Foursquare Builds More Bridges to the Real World

Foursquare today made two announcements that illustrate how the location-based service is working to move beyond the simple “check-in” feature, as Facebook Places and other competing services start to make that type of behavior a commodity. As part of a new partnership with the running app RunKeeper, users can now earn Foursquare badges without checking in at all — they are based on achievements unlocked within the RunKeeper app itself. In another move to expand its feature set, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley says the service is testing a personalized recommendation system.

Foursquare notes in its blog post about the RunKeeper partnership that “encouraging real-world actions is a big part of the mission behind foursquare,” but that many of the things people want to do, such as going for a run, “don’t necessarily involve a check-in.” As part of the deal with RunKeeper — which the blog post suggests is just the first of a series of such partnerships with other services — users can earn customized badges on Foursquare by hitting different milestones within the app, such as running a marathon or improving their time. Badges will show up within the RunKeeper app (which Kevin wrote about here) and also inside the Foursquare app with a user’s other badges.

By creating badges for events and situations that don’t have a specific “check-in,” Foursquare appears to be trying to move its game mechanics outside of just location and into a much broader range of behavior. In the future, one could see the service awarding badges for reading books or raising money for charity: something Dennis Crowley mentioned on Twitter recently, in an exchange with Anil Dash and others.

That would make the application much more like the “game layer for the world” that the founder of Scvngr says he is trying to build. It’s a much riskier bet than just location check-ins, but it’s also more interesting, and could get beyond the current “check in fatigue” that Crowley talked about with Om recently. The company has also launched “add to Foursquare” buttons that can be embedded in websites, so that users can easily add locations to their “To Do” list in the app.

[inline-pro-content] In the second announcement — which wasn’t really a formal launch — the Foursquare CEO said in a speech at the Picnic conference in Amsterdam (video of which is embedded below) that the company is experimenting internally with a recommendation feature, which can suggest lunch spots based on a user’s location and also their previous choices, including tips and check-ins. According to reports about Crowley’s talk, the app can recommend places you haven’t been to recently, or even places that fit the profile of what you might be interested in, but which are completely new to you. It’s not clear when this feature will be available for regular users.

The recommendation idea seems like a natural extension of the information that Foursquare is picking up through check-ins and other behavior. As someone who uses a whole range of apps to decide on places to eat — from Urbanspoon and Yelp to Google’s (s goog) map suggestions — I would welcome a service that knew a little bit about the places I like to go and could make related recommendations that would save time. Of course, this seems like an obvious direction for Facebook to go in with its Places app as well, which could be an issue for Foursquare going forward, despite the appearance of a partnership between the two when Facebook launched its new feature.

#picnic10: Dennis Crowley (FourSquare) over Social Cities from MGvandenBroek on Vimeo.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user schatz