I’m not a gambler, and I certainly do not have a crystal ball. However it is becoming pretty evident that location based social networking will continue to grow. Simply put, a higher degree of mobile device integration by some big players [Google: desktops will be replaced, Intel: showing their hand towards mobile , Apple: the iPhone was successful, what if we made it bigger? ] continues to cater to the demand for continuous connectivity—and more importantly, support for seamless real-time-location interactions.
This is not a new principle—but if we were talking about social networks as a whole, in human-development they would just be entering into adolescence. They are hormonally challenged, seeking an identity, loose with their privacy, frenetic, and awkward—all while having a great deal of potential. To boot, they have a look that they all will be ashamed of in 10 years.
So what does this mean for Foursquare?
Well, this means that Foursquare is positioned to be the most successful of its graduating class—let me tell you why. I’ll be upfront in saying that I’m not convinced any of the location-based networks are ‘doing it right’, but no one knows what ‘right’ really looks like yet. However, let’s analyze some key characteristics that Foursquare has going for them and what will keep the lights on:
- Foursquare is clean. Back to our adolescent analogy—Foursquare hasn’t made any high-commitment bad visual decisions. If we look at Gowalla we see a hip, stylized interface with cheeky cartoons and badges—it is cool no doubt, but not timeless. Don’t get caught up in mayors vs badges, or buttons vs text; in the end it is about functionality. I could go into a deeper dive as to brand creation, and planning for the future, but it is pretty obvious; Gowalla has planned for today, but not the future—they have tattoos not piercings, in their desire to attract attention today. Not convinced that I am right? Remember a little network called Facebook that came off as vanilla that was battling all of the ‘personality’ that MySpace had?
- Foursquare is mingling with the ‘adults’ of technology, and connecting on a fraternal level. Call it an initiation or a test run—either way, they are getting to play with some matured companies. This is a sign of a strong biz-dev roadplan messaging themselves as a entity vying for a buyout someday. Check out their deal in the EU with Vodafone, or their integration with tech-giant Intel at events like GDC 2010.
- We’re adolescents, we’re testing our boundaries. As far as technology goes we have seen social networks dance the fine-line of privacy T’s&C’s. In the end it is breeding a population of users that are ok with pushing the limitations of technology while sacrificing a little privacy…if the incentive is right.
- Lastly, the concept of check-in’s are already a fading interaction. Similar to downward Twitter trends, only having one type of interaction is a recipe for an early eulogy in social network shelf-life. What we are seeing is other social networks jump into the check-in space like Yelp; imitation is the best form of flattery, right? Regardless there is promise that the earlier stated relationships, coupled with early integration of interaction technology, enable Foursquare to move onto more-and-better interactions to engage their communities.
Despite incentives of mayor status, badges, giveaways and what-not I will end on this: the brand promise of a social network, the professional posture of who you play with that enables for expansion into more offerings, and the adolescent-timing of social networks as a whole make Foursquare a contender.