Why Foursquare Needs Infrastructure to Beat Facebook

Foursquare has updated its iPhone (s aapl) app with photos and comments, equipping the location-based service with more social tools to take on Facebook. The new features will allow users to attach photos to tips and venues, to share more information with people. Comments will also help users weigh-in on a friend’s check-in and help them connect.

Foursquare said the updates will help the service turn into more of a digital scrapbook, chronicling the experiences of people as they check-in at locations. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the theme is similar to Mark Zuckerberg’s comments on the launch of Facebook Places, a Foursquare competitor. It only makes sense for Foursquare to become more social as Facebook has encroached on its territory, but it’s not clear if Foursquare is equipped with the right infrastructure to make a counter move.

Foursquare said the comments and photos will only be visible by friends, and it’s working on ways to better store photos and comments, as well as export photos to Facebook and Flickr (s yhoo), suggesting that Foursquare will have to do a lot of work to make its pictures and comments mature and polished to make it a lasting resource for users. Right now, the photos and comments are stored on a user’s history page.

Facebook has done a lot of work to make comments and pictures a core part of its experience, and it’s been able to leverage that work to build out the social side of Facebook Places. Foursquare is going to have to scale even larger to be able to leverage photos and comments in a similar way, and that’s going to take money and more knowhow. Foursquare’s Alex Rainert, head of product, said the location service has done a lot of scaling in the past year with its fast-paced growth and has applied those lessons to photos and comments. “It’s very different launching products for 500,000 users and 5 million users. Over the summer that’s when we saw the growing pains the most and we’ve learned from that,” he said.

It’s another big step for the location-based service  to move beyond the basic check-in. The location service is offering more deals, and CEO Dennis Crowley has talked of the service becoming a possible recommendation engine.

Foursquare still has a lot of momentum, with 5 million users and counting. With this latest update, Instagram, FoodSpotting and PicPlz are partnering with the service to enable photos as check-ins, with other third-party developers working on integration for 2011. Foursquare said photos and comments will come to Android (s goog) next week, and to Palm (s hpq) and BlackBerry (s rimm) in January. But as Facebook and eventually Google accelerate their expansions into location, Foursquare is going to have to gear up even more if it wants to compete with the big boys.

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