Following the recent announcement of the launch of Facebook Places, there have been many bloggers and social media experts declaring the death of FourSquare as the next big thing in the world of social media, social networking and geolocation. What is the truth behind these predictions? And does Foursquare have a way out of the problems it faces with direct competition from Facebook?
The Social Graph Wars
The reality is that we are witnessing an intense war for the domination of the so-called Social Graph. The main, and often most aggressive, players in this war are Facebook, Google and Twitter. All three are fighting to dominate this most-lucrative aspect of our virtual lives and, as a result, they are likely to obliterate new competitors along the way.
FourSquare’s lack of return on (social time) investment
And this is where FourSquare is reported to be a victim due to its limited and narrow functionality and resources. The reality is that FourSquare’s attraction is often similar to a brief and intense romance, but not much more than that. I have seen many friends and professional contacts that start using FourSquare enthusiastically and check-in to practically every single location they visit. But soon after, users start wondering what is the point of it all. We visit places, we check-in, some people can see where we are, get may collect a few badges and mayorships and that’s about it. No real return from quite a bit of effort. So, why is the initial appeal so strong? My take is that FourSquare is simply ahead of its time and the real benefits will follow over the next 12/24 months when companies figure out how to commercially exploit geo-location services for the masses and not just the early adopters.
Am I wrong? Maybe, but I was an early user of Facebook when it was still limited to just US and UK universities and I had exactly the same feeling. In its early days, Facebook often was a desolate place that was waiting for the masses to turn it into the social behemoth it is today.
So, is FourSquare dead? If you compare its functionality to what Facebook Places is offering, the truth is that FourSquare investors must be getting quite worried. Other than badges and mayorships, all the FourSquare functionality is available in Facebook Places. And you are likely to have many more friends using Facebook than FourSquare. So the immediate feeling is that Facebook Places will offer a vastly more rewarding experience immediately. To the point that several of my FourSquare contacts have already deleted the their accounts and started using Facebook Places.
LinkedIn and FourSquare: Professional Check-ins?
At this stage, we should stop for a moment and realise that the people at FourSquare HQ are not going to just sit tight and let Facebook kill their business off without a fight on their own. So, what options do they have? One that I would suggest is finding a clear differentiator with Facebook and not fight them head on. And to me, one area where Facebook Places will offer a lesser competition is the professional contacts space of the social graph.
I like geo-location and have used both Facebook Places and FourSquare. And both are limited in one area: Geo-location use for my professional contacts. These range from close professional relations to distant acquaintances made at trade events or conferences. These professional contacts are nowhere to be seen in my Facebook space and, to be honest, I don’t think they should ever be.
So, this is where an area that I believe that FourSquare could be ideally placed to exploit and add a key differential aspect compared to Facebook. And when you think of this, companies such as LinkedIn and Xing could be ideally placed to create close links with FourSquare. As a LinkedIn user, I think that it would be appealing for users to get check-in updates of their network or to have an idea of which contacts may be in the vicinity of my location. Speed networking anyone?
LinkedIn already offers third-party applications such as Events and TripIt. And, I’d argue that if FourSquare wants survive the Social Graph Wars and be a major player of the geo-location services that are still to come, they seriously need to move away from Facebook and find their own space. The link with LinkedIn is probably there for the taking.
This is just one option. Feasible? I would happy to hear your opinion and any other idea that you may have.
- Who, What, When, and now…Where (Facebook)
- Facebook “Likes” world domination (Mashable)
- FourSquare, Gowalla and the future of geo-location (The Telegraph)
- A glimpse at the future of FourSquare (Mashable)
- The future of FourSquare (Big Spaceship Blog)
- Competing with Facebook: How Twitter gets it right and FourSquare gets it wrong (Carnage4Life Blog)