The new features added to Foursquare today transform it into a more robust social network that could compete with Facebook for a broad swath of user activity.
By adding comments and photos to check ins and archiving all of this activity on a history page, Foursquare has created a real “social diary” for users. A night out that was once remembered with a Facebook photo might now be remembered through a Foursquare check in, complete with images and opinions from friends.
“The trick for us,” says Alex Rainert, Foursquare’s head of product, “Is how do you add richness that will improve the experience without making the service overwhelming for new users.”
Foursquare, which is adding around 25,000 users a day, has been promising photos to its long-term power users for a while. Rainert says photos will drive conversations among friends and enhance the way venues are presented on Foursquare. “Now when you leave a tip about the best table at your favorite pub, you can add a photo to show just what you mean.”
Another indication of how these new features add more social networking to Foursquare is the focus on privacy right out of the gate. Comments are only shared with friends, even if a photo or tip is broadcast to Twitter or Facebook. “Everyone needs to take the conversation about privacy very seriously,” says Rainert, “But especially for an app like ours that is tracking users location in the background.”
Coming down the pipe for Foursquare in 2011, persistent location. “Right now the biggest obstacles are battery life and GPS,” says Rainert. Ironically, Foursquare works better in less dense areas, where venues aren’t so tightly spaced. “In New York, the way GPS is right now, you could be at any of ten different venues on a single block.”
As these technical hurdles are overcome, Foursquare will begin to experiment with modes that check users in automatically. “You want to surface interesting, relevant information,” says Rainert. “But you have to make sure that the disruption is worth it. There is nothing users hate more than trying to make a phone call, and finding out an app just killed their battery.”
bpopper [at] observer.com | @benpopper
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