This post was initially posted on Medium as a response to Dennis Crowley’s interview with Steven Levy.
I think it’s a great interview. After reading this, I have been most bullish on FourSquare in years!
I was an avid FourSquare user early on, when it was launched. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were filled with my FourSquare check-ins from unique restaurants to next door Starbucks.
My usage started dropping even before FourSquare launched it’s auto check-ins, which were launched prior to the Swarm app. The biggest reason for my decline in usage was lack of product innovation for a long period of time. I’m not sure if the team was busy scaling or they were trying different things. I felt that the product was not evolving and hitting the check-in button over and over again got boring.
Auto-checkins came too late. Even when they were released, the product was all about what I input and didn’t give out much value to me as output. Check-ins and leaderboards gave me some entertainment value, but that’s pretty much it. At that time, continued check-ins felt like a hamster aimlessly running on a wheel.
I really liked this part of the interview:
I have to say that this wasn’t all that clear to me. I had to talk to you to figure this out.
I know, I know. We’ve never done a good job telling the story. We’ve never really embraced any forms of marketing and I think that’s a weird thing for a company that’s six years old. We just hired a VP of Marketing, and she’s had us run some outdoor ads, we are doing some digital ads, we’re sending emails now, we have much more targeted campaigns, we have a real strategy for how we’re gonna tell our story.
Knowing about FourSquare’s future vision could have got me to keep running on the check-ins wheel a bit longer. Being a founder, this is what I think a lot – are we doing a good job of telling our story and what the future looks like? Usually the answer is no, we can do a lot better.
The more I think about it, more I believe that even though marketing, press, outward communications help with telling and spreading the story, the biggest story teller for the existing users is the product evolution. Once the existing users buy in and trust the story, they will make it their life’s mission to spread that story. Apple & Android fans are a great example of users believing in and spreading the story. I wish, I could see the story early on with FourSquare’s product evolution.
Right after reading the interview, I checked my phone to see if I still have FourSquare app installed. Luckily, I was able to find it using the spotlight search and opened the app after several months, if not over a year. The app has changed since I last used it, which is a good thing that it is evolving.
Unfortunately, the story falls short here.
On opening the app, I am suggested these options.
I am not sure where these restaurants are. On opening the details I find out first one is in Oakland and second is in Palo Alto. Both these locations are 15–20 miles away from my current location.
All these places are about 15–25 miles away from my current location as well.
One thing I learnt about personalization over the years is that perception of personalization for users is more important than the personalization itself. This is why Netflix shows “Avengers recommended to you because you watched Captain America,” and Facebook shows “XYZ suggested as a friend because you have 23 mutual friends.” Just by knowing the reason for the recommendation, puts people to ease than not knowing.
I know FourSquare has great location data and potentially a kick-ass recommendation algorithm under the hood. However, when I see these results, I don’t know why are any of these places recommended to me. It is possible that I have lot more check-ins in Mountain View/Palo Alto area than where I am and this is why I am shown places in the Peninsula. It is possible that when I setup FourSquare I told them I like Mexican food and desserts. Being a user, I don’t remember any of these things and would love to understand why am I recommended these places.
I think Yelp needs a good competitor. FourSquare has the potential to be that. I hope FourSquare gives me more reasons to use their app again.