Yesterday I went to the weekly Tweetea gathering in Detroit, and had a rousing good time. Most of the time, the suggested discussion topic is loosely adhered to, and the conversation flows along fluid lines—and yesterday was no exception. The topic was media and community management, both subjects near and dear to my heart. We started off talking about local news anchor Stephen Clark’s “#backchannel” and if the media (in this case, a news anchor) can successfully manage a community. That led to discussions about Yelp and Foursquare, and that’s when it clicked for me: Foursquare has no community.
I’ve been a Foursquare user for nearly a year. I enjoy the meta-game, and I’ve used it for good things. I’ve met up with people, made new friends, and used it as a very accurate log of my restaurant history so I can say “Oh, the last time I hung out with Jeanelle was at Great Baraboo on February 23rd.” Like most people, I have no idea what the “points” are for, and I enjoy collected badges as much as the next goofball. I’d say I’m pretty much the average Foursquare user.
Recently, I jumped full-bore into the competing Yelp check-in application. Yelp has taken cues from Foursquare and given users of their mobile app the ability to check in to real-world locations. You can become the “Duke” of a place if you check in enough, a “Regular”, etc. You can also tell your Yelp friends where you are.
After using the Yelp app for a week or so, I realized something: I was enjoying it a lot more than Foursquare. After last night’s discussion, I realized why:
Yelp has a community. Foursquare doesn’t.
I’ll break it down into reasons why I think Foursquare needs a community—and community managers.
1: Trash venues
First of all, Foursquare is heavily diluted by spam and garbage locations. The other day I was trying to check into a restaurant and in the geographic area there were about six people’s houses (with various crap names like “Jason’s Mom’s”, “XXX Shack”, “657 Tanglewood” and other garbage). Foursquare allows any venue to be created by anyone, and the only policing that goes on is by Super Users who can flag trash locations or merge venues. Yelp, on the other hand, only allows check-ins to places that have already been reviewed. This cuts down heavily on things like friend’s houses and joke venues. If Foursquare had a sense of community, people would be more invested and thus be more proactive about removing the trash. If I ever saw a junk venue on Yelp, I’d discuss it with the community or flag it. On Foursquare, I just ignore and move on, because I don’t feel like part of a group.
2: Venue discussion
One of the very best things about the Yelp app is the ability to, at a glance, see what people are saying about a particular place. With Foursquare, you only get quick tips, such as “Try the bacon shake”. Yelp allows you to go further in and read full reviews if you’d like, and having a community built around the app fosters discussion and encourages people to participate further. If I could check into a venue on Foursquare and find out that Jason thinks this restaurant’s burgers are wonderful, and he especially recommends the bleu cheese burger, and then see Tom arguing with Jason about the quality of cheese used on the same burger, I’d be more engaged and probably compelled to visit the venue (even if it’s to settle an argument).
3: Website as a destination
Foursquare.com is not a destination. The only time I ever go there is to correct a venue as a superuser. Yelp, on the other hand, is the hub of a vibrant community of people with similar interests. I find myself going to Yelp.com more and more often, because I’m drawn in to discussions, and I’m making friends there. The only friends I’ve made on Foursquare have been because of Twitter or Facebook. There’s almost a sort of pseudo-community of Foursquare users on Twitter, only because they have no other choice. If the community is happening on Twitter or Facebook, Foursquare has no control over it, and that is really, really bad for a brand.
4: Encouraging participation
I’m getting bored with Foursquare. There’s not enough to hold my interest. It feels “beta”, or perpetually like they’re waiting for some critical mass to happen before they launch an actual … community. What do the points do? What, other than bragging rights, does being a Mayor accomplish? Sure there are deals to be found, but not enough to make the platform compelling. Combine my waning interest with rampant technical issues (on any given check-in, there’s a 25% chance that “Foursquare is over capacity”), and I find myself yawning and not bothering to check in anymore. With a compelling community behind it, the Foursquare app would be a gateway into that group and everything we can do on the app could be used in a variety of ways: Conversation starters, contests, and other community-building exercises.
If Foursquare had a community that celebrated and encouraged use of the app (like, Mayor of the Day, or a check-in scavenger hunt), people would become even more interested in using it.
When we had this discussion at Tweetea, one person mentioned that it just feels like Foursquare is waiting for a high bidder to get bought up. It’s sad that it feels that way, but it’s true. Foursquare is riding high on the wave of geo-location apps, and is still the king of the hill (Facebook doesn’t rip you off if you don’t have a brilliant idea), but if they don’t do something to glue the users together, eventually we’ll all drift away to other, more compelling check-in networks.