Foursquare has added an ‘Explore’ function to its
website, which effectively turns its billions of check-ins into a social search engine.

Data from 1.5bn check-ins is now available in the form of local recommendations when users search for a service in a particular
town via their computer.

The Explore function has been available on Foursquare’s mobile app since March.

In a blog post the company said simply that this was designed to “help us personalise recommendations for you.”

It’s not just personalised, it’s specific. Search for ‘pool table,’ or ‘guacamole’; ‘deep dish,’ or ‘thin crust.’ Because not all bars, Mexican restaurants, or pizza joints are created equal, and we want to make sure you find what you’re craving.”

The tool allows users to refine searches based on four options; ‘I haven’t been to yet’, ‘I have been to before’, ‘My friends have been to’ and ‘Have Foursquare specials’.

Recommendations then appear on a map of your chosen location as shown below.

By adding this additional functionality Foursquare is stepping away from the gaming model and providing users with a more tangible service.

This is a clever way of using the company’s wealth of data, and if this tool encourages more people to sign-up – at last count it had 15m users – this search function will continue to become more comprehensive.

Foursquare can also now position itself more strongly as a travel tool, since planning your next trip to Paris would be much easier if you have your friends’ suggestions in one place, available from one search engine.

It also opens up new areas for monetisation through the sale of premium listings, or through sponsored social content similar to the news feed ads launched by Facebook this week.

Social search seems to be a huge area of growth for 2012, based on the assumption that people are more interested in their friends’ likes and dislikes than generic search results.

Though we’ve been hearing about the power of this for years, we’re now seeing people truly invest in this as a function – most recently in the changes Google announced this week that incorporate social content from Google+ into search results.