needs to be radically overhauled if it is to really take off or add any meaningful value to users. The opportunities have now opened up massively and it is really Foursquare’s last hope if they are to be a relevant service for people. And this means working with businesses in a big way. Location is about the establishments that I would check into and every shop, bar, hotel that I enter is a potential social action for Foursquare, if they can offer me something that can really add to the experience. Do I want an app that tells me which of my friends are in there too? Not really – and checkin is already dying because of this limitation.
But what I do want is something that socialises the experience of walking into a coffee shop in as seamless a way as shopping via Amazon can do via the Like button or Connect. The truth is that location has to be as simple as possible for me to use. I kind of don’t want to have to even think about it, which is what Foursquare are trying to achieve with the push notification API. But beyond that it has to give me a reason to want to continue getting these notifications, because they’re adding something so utterly brilliant to the process of walking down a street that I won’t know how I managed to do it without these notifications.
If anything is going to save Foursquare or change location services signficantly enough to bring them into mainstream, this is likely to be it. Now it’s about getting businesses on board, gathering smart data and providing a invaluable experience that people actually want.
Death of the checkin
One thing is for sure with this move from Foursquare, and that is that the checkin is pretty much officially dead. Facebook have all but scrapped it, Foursquare are shifting focus and now Gowalla are moving beyond the checkin. In a recent talk at Techcrunch Disrupt, CEO of of Gowalla Josh Williams, announced that they were looking beyond the checkin, to become more of a social tourist guide. The focus will now be on travel, so I can go to a different city and instantly find out which of my friends have been there, and which places they recommend. Social guides will now play a prominent part in the app, pushing checkin to the side. Whether this is enough alone to save location services is still uncertain, but it’s moving in the right direction – stepping away from gamification or location for the sake of it, and providing value to users that they can’t get elsewhere.