Indianapolis, IN - April 4, 2010
Technology changes pretty fast. Because of this, most of us are learning to change and adapt pretty quickly as well. The upside of this is that were readily adopting new application offerings and integrating them into our lives. Most of you have probably had this experience with things like LinkedIn or Facebook; some of you probably are using Twitter frequently.
But with this ability to quickly adopt comes the ability to abandon. Nobody can keep track of all of these new offerings, nor would you want to, so we find ourselves often shuffling one item into our work habits and shuffling another out. At the Vistage All-City meeting recently, author Dave Logan was discussing his book, Tribal Leadership and he made mention of this trend. Remember when finding and serving niches was a viable business objective? he asked. Niches used to be measured in decades, now they can be measured in weeks. Dave was commenting on our ever-shifting loyalty as customers move on to the next big thing.
One of the other interesting trends, at least in the software development world, is the way that product development is being impacted by the people who are using the product. It used to be that engineering would develop a product based on some perceived need, marketing would sell it, and customers would buy it. In some forward-thinking companies, marketing might help drive product development based on user feedback, but the experience was almost wholly internal. Those days are gone.
Now products are often developed by someone either seeing an opportunity or, perhaps just as often, having an idea that they think might be interesting. A product is developed, released, and people use it. Then a very interesting thing happens the product development cycle responds to the way people are using the product. Engineering might have a few tweaks theyd like to make, items that have been on the drawing board that were always planned to be a part of the release, but much of the innovation comes from how people are using (or want to be using) the product.
All of this is background which brings me to Foursquare. At heart, its simply an application that runs on your smartphone that allows you to check in at various locations throughout your day. Lets say you stop at Starbucks in the morning for a cup of coffee you open the application on your phone, you select the Starbucks, and hit a check-in button. If youre feeling ambitious, you could even write a short message, Getting my morning pick-me-up. Thats it. Each time you check-in, you earn points based on a system of Foursquares devising, and you can unlock badges for certain aspects of your movements. check-in at several different venues and earn an Explorer badge. Visit one location more than anyone else and become Mayor.
Now, at least a few of you are asking yourselves why you would want to do that, and who really cares where you are and where you go throughout the day. Good questions. The answer is your friends might (with emphasis on the might), but the businesses that you frequent most certainly do (or should.)
So Foursquare began as a way for friends to check-in wherever they are and notify each other about what theyre up to, much the same way that Twitter was originally intended for friends to tell each other what theyre doing. But like Twitter is dramatically evolving based on how people are actually using it, Foursquare stands at a similar threshold.
The reason is that businesses are now realizing that people some of their most loyal customers are checking in at their stores, bars, restaurants, etc. And Foursquare sees an opportunity here: theyre beginning to morph the application into a way for businesses to communicate with these people, both known and unknown. If you check-in at a business enough to become the Mayor, you might earn yourself a special perk. If you simply check in and tell other people about it, you might be rewarded with a discount.
Because the application is location-aware (meaning it knows where you are), business owners can also add tips to help people find things nearby. So if youre standing outside of a coffee shop, you might see that a competitor up the street is offering free pastries with a cup of coffee this morning, and adjust your purchase accordingly. As the owner of a business, you can add these tips to your location to help bring people in the door.
Much of the new development of Foursquare seems to be related to finding ways to better serve both the customers and the business owners using it, and I suspect well see more robust tools to help you track and analyze whats happening. But if you own a business that relies on walk in traffic, this is a creative way to build that traffic. And as the user base grows (100,000 new people joined in the last 10 days!) you might find it too useful to resist.