Yesterday was a bad day for location-based social media application Foursquare. The entire service appears to have crashed for several hours. Twitter was overrun with tweets about this significant outage and the Foursquare team was scrambling to figure out what to do. Apparently the service came back online a few moments ago and all is well. They claim that a full explanation will be released soon, so stay tuned for that.
Oh and for the Luddites out there who have no idea what Foursquare is, here is the official description right from their website:
Foursquare is a mobile application that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore. It is a friend-finder, a social city guide and a game that challenges users to experience new things, and rewards them for doing so. Foursquare lets users “check in” to a place when they’re there, tell friends where they are and track the history of where they’ve been and who they’ve been there with.
Now as I was saying, since there’s no point venturing out of doors in a world devoid of Foursquare–I mean come on, how will we get our points, badges and mayorships?–I had some free time to think about what the future of this very popular program might look like. As mentioned in a previous post, I believe Foursquare is going to be huge in the next few years, specifically because of the type of data they are adding to the social web: your location and the location of your friends. Associating people with real-life locations can be helpful in so many ways, both for social media junkies and businesses.
So, getting to the main point of this post, I see Foursquare as being a hot commodity for businesses who are looking to know more about their customers and market to them in exciting new ways. For example, if you use Foursquare you’ve probably been tempted to go somewhere just because you saw one of your friends check-in there. Just as you are more likely to click a link provided by a friend on Facebook than a pop-up window on a random website, having a friend visit a particular establishment creates a sense that it must be a good place and therefore you should check it out too! There are many other business-savvy opportunities Foursquare brings to the table. I’ll hopefully cover them all in a later post.
Now for the bad news. The main drawback of Foursquare at this time is the method by which we check-in. Right now, it is still a manual system, where users have to individually launch the app and then select the place they want to check-in at. This is not only time consuming, but it is easy to forget a check-in; believe me, I’ve done this many times. Therefore, I think we’re going to see something in the future that offers an option to be automatically checked-in on Foursquare, as GPS gets more accurate on mobile devices and WiFi becomes more prevalent in public.
One way to do automatic check-ins would be to simply send an update to the Foursquare servers every time you access a particular WiFi network at a particular location. For instance, let’s say you’re going to Starbucks, which has free WiFi. Well, as soon as your mobile device automatically detects the network, it asks you if you want check-in on Foursquare as well as connect to the network.
Another more costly approach would be to use something like the shoplifting systems we see in many retail shops. Every time you walk through the entrance, the devices would detect your phone and send a signal to the Foursquare servers to check-in. This might even be possible using RFID, which is supposedly going to be huge in the next decade as well.
Well, whatever the case may be, I think Foursquare is here to stay and it will only get better with time. They say it is a sign that you’re onto something big when larger companies start copying the ideas of the little guys. Well, look at Facebook, which recently launched their own location-based check-in feature. I think they know a good idea when they see one.
We’re moving into a new age, based around mobility. The stationary web is dead. Foursquare knew this a while ago and Facebook is just now catching on. But in business, the first to market is usually in the best position. In that case, you’re off to a great start Foursquare. Keep up the momentum and oh, don’t let your servers crash anymore. I lost an entire day of check-ins! Do you know I was just one day away from being mayor of Chipotle? It was tough standing in line and not getting points for it.