I hate to say it, as a keen Foursquare user and the mayor of 25 different locations, but Foursquare is in trouble – reports claim that the company recently borrowed $41 million, generating just $2 million in revenues last year.
Despite more than a million businesses claiming their venues on the location-based social network, Foursquare has only 33 million active users after four years of operation – to put that in perspective, Facebook reached 100 million users after the same amount of time, and Twitter climbed even higher with 175 million.
So what’s the problem with Foursquare? And what can they do to fight this apathy? I believe the answer lies in instant and private messaging. Think about it – this would open up an entirely new reason to use Foursquare, to make plans on the fly and to make meeting with friends a whole lot easier.
At the moment, if I see a friend check-in to a nearby location, there’s not a great deal I can do – sure, I can leave a comment on the check-in, but trying to engage in a full-fledged conversation is cumbersome and unwieldy. In fact, if I decide to meet up with them, I’m snookered unless I have their phone number.
With IMs, on the other hand, we could send messages backwards and forwards at a rapid rate until we’ve decided upon a time and a place to meet. Couple this with Foursquare’s rich database of locations, special offers and personalised recommendations and you can see why they could be on to a winner.
Releasing an instant messaging platform would open the application up to the younger generation, too. WhatsApp, Snapchat and other purpose-built messaging applications are taking the teenage market by storm, even enticing them away from Facebook. Could Foursquare become the hip choice for youngsters who like to hang out with their friends?
If my own childhood is anything to go on, then probably. We spent a lot of time lurking around in popular hotspots, watching the world go by and waiting for friends to make an appearance. My guess is that not much has changed, except for the widespread adoption of the smartphone.
One thing’s for certain – an IM system would make it a lot easier to see which of your friends were also in the environs, and to make plans on the fly to meet up and to go watch a movie, to buy fast food and to do whatever it is that kids do these days. On the other hand, today’s youth might not be too happy at the prospect of their parents being able to track their every check-in, and Foursquare might need to give their privacy options an update to reassure both teenagers and parents alike.
Whatever they decide to do, it’s clear that Foursquare are facing a bitter fight for survival and if Yahoo has taught us anything, it’s not enough to carve out a niche and to wait out the storm.
As a company, Foursquare is still young enough to retain the start-up mentality, and one key result of this is the ability to constantly innovate. It would be a shame if they failed to live up to the promise that they showed back in 2009, when they launched at SXSW. Let’s hope Crowley and co. still have a few tricks up their sleeve.
Do you use Foursquare? How do you think it could be improved? Let me know with a comment!