Foursquare’s Crowley wants to take on Yelp, Google and Harry Potter

Dennis Crowely, the founder and CEO of Foursquare, isn’t happy with the status of today’s mobile hardware. He thinks it’s standing in the way of creating a Harry Potter-style Marauder’s Map that will tell you where your friends are and where you might want to grab your next bite to eat. In a conversation with Om Malik onstage at Mobilize 2012, Crowley explains the shift Foursquare has made from being a simple check-in service to becoming a recommendation and search utility.

Crowley said the site’s 25 million active users have generated more than 2.5 billion check-ins in its almost four years, and as a result of all that active and passive data Foursquare can evolve to fulfill Crowley’s true vision. “We want to change the way you interact with the physical world,” Crowley said.

He said more users are downloading the app without ever intending to check in, and instead use it to get tips on restaurants, much like they would with Yelp (s yelp). The site has also redesigned the app to emphasize local search and recommendations over check ins as a way to get users to choose Foursquare instead of alternatives. He also explains monetizing local search would look less like current web advertising and instead involve collecting a few dollars from a few million merchants as a possible revenue stream.

So the value for Foursquare isn’t just check-ins, but the passive knowledge the app collects as a user goes about their daily life. Foursquare uses that to offer recommendations personalized to the user about where they spend most of their time, “It’s not that dissimilar to rating something on Netflix (nflx) or clicking a rating on Amazon (s amzn) except we’re doing this in the real world.”

This extends to Crowley’s vision of a Harry Potter style map: when you open it on the phone, it can show you where you friends are and what you might like to eat. Eventually the recommendations and knowledge that Foursquare has about you means it could react to what a user’s needs at that moment based on where they are. Unfortunately, the processing and radio communications his vision requires would drain your battery.

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2012 coverage here, and the live stream can be found here.