Foursquare, Yelp, and many other startups are going after this opportunity, and it is a significant one. If this vision is fulfilled, of being the social, interactive city guide with all the places you might want to go to, all the review, your friend’s recommendations, live feedback on what’s going on, and so on, this could be an extremely valuable commodity.
The mobile world is brutal: there is a power law. There are millions of apps, but the vast majority of people only use the handful that they have put on their homescreen — but they use these apps every day, which makes them incredibly valuable (think WhatsApp). A truly useful city guide could be one of those homescreen apps that people use every day.
On the monetization side, local advertising is, alongside TV, the biggest advertising market that has yet to switch over to the internet. It is an enormous pile of money, but while getting it is trench warfare (just ask the nice salespeople at Groupon and LivingSocial), it is there for the taking.
Can Foursquare pull it off?
But partly it’s because Foursquare still has everything it needs to to catch that opportunity.
It still has plenty of money in the bank.
For all the mockery that’s been heaped on check-ins, and all the ways it’s harmed the app’s public perception, it still provides Foursquare with unique data.
Indications are that even though its userbase is still small, it is nonetheless passionate.
And when Foursquare works, it really works. If you are in a city or neighborhood where Foursquare has enough users and data that its experience becomes useful, it’s really useful. Living in Paris, where very few people use Foursquare, and occasionally travelling to its hometown of New York, the difference is staggering. I almost never use Foursquare in Paris, and always use it in New York, because it really is full of excellent tips and helps me find interesting places. And experiencing this gap has gotten me an inkling of the difference between what Foursquare is and what it could be.
Originally, Yelp was only in San Francisco, and only when it got a network effect there and became truly ubiquitous did it expand. Foursquare is available everywhere, but it could follow a similar path, of being extremely useful in a few cities and expanding from there.
The clock is ticking fast for Foursquare, but if it can pull off this change successfully, the sky’s the limit.