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Five years ago, one of the last things an entrepreneur with a hot consumer internet startup wanted to hear was "Google is launching a new service just like yours." It's 2010, and that has changed to "Facebook is launching a new service just like yours."

But that's precisely what Dennis Crowley, the founder of the increasingly popular location-based service Foursquare, recently heard.

With Facebook Places, Facebook wants in the growing market for 'check-ins'. 'Checking in', of course, is an increasingly popular way for consumers to share information about themselves on the social web today. And it also happens to have some monetization potential to boot.

Given Foursquare's prominence in this space, it's not surprising that some have questioned if Facebook Places will be the death of Foursquare. There are two possibilities:

  • Facebook will, for the average mainstream user, make it all but pointless to use standalone services like Foursquare, leaving these services to compete for niches within the broader market.
  • Facebook will accelerate the mainstreaming of 'check-ins' and grow the market for the Foursquares of the world.

Which is most likely? That's anyone's guess. But if history is any indication, Foursquare, like Twitter, which also had to deal with competition from Facebook, will still be here next week. But the real question for Foursquare is what sort of changes it will have to make to compete effectively against Facebook's encroachment. When Twitter caught Facebook's attention, Twitter was far more popular than Foursquare is today. That means Foursquare may find it more difficult than Twitter to deal with Facebook.

For his part, Foursquare's Crowley doesn't seem too worried. He says that Facebook had to make Places "a little bit generic" given the massive audience Facebook has to please, and that Foursquare, which is popular but still much, much smaller, can afford to be fun:

Part of what you see on Foursquare, which is the game mechanics and the snarkiness and really more importantly like the fun and the playfulness that we build into the product, because I think that’s the stuff that most people relate to. And you can poo-poo how like those touchy-feely things don’t mean too much to users but I really think that’s the core and kind of the soul of the service and people identify with that.

There's some truth to this, but Crowley can't have it both ways. If Facebook has to be "generic" to appeal to a large number of people, Crowley would necessarily have to believe that Foursquare will need to ditch some of the game mechanics and "snarkiness" if it too wants to appeal to a broad audience. Certainly Foursquare's investors haven't poured lots of money into the company at a rich valuation believing that it would remain a service relegated to first adopters.

Which brings us back to Twitter. One of the reasons Twitter is still thriving despite Facebook's presence in its market is that Twitter's brand has always been flexible. Even today, Twitter is very much what you make of it. Foursquare, on the other hand, can't ditch game mechanics and snark without ditching the core of its brand. Whether that brand will continue to rise will depend a lot on what combination of utility and entertainment consumers are looking for when they check in.

Patricio Robles

Published 23 August, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2377 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Charlotte Britton

Hi Don't get too giddy on this as Facebook place is only available in the US right now. I assume they'll test it there and then roll it out into the UK once it's bug free? What do you think.

almost 6 years ago

Andy T

Andy T, Managed Services Consultant at Pure360

Even though Facebook has solidified it's place in our social online presence, from most angles it is still the personal side where you connect and share photos and videos etc. with your fiends and family.

Many, many people still do their best to keep their most personal side and their business separate. Subsequently people's work side social persona is attempted to be kept separate mainly through not connecting with clients on facebook. 

In my search to keep Facebook for just connections to friends, family and acquaintances I will use software like Tweetdeck to let me choose if what I am tweeting is facebook worthy.

When I checkin through foursquare I will normally make it available on facebook too but what I add directly into facebook I will not share with anything else.

Even if facebook gave me the interface to have more control over which external apps my status is shared with, it is unlikely I will plug them in - not only because I do not want my facebook profile linked in that way but mainly due to facebook's history for it's unscrupulous data sharing practices.

In my opinion, while Facebook appears to be doing all of the right things with their software, they will have to start showing a hell of a lot more respect for their users' data privacy before they can put apps like Foursquare out of business, they are just not trustworthy enough.

Facebook have also bought 'hot potato' which is a 'chechin to anything' service and will really fit into Facebooks move for a one stop social portal, definitely a good move for them.

almost 6 years ago

Fran Jeanes

Fran Jeanes, Internet Business Consultant at i-contact web design

I enjoy Foursquare enough not to want to use Facebook's offering just yet. I like to keep FB just for my close and closer circle of friends, whereas 4Sq I use like Twitter and my sharing is much broader.

I think if 4Sq keeps being courted by big name corps that offer great coupons and offerings people will still flock toward it. If the big names move over to Facebook then Foursquare will have to broaden its reach and become more generic, or go the way of Google Wave into the Internet ether.

almost 6 years ago

Ryan Clark

Ryan Clark, Link Builder at Linkbuildr

I personally enjoy Foursquare more....not quite sure, but they'll be around for a long time to come. If Facebook Places gets better dominance within the Bing results it is going to remain a force. I also could see Google giving more pull in its serps towards Foursquare..but who knows. Eventually when all these venues have massive links built up, they'll both be the biggest contenders in the local search game. I were Yelp, I'd be worried!

almost 6 years ago

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