What if Foursquare became the new Facebook?

Have you heard of Foursquare, the location-based social network that has just reached 300,000 members?  It has quickly become the darling of the US tech media, who have already tired of Twitter.  Foursquare is neither the only nor the first location-based social network: Aka-Aki, hugely successful in Germany, allows users to geographically locate their friends in relation to the user—making it a substitute for match.com style dating sites.  However, as is often the case on the Internet, Foursquare is the most user-friendly, and has already attracted more members.  From this point of view, Foursquare, which was launched first in urban areas in North America and is now coming to Europe, is gaining a serious advantage over its competitors.

Foursquare’s strengths lie in its compatibility with iPhone and Android use, it’s playful interface, and it’s social network that is linked foremost to locations before people.  The idea is simple: anytime you go to a given place and you wish to inform your friends, you click on “check in” and your location information is instantly transferred to your network.  You earn points going to various locations, and if you accumulate the highest number of points in a given area, you can become the “Mayor.”  In addition to conversing with friends via short twitter-style messages and email, you can also note various locations and comment on your activity/experience.  This is where Foursquare is different from the other social networks out there: it allows its users to create a Zagat-style guide to their daily life, one that is constantly updated.  With Foursquare, you can find out what your friends thought about a restaurant: the fare, the service, and the decor.  From now on, your friends know not only what you’re doing or thinking but also where you are right now.  It is easy to imagine an economy of services popping up around locations that Foursquare “leaders” habituate.  Indeed, there are already bars that give free drinks to their “Mayor” client.

Has Foursquare already won the battle of geolocalized social networks?  One might say that it would just take Twitter or Facebook integrating location-based functions and place tagging into their systems to shut Foursquare down.  However, in my opinion, Foursqaure responds to a particular location-based logic, and what’s more, its very openness to other social networks will help it resist being beaten out by behemoths.  Its real competition is most likely in location-based services like Layar.com that offers augmented reality platforms with high quality images.  These services would need to only add a social network to what they already provide.  The war for location-based social networks has just begun.

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