Just as it began to wane, the attention paid to Foursquare as the darling of the geo-social world has reemerged in the wake of the app’s version 4.0.2 release. Two Foursquare execs were on hand to dive deeper into the update during the recent Street Fight Summit in New York.
Right before a panel I moderated on “The Evolution of the Check-in,” Street Fight co-founder Laura Rich asked me what the future of the check-in would be. Jokingly, I replied that it would be the absence of the check-in. Rather than the “death of the check-in,” this poor attempt at techno-humor was meant to refer to what seems to be the check-in behavior’s initial steps to recede into the background. Explored in a past column, this is exactly where Foursquare is going. And it has taken form in V4.0.2’s Radar feature.
Utilizing iOS5’s new notifications system, Radar pushes suggestions based on all the data Foursquare has been collecting. According to Foursquare biz dev director Eric Friedman, this includes your to-do list within Foursquare, as well as your check-in history (and location of course).
The idea is that you no will longer have to check-in to use Foursquare. This feature was already present in the Explore Tab, but now you don’t even have to open the app. It makes Foursquare what it always wanted to be: a better discovery engine, built on the evolving signals of the mobile device.
It’s hoped that this reduced friction will retain users for whom check-ins have lost novelty — they can get the same value exchange (deals, friend alerts, etc.) without actually having to do anything. It’s also a way to grow beyond 10 million users, drawing in those people who never really liked “checking in” in the first place.
Another popular session topic, along the same lines as Radar’s evolutionary path, was future check-ins. Friedman agreed that in addition to where I am now or where I’ve been, Foursquare can use the fact that I’ll be “Skiing in Tahoe next week” to push me all kinds of relevant content.
This was echoed by Foursquare GM Evan Cohen, who was interviewed by BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis later that afternoon. Cohen also dug deeper into the lingering question of Foursquare’s monetization strategy, and its ability to tackle the large but fragmented and challenging SMB marketplace.
Though Foursquare isn’t charging SMBs now to claim a profile and manage specials, it surely will. And when it does, a sales process will have to be established that builds upon the 500,000 merchants that have signed up on their own. This could involve a merchant API for savvier SMBs to build apps for themselves.
Foursquare’s API is meanwhile being used by “thousands of developers” Cohen claims, many of which are media companies like Zagat which utilize check-in functionality and the places database in their own apps. At a certain level, these can be monetized through a revenue share.
This could meanwhile yield some sticky products for local media companies like newspapers, whose content has always relied on local information and recommendations. There are lots of possibilities that haven’t been built yet, asserted Cohen.
“Think real-time data charts, updated on the hour for category-level data like top restaurants,” he said. “Smart publishers could really do something with that.”
Cohen also sees a sales team on the monetization road map. So far sales have been reactive he says, but scaling to the SMB segment could require a direct approach. The rest will be covered by media partners like Clickable, to resell Foursquare as part of local or social media advertising packages.
As for its positioning atop the growing geo-social dogpile, Cohen is confident his team and early mover advantage differentiate Foursquare, despite many fast followers. He points to Facebook which entered the check-in game then backpedaled after failing to have the required focus.
“As a startup, focus is a competitive advantage,” he said. ” From a technology and execution standpoint, location is hard to do.”
Mike Boland is senior analyst at BIA/Kelsey, where he heads up the firm’s mobile local coverage. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0 and others.