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What do startups strapped for cash — and time — do when they want to expand their brand into new places? In the case of  Foursquare, they're letting their users do it for them.

The location-based messaging service, begun by Naveen Selvadurai and Dennis Crowley in New York City, has been getting a lot of positive press lately. (I've written previously about the company here.)

But keeping up with all of that attention is a different story. While many online companies can easily push their web presence globally, Foursquare is currently only available in 22 cities. The technology is capable of working anywhere, but making it useful takes work on the ground. And in Vancouver, users are willing to put in those hours themselves. Starting on September 9, Foursquare is launching in the Canadian city. With a little help from the city's residents. And marketing firm 6S. If it goes well, this could greatly expand the company's reach. And show how a little positive word of mouth can go global.

Foursquare works by letting users "check-in" to different locations in a city and broadcasting that info to their approved friends on the service. The company has caught the eye of both journalists and venture capitalists because of its local advertising potential.

Crowley and Selvadurai have made their product incredibly popular by turning socializing into a game. (I'm a super user, for what it's worth.) Checking into different venues earns users points, badges and bragging rights amongst their friends.

But expanding across the country (and abroad) is not as easy as creating a Twitter or Facebook login. Foursquare relies on databases of local information that help users check-in and find new venues. Without a thinking human at the controls, new cities would be populated by dentists and McDonald's instead of bars, restaurants, clubs and parks.

Without a data partner, it was hard for Foursquare to even break into Canada. And spending the energy to expand cities could be a time consuming endeavor. But in the case of Vancouver, the city's residents were clamoring to have access to the service. A Twitter campaign started this summer with the intention of getting Foursquare to Canada. Vancouver residents bombarded Foursquare's Twitter account with a simple message: "Foursquare: Come to Vancouver!"

Canadian firm 6S Marketing took up the charge and came to Foursquare looking to get their city hooked up. Chris Breikss, Co-Founder and President of 6S Marketing, says on their site: “Vancouver has a strong online community and high participation on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook that are complimentary to Foursquare. At 6S we are connected to the online community and as a result are helping to facilitate the launch of a product that we think will be the ‘next big thing’ in social media.”

It will also be a boon to the fledging social media company if users can populate cities with information (and take the initiative to do it themselves).

Says Selvadurai: "We want to try this crowdsourced approach in Vancouver to see if it takes. The hard part in starting a new city is getting a list of proper places. If people are into this idea in Vancouver, we'd definitely bring the same model to other cities."

Foursquare has little to lose in their Vancouver endeavor, aside from a few Torontonians upset (image below) that the company is playing favorites by launching in Vancouver first. But people expressing outrage that your product isn't available in their city yet? That's not a bad problem to have. 

Image: 6S

Meghan Keane

Published 3 September, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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