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Foursquare needs a community

Foursquare needs a community

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.

Photo credit: Lst1984 on Flickr


  1. Billy (@3sixteenweb) I agree whole-heartedly about Foursquare. It does feel "stalled". Adoption by venues isn't happening fast enough. I've been lurking around Yelp now for a a while. We recently chose a local spot to eat due to the reviews. I like the fact that it goes beyond the mere check-in. Feeling like you're a part of something is important. It keeps you engaged and wanting to come back for more. Great post. Always enjoy your writing.
  2. Nikki Stephan You bring up really good points, Brian. I haven't explored Yelp's check-in features yet, but you've encouraged me to start experimenting with it. Thanks. :)
  3. Cliff_Forster
    Cliff_Forster Yelp is essentially the web 2.0 version of digital city. Ahhhh AOL, you can screw up anything! My best analogy for comparing the services, Foursquare is a toy, Yelp is a tool.
  4. Thrax
    Thrax So sick of Foursquare. It has turned Twitter into the "LOL I'M TAKING A POOP, I'M AT MCDONALDS, I'M AT BILLYBOB'S LAWNMOWER PALACE" cesspool everyone makes fun of Twitter for.
  5. Cliff_Forster
    Thrax wrote:
    So sick of Foursquare. It has turned Twitter into the "LOL I'M TAKING A POOP, I'M AT MCDONALDS, I'M AT BILLYBOB'S LAWNMOWER PALACE" cesspool everyone makes fun of Twitter for.

    BillyBob's Lawnmower Palace!! ;D

  6. Billy (@3sixteenweb) @Cliff I have one of those on order
  7. WagsFTW
    WagsFTW I googled my address, and a FourSquare hit came up, and my townhouse is referred to as "The Chickens Coop" by the previous tenants. They also refer to getting your "shots" before you check in. I hate FourSquare even more after seeing that...
  8. primesuspect
    primesuspect You should flag it for deletion
  9. WagsFTW
    WagsFTW E-mail sent to them for request for deletion. Wish they had a quick link on the page...
  10. ardichoke
    ardichoke While I generally agree with you prime, I will point out that foursquare does also have venue tips... just few people use them.

    DOUBLEDIT: I just realized what a tangent I got off on with this part of my comment. So I removed it. I blame lack of sleep. Move along, nothing to see here.
  11. Sp00nman
    Sp00nman Funny thing, I got ousted as the mayor of my own business last night (after business hours). From someone I know has never been there. Even funnier, we aren't open to the public yet, so I found it amusing and sad that this person just drove by and said, "sure, I'll check in there".

    I have been using the Facebook places check-in lately. Similar, but allows more "community" - you are clearly correct in your observation.
  12. Jamie Favreau You are right about Yelp in comparison to Foursquare. I am not in the habit of checking in every time I am out. I just don't do it because I was never really a fan of the geo location stuff to begin with.

    But Yelp does foster a lot of useful information. I have an account but have yet to write a review. I think Foursquare might have to be a little bit more mainstream for it to take off. It definitely lacks community... but when you get that swarm badge you are definitely excited.

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