Foursquare CEO plans to take on Yelp with new social recommendations

Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley

Dennis Crowley wants you to know that Foursquare is about more than just check-ins. In a keynote at Mobile World Congress today, the co-founder and CEO hinted that he hopes to make the world’s most popular location-based social network into the world’s most powerful recommendation engine for places.

While Foursquare was founded on check-ins and badges, or awards that incentivize checking in, it will soon begin helping you find things before you even ask for them. By analyzing and “recycling data,” or feeding check-in information back to users in new ways, it hopes to help you by learning your habits and predicting future wants and needs. For example, if Foursquare knows that you check in to coffee places in New York every morning, then it may suggest some coffee places for you to visit when you visit, say, Barcelona one week.

The same goes for restaurants and other types of places. If Foursquare knows that you love burger joints, perhaps it will suggest a great burger place if you’re nearby and it’s around dinner (or whenever you normally eat).

Of course, having a Foursquare app constantly bug you with suggestions could get old quickly. Crowley compared his concept to that little paperclip mascot in older versions of Microsoft Word (Clippy) that would give you hints, but asked what it would be like if Clippy actually gave you helpful hints at relevant times instead of just popping up on screen to bother you?

Telling you where you want to go

Foursquare isn’t just recycling data, though. It also hopes to help you actively find and remember interesting places. The company has released a new “Save to Foursquare” button that works much like a Facebook Like button, but instead of only posting a link to something on your Wall, it saves the physical location of a restaurant or place that you found interesting when browsing online. We all go online to look up restaurants now and then, but what if you could save the ones that looked interesting directly to Foursquare and then Foursquare helped you find them again when they might be relevant, perhaps if you’re walkingr travelling near them, or searching for a place to eat. It’s a powerful concept, but it also puts Foursquare in competition with services like Yelp. 


In addition to predicting user data, Crowley also pointed out ways that it’s letting users search through their own recycled data and data generated by their friends. On the Foursquare site, you can search for places that your friends like to visit, places where your friends are, places that Foursquare knows you like (or that you visit often), or places that you’ve never been.

Recycling data for merchants

Merchants are also getting onboard with Foursquare. Many merchants now offer deals to those who check in at their establishments. Thanks to Foursquare’s focus on recycling data, the 750,000 merchants who use the service are getting benefit from it as well. Crowley noted that Foursquare provides business owners with demographic and competitive info. They can know things like how many men and women visit their place, how old they are, what times of the day or days of the week they visit, and how this compares to nearby establishments.

Foursquare everywhere

So where will Foursquare take its 15 million users next? If you’re to believe its CEO, Foursquare will soon be everywhere. Before closing out his keynote at MWC, Crowley showed some upcoming technologies and how Foursquare might interact with them. Commenting on the possibility of Google augmented reality glasses, he said that Foursquare could definitely be on a platform like this, but pointed toward a technology that already exists, connected ski goggles with a screen inside them, and asked why goggles like those couldn’t integrate Foursquare. For example, if you’re skiing or snowboarding down a mountain, wouldn’t it be helpful if you could see what routes are most popular or preferred by your friends?

Siri was another example brought up. Crowley pointed out that you can ask Siri questions like “Find me a Sushi place,” but these questions are so limited. With Foursquare, he hopes that Siri-like applications could get much more specific and know exactly what kinds of restaurants you like to eat at.

the-marauders-mapA real-world Marauder’s Map

In his closing, Crowley got truly geeky, comparing Foursquare to the Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter. In the book series, this map would magically show Potter where his friends and family were at any time. But how cool would it have been if the Marauder’s Map saved its data and could tell Harry where his friends are likely to go? That’s what Foursquare hopes to accomplish.