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Foursquare is a local search-and-discovery service mobile app which provides search results for its users. The app provides personalized recommendations of places to go to near a user's current location based on users' "previous browsing history, purchases, or check-in history". The service was created in late 2008 and launched in 2009 by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai. Crowley had previously founded the similar project Dodgeball as his graduate thesis project in the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at New York University. Google bought Dodgeball in 2005 and shut it down in 2009, replacing it with Google Latitude. Dodgeball user interactions were based on SMS technology, rather than an application. Foursquare was the second iteration of that same idea, that people can use mobile devices to interact with their environment. Foursquare was Dodgeball reimagined to take advantage of the new smartphones, like the iPhone, which had built in GPS to better detect a user's location. Until late July 2014, Foursquare featured a social networking layer that enabled a user to share their location with friends, via the "check in" - a user would manually tell the application when they were at a particular location using a mobile website, text messaging, or a device-specific application by selecting from a list of venues the application locates nearby. In May 2014, the company launched Swarm, a companion app to Foursquare, that reimagined the social networking and location sharing aspects of the service as a separate application. On August 7, 2014 the company launched Foursquare 8.0, the completely new version of the service which finally removed the check in and location sharing entirely, to focus entirely on local search. As of December 2013, Foursquare reported 45 million registered users, though many of these will not be active users. Male and female users are equally represented and also 50 percent of users are outside the US. Support for French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Japanese was added in February 2011. Support for Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Thai was added in September 2011. Support for Turkish was added in June 2012. On January 14, 2016, Co-founder Dennis Crowley stepped down from his position as CEO. He moved to an Executive Chairman position while Jeff Glueck, the company's COO, succeeded Crowley as the new CEO.

social networking mobile app location sharing

1. Features

Foursquare 8.0 shows personalised recommendations of places to go around the user's current location.

On August 7, 2014, Foursquare 8.0 was launched for iOS and Android devices.[1] The new app has changed the focus of the app to being primarily a local search and discovery tool, where users can "follow" others to receive local recommendations from them.

1.1. Local Search and Recommendations

Foursquare lets the user search for restaurants, nightlife spots, shops and other places of interest in their surrounding area. It is also possible to search other areas by entering the name of a remote location. The app displays personalised recommendations based on the time of day, displaying breakfast places in the morning, dinner places in the evening etc. Recommendations are personalised based on factors that include a users check-in history, their "Tastes" and their venue ratings and according to their friends reviews.

1.2. Tips and Expertise

Foursquare eschews the traditional concept of letting users leave long-form reviews, and instead encourages the writing of "Tips" - short messages about a location which let other users know what is good (or bad) there. Tips are limited to 200 characters in length, but can include a URL to link to an external site with more information, and can include a photo. Tips can be set to expire after a certain amount of time, or on a specific date, which can be useful for leaving Tips about events or promotions at a venue that will end soon.

Users have the ability to 'Like' tips left by other users, which makes those tips more prominent. Users can also save tips left by other users onto their own to do list, ensuring that the user is reminded about them when they are nearby, and can "follow" any other user or brand to increase the prominence of that user's tips when they are navigating Foursquare. As a reward for leaving quality tips, a user can also earn "expertise" in a particular location (e.g. a neighbourhood or city) or category (e.g. Italian restaurants). Expertise is awarded based on the number and quality of tips a user writes, a tip's quality being measured based on the number of views, saves and "likes" it receives from other users. When a user earns expertise, their tips are made more prominent and a label indicating their expertise is added beneath relevant tips.

1.3. Tastes

"Tastes" let a user personalise their search experience.

Foursquare has a defined list of "tastes" in particular food items, styles of cuisine or environmental aspects, which users may add to their profiles to let the service know what they like. New users are presented with a list of words and phrases describing recognized tastes and they may select the ones that appeal to them. Users can change their tastes at any time, and can add and remove items from their profile. Foursquare uses natural language processing to match a user's tastes with the tips at nearby venues that mention them. It is then able to recommend nearby places to the user that match their tastes.

1.4. Location Detection

Foursquare on wearable phone watch.

Foursquare 8.0 uses its own proprietary technology called Pilgrim to detect a user's location. Pilgrim is able to guess a user's current location by comparing historical check-in data (previous users tacitly stating "I am here") with a combination of signals such as a user‘s current GPS signal, cell tower triangulation, cellular signal strength and surrounding wifi signals. In this way Foursquare can know a user's location without them needing to "check in".[2]

Foursquare 8.0 features a 'Here' tab that lets the user see Tips about their current location. Pilgrim will guess the current location and the user is able to correct the selection if wrong. The tab displays information about the current venue, and includes a Check-in button. Tapping the button lets the user check in with Swarm, before returning them to Foursquare. If they do not have the app installed, tapping the button opens a page where they can download it.

Foursquare 8.0 also uses Pilgrim to track a user's location in the background. This enables the app to send the user push notifications of things that they might find interesting around their current location. It also uses this ability to learn about the kinds of places a user likes, based on when and how often they visit different venues. It then uses this data to improve a user's recommendations, and to gauge the popularity of a venue.

1.5. Ratings

In addition to leaving Tips, Foursquare 8.0 lets users rate venues by answering questions. The questions help Foursquare understand how people feel about a place, including such questions as whether or not a user likes it, how trendy it is, its cleanliness, how noisy it is. It also uses these questions to fill out missing venue information such as asking whether the venue takes credit cards, or whether it has outdoor seating.

Foursquare gives each venue a numeric score between 0.1 and 10 to indicate its general popularity when compared to other venues. Scores are calculated automatically factoring in check-in data, Tips and Ratings.

1.6. Lists

Users can add venues to a personal "to do" list, and to curated lists with any criteria. With the launch of Foursquare 8.0, adding venues to lists other than a to-do list was only possible on the website, but writing in August 2014, Foursquare chief Dennis Crowley has assured users that lists would return "in a big way" in the "soonish" future.[3]

1.7. Former Features

Earlier versions of Foursquare supported check-ins and location sharing, but as of Foursquare 8.0, these were moved to the service's sibling App, Swarm. Foursquare 8.0 never shares a user's location with their followers.

In previous versions of Foursquare, if a user had checked into a venue on more days than anyone else in the past 60 days, then they would be crowned "Mayor" of that venue. Someone else could then earn the title by checking in more times than the previous mayor. This way users could vie for mayorships at particular venues by checking in more often than other users in the area, and businesses could also offer rewards for users who were the Mayor (such as food and drink discounts). As the services grew it became increasingly difficult to compete for mayorships in high-density areas where the service was popular. The mayorship feature was retired from Foursquare in version 8.0 and reimplemented in Swarm, where users instead compete with friends for mayorships of venues, rather than against all other users of the service.[4]

Badges were earned by checking into venues. There were a handful of introductory badges that were earned as milestones in usage. Some badges were tied to venue "tags" and the badge earned depends on the tags applied to the venue.[5] Other badges were specific to a city, venue, event, or date. In September 2010 badges began to be awarded for completing tasks as well as checking in.[6] On October 22, 2010, astronaut Douglas H. Wheelock unlocked the NASA Explorer badge by checking into Foursquare from the International Space Station.[7][8] In Foursquare 8.0, badges were retired, which upset some existing users.[4]

Earlier versions of the app also used a "points" system, users receiving a numerical score for each check-in, with over 100 bonuses, such as being first among friends to check into a place, or becoming the venue's mayor. Users could check their standing against friends on a leaderboard within the app. In Foursquare 8.0 points and leaderboards were retired.[9]

2. Swarm

In May 2014, the company launched Swarm, a companion app to Foursquare, that migrated the social networking and location sharing aspects of the service into a separate application. Swarm acts as a lifelogging tool for the user to keep a record of the places they have been, featuring statistics on the places they have been, and a search capability to recall places they have visited. Swarm also lets the user share where they have been with their friends, and see where their friends have been. Swarm check-ins are rewarded with points, in the form of virtual coins, and friends can challenge each other in a weekly leaderboard. Checking in to different categories of venue also unlocks virtual stickers. Though it is not necessary to use both apps, Swarm works together with Foursquare to improve a user's recommendations - a user's Swarm check-ins help Foursquare understand the kinds of places they like to go.

3. Other Features

3.1. Foursquare for Business

Foursquare for Business is a suite of tools for businesses to manage their listing on the service. Businesses can 'Claim' their listing which gives them access to free tools that lets them update their business information (address, phone number etc.), add photos and tips, create 'Specials' and see visitor statistics. Claiming a venue used to be done for free via mail which took several weeks to process. Now it is instantly done with a credit card for a fee of $20. In January 2013, Foursquare released 'Foursquare for Business', a mobile app that lets businesses manage their listing on Foursquare from their iOS device.[10]

3.2. Foursquare API

Foursquare features a developer API that lets third-party applications make use of Foursquare's location data. In March 2013, the Foursquare API had 40,000 registered developers. The API powers searches third-party apps, including Evernote, Uber, Flickr and Jawbone.[11] Instagram formerly made use of the Foursquare API but, after being purchased by Facebook, was forced to switch to Facebook Places at the behest of its parent company, aggravating many existing users.[12]

3.3. Super Users

The service provides ten levels of "Super User". Superuser status is conferred on users after they apply and perform a special test where users should meet quality and quantity criteria.[13] Superusers can attain different levels which represent how many quality edits they've suggested over time. The more active Superuser is at making great edits, the more likely they'll get promoted to the next level of Superuser. Each level is increasingly harder to achieve.

All superusers can review a queue of requested changes for a single city or country, and can select a new city or country at will.

  • Superusers in levels 1-3 get access to closed forums, can suggest edits to different places (name, address, cross street, phone, social network links), and can get to know the global Foursquare community.
  • Superusers in levels 4-7 gain responsibilities like being able to edit seasonal hours and edit latitude and longitude markers for places.
  • Superusers in level 8 are on the highest level that Superusers can achieve automatically. Superusers who have achieved this level can lock places (prevent edits), rollback edits, and help with place name translations.
  • Superusers in levels 9-10 are handpicked by Foursquare, these top levels of Superusers represent the best editors of each country that uses Foursquare. Superusers at levels 9 and 10 act as community ambassadors and work directly with Foursquare staff.

3.4. Brands

Foursquare Brands allows companies to create pages of tips and allows users to "follow" the company and receive special, expert tips from them when they check-in at certain locations. Some of the companies allow users to unlock special badges when they have achieved a certain number of check-ins. On most companies' pages, their Facebook, Twitter and website links are displayed as well as tips and lists generated by the company.

On July 25, 2012 Foursquare revealed Promoted Updates, an app update expexted to create a new revenue generation stream for the company. The new program allowed companies to issue messages to Foursquare users about deals or available products.[14]

In June 2013, the company introduced Time Machine, which provided a visual way to review one's historical check-ins on the service. This feature contained an advertisement for the Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone.[15] A newer version of this feature was integrated into Swarm (app) when the apps were split.

3.5. Specials

"Specials" are an incentive for Foursquare users to check-in at a new spot or revisit their favorite hangout. There are over 750,000[16] businesses that offer "Specials" that include discounts and freebies when users check-in. Foursquare specials are intended for businesses to use to persuade new customers and regular customers to visit their venue. Some businesses now display a Foursquare sign on their door or window letting users know that there is a "Special" at that particular venue. "Specials" can include anything from a free beer for the first check-in to 10% off the bill at a restaurant.

3.6. Cross-Site Linking

A Foursquare user is allowed to link their profile to Facebook and/or Twitter.[17] Users will be able to share their likes, saves, tips and lists to their Timeline in Facebook/Twitter. Also, the user can import their contact lists from other mainstream OSN sites. This feature also provides an opportunity to know more about the user.

In June 2016, Twitter quietly announced that it will now let you see when tweets are from a specific place, like a business, sports stadium, or music festival. The location feature is available to all iOS users, with other platforms coming later. Foursquare is powering the precise place identification for the feature. In exchange it gets prominent branding, link backs, and the ability to improve its own database.[18]

4. Availability

4.1. Foursquare 8.0

Foursquare 8.0 is available for Android, iOS & Windows Phone devices. There are no plans to develop a version for BlackBerry devices.

Other versions

Versions of Foursquare are available for Symbian, Series 40, MeeGo, WebOS, Maemo, Windows Phone, Bada and BlackBerry and recently PlayStation Vita and Windows 8[19] applications.[20] Users may also use their mobile browsers to access foursquare mobile, but feature phone users must search for venues manually instead of using GPS that most smartphone applications can use. [21]

5. History

Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder of Foursquare.

5.1. Launch

Foursquare started out in 2009 in 100 worldwide metro areas.[22] In January 2010, Foursquare changed their location model to allow check-ins from any location worldwide.[23] On February 21, 2011 Foursquare reached 7 million users IDs.[24] On August 8, 2011 President Barack Obama joined Foursquare, with the intention that the staff at the White House would use the service to post tips from places the president has visited.[25]

In September 2010 Foursquare announced version 2.0 of its check-in app which would help to direct users to new locations and activities, rather than just sharing their location with friends. The list of personal list of places and activities, called to-dos, was separated from the general advice from other users section called "tips". Foursquare has also created a button that would add any location in the app to a user's to-do list, and the app would now remind the user when there were to-do items nearby. Around this time, third party sites such as The New York Times , Wall Street Journal, and Zagat added an "Add to My foursquare" button, which would add a location to the user's to-do list.[26]

The company was expected to pass 750 million check-ins before the end of June 2011, with an average of about 3 million check-ins per day.

Foursquare 4.0 was released for the iPhone on the morning of October 12, 2011, with other platforms following after. The update added a new feature called "Radar", powered by Foursquare's "Explore" algorithm. Radar is able to notify the user, for example, when they are close to a place that's either on their to-do list or another list they follow or when three or more friends have checked into a nearby venue.

5.2. 2012 Redesign

On June 7, 2012, Foursquare launched a major redesign, which they described as a "whole new app". The app's "explore" function will now allow users to browse locations by category or conduct a specific search like "free wi-fi" or "dumplings".[27] Foursquare incorporated features from social discovery[28] and local search applications, as well as the "like" feature made famous by Facebook.

In November 2012, Foursquare announced an update to their iOS mobile app that would showcase a ratings system to locations on a one to ten scale. The ratings will be based on tips, dislikes and ratings from previous check-ins. This update was intended to compete with other location services like Yelp.[29] Foursquare announced another update to their iOS mobile app, allowing users to check in to a location with Facebook friends who do not use the service themselves,[30] and a further update adding a "Recently Opened" feature to its iOS app, allowing users to find newly opened locations in their areas.[31]

5.3. Swarm

In May 2014, the company launched Swarm, a companion app to Foursquare, that moved the social networking and location sharing aspects of the service to a separate application.[32] On August 7, 2014 the company launched Foursquare 8.0, the completely new version of the service which finally removed the check in and location sharing entirely, to focus entirely on local search.

5.4. 2017

In 2017, Foursquare added over fifty new roles in areas of engineering, sales, creative, business development, marketing, and operations. Over the course of the previous three years, the company grew 50%.[33][34] The company announced plans to open a new engineering office in Chicago in 2018, with a goal of growing the team by 30 percent over the course of the year.[34]

6. Funding

Foursquare is principally funded by Union Square Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, and Spark Capital. The company raised $1.35 million in its Series A round and $20 million in its Series B round.[35][36] On June 24, 2011, Foursquare raised $50 million on a $600 million valuation.[37] Their Series D round funding of $41 million was announced on April 11, 2013 and led by Silver Lake Partners.[38] Unlike prior funding rounds that had been financed via equity, a good portion of Series D came in the form of convertible debt from existing investors.[39]

In January 2016, the company raised $45 million in a series E funding round led by Union Square Ventures. Morgan Stanley participated along with previous investors: DFJ Growth, Andreessen Horowitz and Spark Capital. The funding will be used to fill new positions in sales and engineering.[40]

7. Partnerships

In February 2010, the company entered into new commercial partnerships with Zagat, Bravo, Conde Nast, The New York Times and several other firms to offer tips, specials and new badges to followers.[41][42][43]

In June 2011, Foursquare announced a promotional partnership with American Express,[44] as part of AmEx's "sync" social media strategy, which allows for discounts to be applied directly to qualified American Express account holders by checking into participating vendors.[45]

In March 2012, Foursquare announced they would no longer be using Google Maps for their platform, instead moving to OpenStreetMap, via MapBox rendering and style. Foursquare stated they were happier to promote crowd-sourced, open data.[46] As of September 2014 Foursquare was still using Google Maps in the Android app.

Foursquare partnered with the London 2012 Olympics, allowing users to check in at locations in and around the Olympic venue. A "Get Fit for Olympic Day" badge was created for the event.[47]

Early 2014, Microsoft announced a partnership with Foursquare, giving access to their users’ physical movements and preferences. This data can be used to personalize search results on the search engine Bing.[48]

8. Awards

  • In 2010, Foursquare was named a runner-up in the T3 Gadget Awards 2010 as the App of the Year.[49]
  • In August 2010, the company was a finalist in Lead411's New York City Hot 125.[50]
  • In April 2010, Foursquare received a Webby Award as one of the best mobile social networks.[51]
  • In March 2010, Foursquare was nominated for the 13th annual SXSW Web Awards in the Mobile Category.[52]
  • Foursquare was named a 2011 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in the Information Technologies and New Media category.[53]
  • In January 2011, Foursquare was named Best Location-Based Service in the TechCrunch Crunchies 2010.[54]

9. Foursquare Day

Foursquare acknowledged a grass-roots effort that started in Tampa, Florida [55] in 2010 by declaring April 16 "Foursquare Day",[56][57] April being the 4th month and the 16th being equal to four squared.[58][59] Some cities have made official proclamations of April 16 being Foursquare Day (Istanbul, Turkey; Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas ; Cincinnati, Ohio; Corpus Christi, Texas; Gaithersburg, Maryland; Indianapolis, Indiana; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Kennesaw, Georgia; Manchester, New Hampshire; New York City ; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Seattle, Washington; Miami, Florida; Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Ramat Hasharon, Israel; Singapore).[60][61][62][63]

Foursquare Day was coined by Nate Bonilla-Warford, an optometrist from Tampa, Florida on March 12, 2010. The idea came to him while "thinking about new ways to promote his business".[64]

In 2010 McDonald's launched a spring pilot program that took advantage of Foursquare Day. Foursquare users who checked into McDonald's restaurants on Foursquare Day were given the chance to win gift cards in 5 and 10 dollar increments. Mashable reported that there was a "33% increase in foot traffic" to McDonald's venues, as apparent in the increase in Foursquare check-ins.[65]

10. Privacy

In February 2010, a site known as Please Rob Me was launched,[66] a site which scraped data from public Twitter messages that had been pushed through Foursquare, to list people who were not at home.[66] The purpose of the site was to raise awareness about the potential thoughtlessness of location sharing, the site's founder saying "On one end we're leaving lights on when we're going on a holiday, and on the other we're telling everybody on the internet we're not home."[66]

A privacy issue was also observed for those who connected their Twitter account to Foursquare. If such a user was joined at a location by one of their Foursquare contacts who was also using Twitter, that user would have the option to have Foursquare post a message such as "I am at Starbucks – Santa Clara (link to map) w/@mediaphyter" to their own Twitter feed. Similarly, if a user had agreed for their location to be shared with other Foursquare users, that user's Foursquare contacts would be able to easily share their location publicly on Twitter.[67]

Later in 2010, white hat hacker Jesper Andersen discovered a vulnerability on Foursquare that raised privacy concerns.[68][69] foursquare's location pages display a grid of 50 pictures that is generated randomly, regardless of their privacy settings.[68] Whenever a user "checks-in" at that location, their picture is generated on that location page, even if they only want their friends to know where they are.[68] Andersen then crafted a script that collected check-in information.[68] It is estimated that Andersen collected around 875,000 check-ins.[68] Andersen contacted foursquare about the vulnerability, and foursquare responded by fixing their privacy settings.[69]

In 2011, in response to privacy issues regarding social networking sites, Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai states that "Users decide if they want to push to Twitter or Facebook, over what information they want to share and send" and "There is a lot of misunderstanding about location-based services. On Foursquare, if you don't want people to know you are on a date or with a friend at a certain place, then you don't have to let people know. You don't check in." Selvadurai also states that Foursquare does not passively track users, which means a user has to actively check in to let people know where they are.[70]

On May 8, 2012 Foursquare developers announced a change to the API [71] in response to a number of so-called "stalker" applications which had been making the locations of e.g. all female users within a specific area available to the public.[72]

In late December 2012, Foursquare updated its privacy policy which will now display users' full names, as opposed to an initial for a surname. In addition, companies will now be able to view a more detailed overview of visitors who have checked into their businesses throughout the day.[73]


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