Speaking at the GigaOM Structure Data conference yesterday, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley described Google and Yelp as “incredibly broken,” arguing that they are no longer fit for purpose because they can’t deliver an effectively personalized experience. This, he says, comes from taking into account the interests and preferences of individual users’ friends and of people who share their tastes. Can Foursquare deliver this? “We’re getting very, very close to making that happen,” Crowley says.
Foursquare, which launched its small business ads tool last summer, wants to be able to adjust its interactive map of the world to give it much more personal relevance, delivering a form of local search focused on what the user is likely to care about. Crowley says he wants people to use the app to discover things around them that they would otherwise miss. Recommendations are also based on tracking where people go through their mobile phones. This is something that Crowley acknowledges has a “creep-out factor”, but Foursquare is open about it and its tally of over 45 million users suggests that it is not putting too many people off.
What Does This Mean for Business?
The location-based model means it is easy for advertisers to target people along the routes they routinely travel, tempting them to pop in and make a casual purchase. Adding in the increasingly accurate personal element means ads are not wasted on those who would never dream of buying their kind of product, no matter how convenient it was. Foursquare already avoids delivering ads to people who are already customers of the business in question.
In a world where the local search market is increasingly considered to be the most lucrative area of marketing – and the best area to focus on for many SMEs – investment in this area is vital in order to stay ahead of the pack. Foursquare is competing with some much bigger players but has the advantage of having focused on and understood the mobile market from an early stage.
Given the number of leading artificial intelligence experts Google has taken on in recent months, it is expected that the search engine will have its own much more effectively personalized service available before long; however, it does not have Foursquare’s strength in local search. Yelp, which has been much more successful in this area, does not have the AI skills. Foursquare’s challenge is to make itself indispensable before anybody else catches up.