How foursquare lost track and went for that “platform” thing

Second week of June came with a surprise from foursquare. Their completely redesigned app landed and had already some good reviews from people I respect- even before I had noticed that an update of foursquare is available.

Since the first comments were positive, I overlooked the fact that it took me some time to find and do things, like, finding out who is near me, checking in and finding out where my friends are.

A tool

Foursquare always has been a tool. Of course, it is a great example of gamification and other things, but its sole task has always been to connect people via the dimension of locations. And they have been doing this really well- users (those who want to) can always check who is where almost in real time without creeping out others (everyone has the option to decide for himself who to friend & where to check-in).


Platforms are great, but they suck in and lose purpose. Tools, on the other hand, have clear purpose and they get out of the way when they’re not needed anymore. Facebook is a platform, foursquare is (or was) a tool. While Facebook controls our access to many services and tools which are built on top of it or have it integrated, Foursquare is the tool to use when questions asked are “Who? Where? Now?”.

Stream of friend check- ins.

Before, there were only check-ins, which took a lot less space than they do now- it didn’t have those updates about “likes”, approved friend requests and other stuff which is not relevant if user wants to know where are his friends, wants to hang out with someone who is nearby or just wants to check in. Those extra pieces of information are not relevant to someone who uses Foursquare as a tool for connecting with people someone knows. What surprised me most- the fact that I now see someone’s every check-in during the day. Before that- the news stream had only everyone’s last check-in. And that was really convenient, by the way. But I have to agree that I like how photos look in the stream- that’s a nice touch.

Why I’m calling this a “platform thing”?

People visit Facebook without a specific question in mind. They come there to see what their friends are up to, what their favorite brands and companies are doing, see some new pictures and to be in the know about what’s going on in the world. Since there are no specific questions which have to be answered to take action in the real world, Facebook can keep on sucking people in itself with help of other apps and developers. And it’s not a bad thing- that’s how it has developed over time- as a photo and news sharing tool for (almost) every topic imaginable. People come to Facebook for what Facebook has to offer. That’s what platforms do- they host activities on themselves to keep the online party going.

And after the last foursquare update it looks that they really want to be more like Facebook- to be the reason for activity. Until now the reason for using Foursquare has been the real world- meeting friends, enjoying perks (specials) and knowing what’s going on nearby. Now they want the activity on foursquare to be the reason for coming back for more. And it really looks that they’re trying too hard. That mess in the app stands in the user’s way to do those things they started to use Foursquare for.

What’s next?

Redefining goals. Is it really worth it to be worse tool, to become not-so-good platform? People already visit Facebook to get to know what their friends like and who they know.

When Foursquare rolled out their events functionality, it looked great and I thought that- hey, this makes sense. They already have the location business locked down and merging that with events in those locations really makes sense. Selling tickets, rewarding loyal customers with tickets to special events, helping people organize their whereabouts with tickets and loyalty programs- that really makes sense. And it wouldn’t stand in the way for existing users to keep on using Foursquare in just the way they have been doing that for some time now.

I wish for Foursquare to remember that they can be a great tool and they don’t need to become another Facebook. Adding “Likes” wasn’t their proudest moment.

Would you agree?