Foursquare’s Strategy Shift Leaves Fundamental Question of Check-ins Unanswered


foursquare, social networks, social media, location, local search, facebook, google, yelpAfter completing a somewhat troubled fundraising round earlier this month, Foursquare is investing in the places database it has developed from user check-ins, but the work leaves unanswered the question Foursquare has thus far been unable to answer: how to motivate users to continue to check in.

The company today posted a job announcement for a product manager to lead work to leverage its database that put the contradiction front and center.

“Your role will be to continue to develop our places database and place pages into the most comprehensive and highest quality source of location data,” the announcement said.

The listing shows Foursquare working to build out its role as the chief provider of location services, in keeping with the vision Dennis Crowley laid out at South by Southwest. Work on the location database reveals an attempt to simultaneously offer a consumer-facing product that offers local search and a B2B product that delivers data through APIs.

But both of these alternative models for the company that pioneered location-based social networking continue to rely on the very check-ins that the platform has had difficulty driving.

“It has always been important for us to be both a product and a platform,” said spokeswoman Laura Covington in an email interview.

The job description revealed a simultaneous effort to use the data the company has gleaned from its 3.5 billion cumulative check-ins and to somehow entice users to keep checking in.

“You’ll work on projects ranging from building tools so our users and tens of thousands of super-users can contribute new data and places; build signals such as timeliness, cheap vs. expensive, and good for groups from our 3.5 billion check-ins; and surface personal and social history for users when they arrive on a Place page after an Explore search,” the job posting said.

To maintain a database that can provide information on price and location and power Foursquare’s local search service, Explore, the company needs check-ins to continue.

“Foursquare has become a powerful tool for search and recommendation, but they are built on top of our 3.5 billion check-ins. The more you check in, the smarter Foursquare gets,” Covington said.

But because the opposite is also true — the fewer users check-in, the dumber the database will get — the product side of Foursquare has to survive in order for its latest efforts to take off.

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