Foursquare: King of Location-Based Applications

Today's guest blog is written by Boston Buzz Builder Katie Kearsey. Katie shares why Foursquare has been able to maintain its status as best location-based app.

Location, location, location.  It’s all about location…-based apps, that is.  Foursquare, SCVNGR, Facebook Places, Gowalla, and Brightkite are just a handful of such applications competing for glory, but the crown is and has been planted firmly on Foursquare’s head.

Since its launch in March 2009, Foursquare has amassed a huge following and attained an impressive number of registered users.  In 2010 alone, it grew by 3,400% and experienced over 380 million check-ins in every single country, and of course, outer space.  By January 2011, it reached 6 million users, making it the largest location-based application.  A record 200,000 people checked into “Super Bowl Sunday,” making it Foursquare’s most checked-in venue thus far.

What Foursquare Is Doing Right

What exactly is Foursquare doing to attract so many people?  To start, it works well with most mobile platforms, is available around the world, and has a simple user interface that makes it possible to check-in on the go.  It is also doing an excellent job of expanding and strengthening its network.  For example, users have the option of announcing their check-ins on both Facebook and Twitter, which essentially promotes Foursquare.  The company also recently launched a campus-based game for college students, who can learn their way around campus, see what their friends are up to and earn fun badges with frequent check-ins.  In addition, the sheer number of people already using Foursquare is appealing; people simply like to add and follow their friends, and if their friends are using Foursquare, they are more likely to choose it over other similar apps.

Foursquare also recognizes that one of the reasons people use social media is to find information, which explains why the ‘tips’ option is such a great feature.  Much like an abbreviated version of Yelp, users can leave tips about restaurants, stores and other locations, suggesting fun things to do and new dishes to try.  People love hearing about the experiences of others so that they can make the most of their own.

Another one of Foursquare’s key features is the ability to reward individuals who frequent certain locations.  For example, customers with the most days checked in at a certain venue within a 60-day period become “mayor” of the venue.  In addition to encouraging users to check in everywhere they go, this feature also provides an incentive for businesses to develop customer loyalty programs.  Restaurants, for example, can offer their mayors free food and drinks.  Businesses also use Foursquare to offer discounts to the rest of their customers for checking in, and who doesn’t love a great deal?

Foursquare also does an excellent job of incorporating online social media into the ‘real world’ with the help of its game-like features.  The process and incentive of checking in to a place encourages participation both online and off.  Users can earn badges for checking in with friends, for spending several nights out on the town, or for completing challenges such as checking in at the gym 10 times in 30 days.  They also receive points for checking in, creating new venues and traveling from one location to another, which can spark competition between friends to see who can earn the most points.

How Foursquare Can Keep Its Crown

Fierce competitors such as SCVNGR and Facebook Places are nipping at Foursquare’s heels.  Backed by Google, SCVNGR has gone global, and users praise the accurate GPS that prevents false check-ins.  The company wants to fully engage users with its emphasis on being a “game layer on top of the real world,” and is doing an excellent job of engaging users and allowing them to build and create their own game; users enjoy completing challenges created by businesses and other users.  In addition, SCVNGR is teaming up with major universities and companies, including Princeton, National Geographic and ZipCar, who can further promote the application.  Facebook Places is also powerful because it has at its disposal a network of over 500 million Facebook users, many of whom are already connected with each other.  This is great for those who enjoy checking in with and locating their friends nearby.  If Facebook Places manages to expand and develop further incentives for use, the sheer size of network could pose a potential threat to Foursquare.

In order to maintain its competitive advantage, Foursquare must develop and introduce exciting new features that focus on enhancing and integrating the game with social media networks and the real world.  For example, the company recently introduced enhanced photo and comment options for check-ins to encourage user interaction.  Users can therefore earn game points while also offering useful, real-life tips to others.  If it can continue to make improvements such as these, Foursquare will continue to wear its crown as users check in to millions of places around the world.

Do you use Foursquare, or another location-based application?  Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below!