Catch me if you can! foursquare’s ‘check-in’ formula – hit or flop?

‘foursquare’ is the latest craze to sweep the web, following in the footsteps of Facebook and Twitter and following similar growth patterns. It already boasts of 4 million users worldwide – connecting people’s online profiles with their real world locations, tracking the places they visit in the city. exchange4media spoke to digital experts and sought to demystify the new application, the kind of viral effect it might lead to and whether it will take off.

e4m by Preeti Hoon
Updated: Dec 2, 2010 7:29 AM
Catch me if you can! foursquare’s ‘check-in’ formula – hit or flop?

Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin – almost nothing came to our minds when we heard these words a few years back. But today, their meaning and presence is intense in our daily lives. Initially, these websites were used to connect with people, but eventually, the viral effect and inter-connectivity triggered growth as well as introduction of various applications, the latest one being ‘foursquare’.

So, will it be another hit like ‘Farmville’ in India? exchange4media spoke to digital experts and sought to demystify the new application, the kind of viral effect it might lead to and will it really take off.

foursquare and Growth of Social Networking
‘foursquare’ is a third party application and ties in with Twitter and Facebook, along with other social platforms, so as long as one signs into foursquare, they will show up on their favourite social network as well. It allows one to know one’s city in a completely new and interesting way – as a friend finder and city guide.

The application can go viral and spread between people as it incorporates a “game” structure. Users earn points whenever they check-in to a location – a simple enough thing to do, as it just needs the user to activate foursquare on a GPS enabled device when he/she goes to any place. One can win badges as well, and if one is the most frequent visitor to a café or a shop or office, then he/she is named its mayor, which can get the user some discounts in participating shops, for example.

And what is accelerating the introduction and usage of these applications? It is the kind of popularity these websites have. According to comScore data for August 2010, Facebook has grown three times in its audience in the past year and has also managed offer free online social games like ‘Farmville’, which have been a huge success in India, while Twitter is also becoming a hit amongst the Indian masses. The social networking site has registered the highest growth rate counted at 239 per cent and has added 3.3 million users over one year. Twitter took two years to grow to 1 million users worldwide, and now, Twitter is four years old and has around 100 million users.

foursquare is growing rapidly too – having outpaced Twitter. It hit 1 million users in just one year, and is now at 4 million worldwide. In India, however, it is still growing, with just a few thousand users, but it has not been one year since the launch. Another obstacle to growth is that cellphones with Internet connections are not very widespread here. This is, however, set to change as many players like Micromax are selling smartphones at extremely low rates, and 3G services shall also start rolling out soon.

First Impression
exchange4media asked the experts on how they found the new application. CVS Sharma, Director, Arc Worldwide, opined, “foursquare has been around for quite some time now. It’s gaining popularity in India. But once Facebook Places gets going, there is a great possibility that foursquare might become redundant. Like Orkut has been killed by Facebook.”

However, Krishna Prasad, Chief Experience Officer, Dentsu Digital, felt that foursquare was an independent product, which was also integrated with social networking sites. He said, “foursquare is a phone-based application that lets you and your friends new ways of exploring your city. Earn points and unlock badges for discovering new things, become Mayors, etc. It looks decent.”

Sanjay Trehan, Head, MSN India, Microsoft, hasn’t got his hands on the new app yet, but said, “It looks like a cool app to me, though I don’t use it personally (open to using, however). It uses the hyperlocal context of the web/ smartphone well and can provide some useful services.”

Pros and Cons
The application is definitely unique in the sense it connects the user socially via mobile phones and lets him be open about his location. Is that an advantage? What could be the possible negatives of the new tool? “To me foursquare can be very powerful in countries like India, where we have a lot of small shops and businesses which are not organised/ listed. foursquare lets businesses reach out to consumers in and around the business, since foursquare is location specific. A small restaurant in Khan Market can potentially reach out to all foursquare users when they are in the location, giving them offers, deals or even just information,” Prasad added.

Speaking on similar lines, Trehan said, “I don’t really see any disadvantage, but advantages can be many. It can help you find friends, depending on your geolocation and acts as a local city guide too. It will depend on how much hyperlocal it can get. The more the better. Over time, new business models for local businesses will also emerge.”

On the other hand, Sharma said, “Discover friends in your immediate proximity and know where your friends are going – that’s the concept of foursquare. It’s quite addictive. Practically though, there is no other use of foursquare (unlike Facebook), so people could get bored quickly.”

Thumbs Up or Down?
foursquare carries the viral effect through its gaming feature, wherein users can achieve certain points and badges after a specified ‘check-ins’ and compete with other users/ friends. So, will it take off in India?

According to MSN India’s Trehan, it would take off as it was relevant and utility based. He pointed out that already, there were over 222,000 followers on Facebook.

Citing a personal example, Prasad of Dentsu Digital opined, “Like all social applications, this is also viral; but the biggest bet is that social works when you have a lot of people connected, thereby giving you the multiplier effect. Since foursquare is new, they have smartly used Facebook to drive the viral effect. foursquare in India has been growing quiet rapidly; I use it and am also the Mayor of a bunch of interesting places across the country, I have also found new friends and connected up with friends when they were in the same location.”

While giving a technical angle to the discussion, Arc Worldwide’s Sharma noted that location based apps/ services were mobile linked. “As mobile Internet usage grows, location based services are going to become increasingly popular. foursquare is already popular in most countries with decent mobile Internet usage. Even success of Twitter is due to increasing mobile Internet usage,” he added.

The Wishlist
Viral games and applications like Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc., have certainly been able to attract an impressive count of users, but there are people in equal numbers who have disliked them for being invasive and repetitive.

We asked the experts if there was any application existing or non-existing that they wanted in their Social Tool Wishlist, and this is what they had to say…

According to Sharma, “Most of the FB apps are boring. I prefer mobile apps. And about the one making in the wishlist, we are making one for our client. Watch out for it.”

On the other hand, Trehan said, “Well, I have never been tempted to use Farmville. I don’t like poker/ gambling kind of apps. My dream app will be the one which straddles all your worlds across platforms and combines business and leisure seamlessly along with e-commerce. It will make your social context cohabit with business and you can marry the two effortlessly. It then becomes your single-stop destination for all things work or personal on the web.”

Prasad, too, did not look at a lot of things these days on FB, basically because everyone was trying to do the same things; and majority of times it was not unique or something that mattered to him or interested him. He further said, “The good about FB is that you choose to respond and interact with things that only matter to you. There are certain times that I don’t want the world to see what I post… but maybe just a bunch of people; like if there was a feature that had options to create different categories of friends from the friends list to, for example, Family, Friends from school, colleagues only, etc.”

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