Facebook Just Bowed Out of the Check-In War With Foursquare


foursquare board Facebook Just Bowed Out of the Check In War With Foursquare

Image of Foursquare's board via Fortune

While some folks might attribute the rumbling feeling that hit New York this afternoon to a 5.9 earthquake in Virginia, Betabeat now knows better. It was the tectonic reverberations of defeat, as Facebook quietly phased out the Places feature of its mobile app which everyone was screaming for months would kill Foursquare.

Checking in to a physical location is an intimate act. You’re letting friends and potentially strangers, if you share to social networks, that you’re home, at work, at a party or in another country. Facebook, as it did with photos, made it possible to tag other people, indicating when they were at a location with you. Like photo tagging, this spurred a high volume of early activity as superusers essentially forced other users to take part in the act of checking in.

But as part of sweeping redesign today that emphasizes privacy, Facebook is phasing out its Places feature for mobile. It’s a tacit admission that Mark Zuckberg’s policy of shoot first, ask questions later, of always pushing the boundaries of personal privacy, doesn’t apply to all markets. And as with many features introduced by Google and Facebook in the social space, a reminder that the size of your network doesn’t always guarantee you can co-opt a market from early movers.

Facebook still has a dog in this fight. In fact, MG Siegler thinks that, having killed Places, they are “doubling down” on location. We disagree. Yes, you can add your location to any status update. But without a dedicated check-in feature, it’s doubtful this practice will achieve meaningful scale.

Foursquare is now is a terrific position. They have the best check-in data across the nation and perhaps across the globe. They are growing fast and flush with cash. Backend problems have given way to a torrent of new features. Serious revenue seems to be within reach thanks to the addition of daily deals. There are already more than five billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide, and that number will grow, along with the percentage who own web enabled smartphones. The king of the check in is poised to sit atop a very big business.


  1. Pete says:

    Pretty sure Facebook just *won* the checkin war by attaching location to all content.

    And who says they got rid of places?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Five billion people with smartphones? There’s something wrong with that stat. 

    1. Ben Popper says:

      Five billion mobile subscribers, many of whom will switch to smartphones in coming years. 

      1. Anonymous says:

        Ah, that makes more sense.

      2. Maurice says:

        No, that makes no sense at all, that is 5/7th of the complete earth population, babies and pensioners included. I think this is just a typo, and 5 million is meant.

      3. Anonymous says:

        5 million is actually more absurd than 5 billion. Check this out: there are ALREADY 5.3 billion mobile subscribers world wide. Half a billion people accessed mobile web in 2009 (2009!).


      4. Blah says:

        LoL, London has population of 13Million and I bet more than 5 million people in there got a mobile phone… and that is just ONE city!! ohh and I havent even mentioned China yet…

        5billion subscribers is very believable, I’m sure we all know people with more than 1 or 2 phones, then company phone etc.

  3. Adam B says:

    This really has to be one of the dumbest analyses ever on Betabeat. 
    1) Check-In will remain as part of Facebook mobile apps. It is not going anywhere. Watch the video on Facebook’s site.
    2) Facebook has doubled down on location by allowing users to attach a place to ANY status update, photo, etc. Every time you share ANY piece of content to Facebook, you will now see the option to add a place. 

    1. First off – welcome flamers. We are a young blog, glad to have you in the mix. 

      Now in response to your comment – 

      When Facebook launched places, the explicitly copied Foursquare and the check-in model. Zuckerberg named dropped Foursquare at the unveiling of Places.They are now getting rid of Places.

      From the Foursquare blog post:

      “As a part of this, we are phasing out the mobile-only Places feature. Settings associated with it are also being phased out or removed. (You can read more about how location works and settings affected here: http://www.facebook.com/about/location)

      Yes, location will still be part of Facebook, as noted in the post. But it will not be executed with the “check-in” model foursquare pioneered. The new way will be closer to tagging a user in a Google+ conversation.

      1. Dcrealguy says:

        Check-in still lives! Put down your know-it-all attitude and buy a smartphone. I just checked in via Facebook mobile. Shocker! It’s not going away.

    2. Anonymous says:

      It remains to be seen what Facebook’s long term strategy is, but I know they’re not stupid: courting businesses and building features that combine social fun and that could benefit businesses has to be one of Facebook’s focuses. Big brands promote their Facebook URLs on their magazine and TV ads and there are all kinds of companies mentioned at http://buyfacebookfansreviews.com that do nothing other than help businesses get Facebook fans. This favor that business has blessed Facebook with is a huge advantage to reaching out to a mainstream audience and is where Facebook has the potential to make a lot of money. I think that location is going to be critical to Facebook going forward and they’re most decidedly NOT going to ignore it. I think they’re just going to spin location differently than Foursquare. I think there are different ways to approach integrating location with Facebook other than just copying Foursquare and I think we might see Facebook come out with new features that address this. I think that the presumption that Facebook is giving up location entirely is preposterous: they’re just going to approach it in a different way. Facebook (say what you want about them) is filled with ridiculously smart people and has hired a lot of geniuses. They’re not going to cede this important market. In fact, I see them challenging Google’s bread and butter (search) rather soon and continuing to expand the number of markets they’re challenging.

  4. I can’t imagine Facebook given up so easily.

  5. Tom Price says:

    I am sorry but your analysis cannot be more wrong. 

     You don’t have to “check-in” to obtain geolocation data. You don’t have to explicitly do so to obtain geolocation data. Facebook’s move allows EVERYTHING to be geotagged. 

    1. Which is why we noted in the post that they still have a dog in the location wars. 

      But they are getting rid of Places, which explicitly aped Foursquare’s check-in model. 

       I’m of the opinion that user behavior around geolocation is still in its infancy. The check-in is a way many people have to come understand it. That’s why Facebook copied it initially. Now they are changing tactics. 

      1. I have to agree with you Ben.  And although I feel Foursquare is really a location pioneer, they haven’t reached “mainstream” status and I don’t know if they ever will.  I state this knowing that they have over 10 million “registered users” but no one really knows how many active.  I’m guessing it’s on the order of 1-4 million.  Not a small number by any means, but not currently in a position to dominate the anywhere close to the entire market either.  There will be many other location based apps and platforms coming out in the next couple of years that overshadow Foursquare quickly and don’t involve check-ins.  But for now, it seems Foursquare had a good day.

  6. They didn’t bow out, they saw the light!

  7. foursquarefan says:

    hooray for foursquare

  8. Did you even watch the video? Users can still Check-in. Facebook have just reduced the friction in the location sharing process. It also appears that the process of creating a ‘Place’ is much more formalised, which should mitigate the impact of having multiple disparate ‘Places.’ 

  9. “It seems the argument they make is we’re making it harder to say where you are, which is pretty much the opposite. We’ll still have Places…  You will even be able to tag yourself at a location on your laptop, no longer just certain phones.” – C. Little, product designer at Facebook

  10. Noway says:

    Or maybe they just realized it’s dumb

  11. “Yes, you can add your location to any status update. But without a dedicated check-in feature, it’s doubtful this practice will achieve meaningful scale.”

    Uh. How about Twitter for example? No check-in feature. Massively meaningful scale of opt-in location data.

  12. Gib Wallis says:

    The check-in feature for my phone is still available and I’ve updated my Facebook app since this blog post.

    Trust but verify.

  13. After reading your article and the ideas presented this piqued my interest. I have never been so intrigued with this subject before, but your writing style has renewed my interests. Thanks for posted.
    By the way, thanks for posted a kind of really interesting information, just turn around here and hope for finding more!