An open letter to Foursquare on how to keep customers from jumping ship

5 Blogs Before Lunch contributing writer Rocky McGredy takes a critical look at the Foursquare application that's all the buzz, and has some suggestions to the New York City-based location-based service company on how they could improve their business...

Where have you been going recently? Do you call your friends and let them know? I don’t think so. Most of the time when you’re out, friends are either already present with you... or you’re traveling alone. So, why do all of these check-in services exist?

Why can you check in on Yelp, Facebook, Gowalla, Google Latitude, and Foursquare? It’s obvious that these companies have a vested interest in your location data. Facebook likes to know where you’re going to it can target it’s advertising to you. In fact, that’s pretty much the reason for all of them.. and that’s all. They want your location data so they can know your location. It’s incredibly useful for advertisers to know what retail stores you shop at, what food you eat, the places you go out on the weekend, and etcetera; but why does that mean we have to utilize these services.

Recently I downloaded the Foursquare app to my iPhone; but before this I used Facebook check-ins and then to Yelp. Each time I jump ship, I see a consistent pattern among the users of these services. At first, you’re checking in everywhere. Then, you’re checking in every once and a while when you visit someplace unique.

One morning you wake up and forget that you ever used such a service. Don’t get me wrong, Foursquare is probably the most fun of these apps. They seem to have the largest user base, and it was an interesting idea to gamify the platform. Foursquare seems to be having the most fun with their entry to an increasingly saturated market. They want to help you explore, and view the world yet again as a fresh-faced babe. Wide-eyed in awe of all the new discoveries you have made. Cool, but I’ve already watched my interest level in Foursquare deteriorate. I added some friends, checked in to a ton of places, won some mayorships, and now I’m bored. I keep reminding myself to check into the places that I visit. Why do I need to? It’s great that I get points, but I don’t have nearly enough people in my sphere to really “play the game.” It isn’t too fun of a game anyway.

I attribute the declining public interest in this geotagging technology to people finding no incentive in doing so. There is absolutely no reward for giving your information to these people. Oh, you checked in? Cool, thanks. We get nothing more than a glorified pat on the back, or perhaps some attention on a social networking site. The other thing is that I don’t think these companies have even really thought about how they might profit off of providing this service. This could be extremely detrimental, especially to companies that only do check-ins like Foursquare and Gowalla. It’s pretty sad, considering I find this to be a fairly interesting technology. The only reason I’ve migrated so many times to different geotagging services is because I want to find one that can hold my attention, but I’m beginning to think that dream might never come true. Unless, of course, someone were to change their strategy. I’m looking at you, Foursquare. It’s really time to start breaking some ground in this industry.

Here’s an idea, what about the OpenTable model? I think it would be great if my foursquare points were actually worth something. Go out an hustle some deals with restaurants frequented by foursquare users and get some digital coupons that can be distributed. Turn the Foursquare points into digital currency so people can spend them on these things. All of a sudden when I start spending my foursquare points, they start to become more important to me. I start checking into more commercial places so I can  earn my points back. Other than that, open up a marketplace. Start offering people sponsored gear that they can purchase with their points as well. You know, like selling magazine subscriptions or something. I feel like the only downside to expanding the service in this way, is that you’d also have to find some way to counteract the scammers. That idea, I don’t have for you... but I’m not the one running the business anyway.

For all of you reading this, I encourage you to chime in as well. How could check-ins become important to you? In the long run, I feel that geotagging will be a big part of our society whether we like or not, given the rise of the modern smartphone. Why not embrace it, but at the same time demand a little fun out of it?


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