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Foursquare 5.0: nobody cares if you are mayor

Posted by Max Tatton-Brown on 7th June 2012

Version 5.0 refocuses and develops Explore experience.

Foursquare today released its long-teased 5.0 upgrade, bringing a redesigned mobile experience that puts the ‘Explore’ function at its heart. Following a similar move by Twitter last year, which juggled the UI around functions like ‘connect’ and ‘discover’, it’s no doubt a move to help the three year old service broaden its reach internationally with a more mainstream user.

But how successful will it be? And what has held Foursquare back? Or is it doing better than most people think?

Indeed, in it’s area, it has to be recognised as the most successful location-based network out there today. Seeing off competitors like UK-based Gowalla, even the big boys like Facebook and Google have failed to make much of an impact with their equivalent location-based functions.

Who’s driving this thing?

Perhaps the most well known function of Foursquare, its ‘Mayorship’ system that recognises who has checked into a location most in the last 30 days, has turned out to be a double-edged sword. How many of you reading this would leap to Twitter to ask for nearby point of interest rather than explore the range of Foursquare tips on a venue? Maybe this shows how the dynamic of social search (”what’s good near here followers?”) is becoming a more common replacement than many think.

Having just come back from a week in San Francisco, the potential for Foursquare was smashed home to me by seeing it in a society that embraces it whole-heartedy. As a casual user in general, when you’re a fish out of water it’s enormously helpful to be surrounded by locals’ suggestions and tips by those who have explored the city before you. But it has also helped me find hidden gems closer to home.

Four the masses

So maybe this new design paves the way for increased reach for the network. But I can’t help but feel the organic growth it’s relying on is potentially limited. Unlike products like Instagram, where posts shared to Twitter or Facebook can lure new users in to sign up, people don’t react so positively to seeing Foursquare checkins appearing in their other feeds.

What’s more, location metadata is ubiquitous now across other networks – if you want to let your established connections know where you are, you can simply add it to a tweet or FB checkin, safe in the knowledge that they will see it (and understand it.)

Explore represents the real mainstream potential for Foursquare but for me, the awareness of its existence is going to need a bigger push if they’re to overcome the distractions and misunderstandings – that it’s all about Mayors, B2C and the privacy concerns of checking in everywhere you go…

In PR terms, the appetite for peer recommendation is definitely there but it’s time to look at new ways to tell this story. We’ll be checking in on the subject again soon to see how they’re getting on.

Max Tatton-Brown