Foursquare Is No Fad, Argues Founder Dennis Crowley; Xconomy’s Podcast and Q&A

I may not be the CEO of Xconomy (that title belongs to our founder Bob Buderi), but at least I’m the Mayor.

I won that distinction last week by checking into Foursquare from our office on Rogers Street in Cambridge, MA more times than anyone else. If you haven’t heard of Foursquare, you’re in a vanishing minority: the location-based social game is this year’s Twitter, in the estimation of Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of the social media blog Mashable.

Foursquare players win points, badges, and mayorships by going to destinations such as coffee shops, bars, or museums, and opening the Foursquare app on their mobile phones to let Foursquare know where they are. So far the startup has versions for iPhones, Android phones, and BlackBerry devices. On the social side, players get to see where their Foursquare friends have checked in lately, who else has checked in at their current location, and what those visitors recommend seeing or doing. On the game side, many users make a point of visiting new places or visiting old haunts more often in order to unlock badges, win points, and beat their friends.

Xconomy Podcast: Foursquare and the
Rise of Location-based Social Networking

The Ad Club, April 5, 2010
Microsoft New England R&D Center


Launched 13 months ago, Foursquare now has almost 1 million users, according to CEO and co-founder Dennis Crowley. Twitter didn’t reach that point until it was close to two years old. But as Crowley was the first to admit during a recent appearance in Cambridge, the New York-based startup’s fast growth is in large part thanks to Twitter itself: the microblogging service has trained many people to share quick status updates with their friends and followers whatever the time, and wherever they may be.

Dennis Crowley

Foursquare is also a product of the spread of the iPhone and other smartphones with location-finding abilities, which spare users from having to specify their locations manually. That’s how Dodgeball, Crowley’s first company and Foursquare’s direct predecessor, used to work. Users manually reported their locations to a central server via text message, then received replies that said which friends were nearby. Mainly used in big cities like New York and San Francisco as a tool for meeting up with drinking buddies, Dodgeball was acquired in 2005 by Google. The search giant never really invested in growing the service, and shut it down in early 2009.

Foursquare is not just Dodgeball reincarnated. The badges and points and mayorships are all new, and to hear Crowley tell it, they’re a fundamental part of the service’s appeal, both to players and to potential business partners. And while Foursquare is far from the only social network built around the promise of rewards for local check-ins—competitors include Brightkite, Booyah, Gowalla, Loopt, and Whrrl—it’s fair to say it’s the current darling of the social media elite, not to mention Silicon Valley venture firms, who are competing to invest more cash for equity stakes in the the startup. (There are even crazy rumors that Yahoo is interested in buying Foursquare for a reported $100 million.)

Crowley was on his way home from a series of Bay Area meetings last weekend when he stopped in Boston to take in the Red Sox season opener against the Yankees. On Monday, he checked in at the Microsoft New England Research & Development Center in Cambridge for a talk sponsored by the Ad Club, the trade association for Boston’s advertising and marketing industry. I was the moderator at that event, and I got to ask Crowley about Foursquare’s origins, its business model, and the allure of location-based social networking. You can hear the whole conversation, which I recorded on my iPad, by clicking on the audio player above. (You can also download the original 55-megabyte MP3 file to your computer by right-clicking here.)

In preparation for the Ad Club event, Crowley and I also spoke by phone on Sunday, and I thought I’d pull my notes from that conversation together into the following writeup. It’s a short alternative to the recorded interview, which is an hour long.

Xconomy: How is Foursquare different now than what you envisioned it might be 13 months ago?

Dennis Crowley: The big difference from last year to this year is that it’s evolved into a game. When we started it, it was just a reaction to Google shutting off Dodgeball, which was the way me and my friends hooked up and coordinated meetings. The thing we learned after Dodgeball was that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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3 responses to “Foursquare Is No Fad, Argues Founder Dennis Crowley; Xconomy’s Podcast and Q&A”

  1. Hi Wade,

    Thank you so much for your involvement with the Ad Club’s FourSquare event. It was an absolute pleasure having you moderate and I think I speak for everyone when I say it was truly an honor to witness! Dennis is full of great insight on social media, location-based networking and how we, in advertising, can secure our place in the mix.

    I look forward to connecting with you at future events!

    Kaitlin Maud (@kaitlinmaud)
    Social Media, The Ad Club