Foursquare and NFC: how the two can help each other

Though Foursquare has been thinking about expanding its identity beyond the check-in, it still needs all the check-in data to power its Explore recommendation engine. The company has been thinking about how to make the check-in process easier, and it’s now showing it can use NFC to speed up the process.

Foursquare has updated its Android app (s goog) to include support for tap-and-go check-ins and P2P sharing using NFC. The app will now be able to read NFC tags at a location and immediately take a user to a venue page, where they can check in. Users will also be able to share venues and lists and become friends by tapping their phones together using Android Beam, Google’s P2P NFC application. Foursquare previously showed off a test of NFC support last year at Google I/O.

The ability to share information between devices is nice, and as I pointed out before, it will be one way that NFC gets introduced to consumers. But I’m more excited about the prospects of using NFC tags inside a restaurant or store. An NFC tag at the entrance will remind people to check in and also encourage an actual check-in because it eases and speeds up the whole process.

Right now, if I want to check in, I have to wake up and unlock my phone, launch Foursquare and activate check-ins. Then I have to find a venue among a list of places, and often, I actually have to search for the venue specifically because it doesn’t pop up immediately. Having NFC support means I cut out almost all of those steps and just tap the phone, select “check-in” from a venue page and decide how I want to share it.

This is a big deal in a lot of ways. It helps Foursquare establish that someone is in that location, giving the check-in more weight because it detects real presence. It also provides more data into the Foursquare system, which becomes more accurate in recommending places to go based on a user and their friend’s tastes. And it really opens up the opportunity for Foursquare to become an even more integral tool for merchants.

“We’re ready to leverage (NFC) because we feel pinpointing someone down to a certain location through an NFC chip definitely has a lot value,” Holger Luedorf, VP of Mobile and International at Foursquare, told

MasterCard (s ma) with its QkR apps is showing off how it can use QR codes and NFC tags in movie theaters in Australia let people order and pay from their seats. Foursquare just added support for restaurant menus, and it could now trigger those from each table with an NFC tag.

Further down the road, Foursquare could add an option to pay from your table using a system similar to MasterCard QkR, TabbedOut or AisleBuyer. That’s in line with where the company is going, becoming a better discovery tool for consumers and a better loyalty and efficiency tool for merchants. Luedorf said that the company has no immediate plans in payments, but it’s looking at the opportunity. But if it followed through on payments, it could close the loop on redemptions, helping consumers discover a place, get a discount for visiting and then completing the transaction. Foursquare does that now with some offers using American Express (s axp), but it could expand that payment role for itself.

Merchants can also win through Foursquare-enabled NFC tags that encourage users to check in and will allow them to see specials that they might not have seen before. An NFC tag can open up a new channel of communication between the business and consumer. As I wrote about using Social Passport, merchants can strengthen their relationship with consumers using NFC tags and QR codes and can also incentivize them to share about a business through their social networks.

Now, all of this depends on NFC getting to more phones and more locations. Right now, only a couple of Android devices support NFC. And the iPhone (s aapl) doesn’t support NFC at all yet. Foursquare would also have to figure out how to get NFC tags out to thousands of merchants.

But I do think Foursquare could ultimately provide a nice boost for NFC. The technology is still outside the consciousness of mainstream consumers, so it’s going to take popular applications to make it come alive. Foursquare, with 15 million users, is growing quickly, and it’s becoming known for location and recommendations. This might be a case where NFC and Foursquare can help each other grow and mature.