Checking Out of Foursquare

I’ve been using Foursquare for several years now. For those unaware, it’s a location based “game” whereby you use your phone’s GPS to “check in” at locations; some are real, like a restaurant, and some are virtual, such as “Snowpocalypse”. At first, it was exciting to see all of the early adopters you know from the Twitter- and Blogosphere checking in. A lot of people asked “What’s the point?” when you inexplicably whipped out your phone upon walking in to an airport, their house or other location. The value proposition was hard to communicate, as most non-techies would usually say “So you’re telling other people you’re not at home?” and “I don’t get it”.

Flash forward several years, Foursquare finally put a video on their website explaining to new customers what the point of Foursquare is:

Hi! I want to learn more about foursquare! from foursquare on Vimeo.

Foursquare claims to have 10 million registered users on their service but as it’s been pointed out not everyone that has signed up is actually using it. Also, many of the early adopters that found the gamification of coughing up their location finally got tired of it. I fell into this camp again (yes, this marks the second time I went dormant for an extended period of time) about a year ago, when I decided I wasn’t going to bother using the service anymore.

I didn’t quit using Foursquare just so I could write this post or be a contrarian. In fact, I really wanted to stick with it because as a marketer I need to see how it progresses. I’ll still read the Foursquare-dedicated blogs but I have stopped using it because:

1. No one else was using it

Despite their claims of a growing user base, even with several hundred “friends” I’ve seen less and less people actively using Foursquare. In fact, over the past six months of using it I was able to crack the Top 10 points list several times just checking in at my house and running a few errands every few days.

2. It’s not really a social network

The term “friend” is used on Foursquare to describe someone you’ve accepted into your network. Aside from “friend” being a loose association of people from the online world, and maybe a few locals, very few of the people in my real friend circles are using it, and unless I was with one of those “real life” friends I was never in the same place as they were – ever. So it’s not based on real friendships of people you see in real life, and it’s not really based on the virtual friendship you’ve made over the years. At best it’s Yelp, without lengthy reviews.

3. No deals

Ok, fine. I’m checking in by myself and I never run into anyone I know around town at the same time. What about saving a few bucks, as noted in their new video? Unfortunately, aside from the holiday Shop Small initiative, none of the deals were strong enough for me to change my behavior. Even with that noble promotion the barrier to entry was that you had to use an American Express card to participate. No thanks, I’d rather use a debit card or pay with cash. Furthermore, the number of people outside of mega markets actually using the service combined has to have local businesses shaking their heads at the purpose of even offering a checkin deal.

Given how quickly Facebook dropped integrated their competing service, noting that very few people were actually checking in, a stand-alone location based service cannot survive without mass appeal and reach to make it worth a marketer’s time.