SXSW: Foursquare’s Crowley Wants to Leverage ‘Active’ Recommendations

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foursquare-iconLocation-based app Foursquare started as a way to show people what and who was nearby. But as it has evolved, the service is also about telling people why they should care about location and about specific places. In the future, the service will go even further, informing users not only what’s near and why it’s interesting, but also urging them to give specific curated places a visit.

“It’s like software that gives you a kick in the ass to go and do stuff you wouldn’t do,” Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley told a packed auditorium Monday at SXSW Interactive.

Crowley was spare on technical details about what the future of location and Foursquare might look like. But his broad-brush portrait of the future of location made it clear that passive geolocation and static information would give way to a more active approach.

As an example, he gave a somewhat dated anecdote about someone who created a mash-up using his Foursquare check-ins, his Nike FuelBand-generated exercise log, and the weekly Twitter feed generated by his Internet-enabled bathroom scale. The results clearly showed that when Crowley checked in at a bar at 2 a.m., he didn’t run the next day and wound up gaining weight.

That was two years ago, but Crowley, still svelte at 166 lbs., said it was an example of the way location could combine data sources to turn information into actionable recommendations.

As Foursquare’s user base expands and its database of grows past 3 billion data points, Crowley says the amount of data available will increasingly make location a fulcrum for leveraging behavior modification.

“For now, it’s people on their phones doing this — that’s broken,” He said. “We want to get to the point where we can sense what’s going on around you and buzz you. But even that’s broken. Because what happens when watches get smarter and we have screens on our faces?”

One thing that won’t happen soon is for Foursquare to get into mobile payments. It wouldn’t be difficult to join the location-based service’s API to the Square cash register, Crowley noted, and at about the same time the mashup of his check-ins, exercise and weight was being constructed, Foursquare’s leaders were discussing whether not to follow everyone else into the payments space.

“We decided that’s not our game,” he said. “Our game is helping people figure out what’s going on nearby.”

However, Crowley does think that eventually mobile payments and location are natural companions. “I can swipe my credit card and the place doesn’t know anything about me, such as am I a good customer or a lousy customer,” he said. “They should know what about me.”

Generally speaking, Crowley said that wherever data and location go, Foursquare will follow. Even the data being generated by phones isn’t being put to good use yet, he said. “There’s so much other stuff that we just haven’t done yet,” he said “I’d love to get there someday.”