Foursquare Shifts Focus From Present Tense to Future

Dennis Crowley with Robert Scoble at the Where 2.0 conference

Foursquare has grown to almost 10 million users by connecting them to where they are now, in the present. But the company sees a much brighter future in focusing on the future movements of its users, said Dennis Crowley, who spoke at the Where 2.0 conference Wednesday.
“We have to look at the future tense; that’s a big opportunity,” Crowley told the crowd. “How do you tell people where they should be going?” He said the future is what holds value for users. The location-based service is leveraging the wealth of data it has gathered on the movement history of its users into a service that explains and suggests what users can do next. You’re seeing that with the latest update to Foursquare, which introduced the Explore recommendation feature, a suggestion engine built off a user’s previous check-ins. But there’s a lot more that can be done in capitalizing on that idea, said Crowley.
Crowley said he was interested in apps like Ditto, which helps users broadcast where they will be in the future, in essence, sharing their upcoming check-in. He said he has also looked at Plancast and Google Events (s goog) and how Foursquare data could be used there. It’s an interesting idea for Foursquare, one I think makes sense. As I wrote earlier, I’m excited by Ditto and other apps that help users plan and coordinate events so they can check-in together. Foursquare is very social now, but it’s not really set up to help people come together for future events.
Crowley said that the future check-in is “one of these things we’ve wanted to do for a while. We’ve been focused on the present tense; we have just gotten there.”
While check-ins are the main mechanism for inputting location data into Foursquare, Crowley said the company is looking at building in background location, so users will be able to check-in automatically. That will speed up and simplify the check-in process and help the service grow to the next 50 to 100 million users, Crowley said.
But it will also enable interesting ways for Foursquare to get more detailed in how it pushes out recommendations. He said the service could start to understand how fast a person is walking and can intuit if a person has already had lunch by whether or not they’ve stopped at a restaurant recently. By that they can decide if it makes sense to push out a recommendation for a local lunch spot.
Despite the growing competition from Facebook and others, Crowley said the company is well positioned to keep growing in the location space, because it’s focused on the relationship between people and places. That’s why it has eschewed ideas about doing check-ins for TV shows and other entertainment, because it doesn’t have anything to do with place. Now that the company has started to add more resources and nail its current offering, it’s showing the check-in is really just the beginning and  the real battle lies in who can help users plan where they should go next.
Disclosure: Ditto is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.