Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Foursquare Thursday – Are its competitors withering?

A couple of weeks ago I focussed on the huge number of new features that Foursquare had rolled out in a four week period. Things have quietened down a bit since then – although there has been an updated Android client to include events and better photo support to match the iPhone, as well as the ability for staff to reverse venue merges, SU2s can edit venue descriptions and a new URL format for venues on the web site. But the service is still very much alive and innovating.

Alas the same cannot be said for its competitors – Gowalla, Facebook Places and Google Latitude.

A couple of weeks ago Gowalla announced the removal of some features from the platform in the next version. Items, like those shown above, will be removed completely; Notes will be removed pending a new implementation to come later, and Pins (like Foursquare’s badges) will see the ‘fat trimmed’ from them. There will be other new features introduced but the announcement doesn’t expand on what these are.

Now while I prefer Foursquare, I do use Gowalla and have configured to push my check-ins there as well, and it’s a particular shame to see Items removed. Gowalla stated that fewer than 0.5% of its users actually used items, and there seemed to be a lot of confusion about their purpose. If Gowalla made more effort to explain the role of items, how to get them and why you should drop them at spots then maybe more people would use it – it’s one of the features that makes Gowalla unique.

Foursquare had a similar problem with check-in points before Foursquare 3.0 was released – they didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose and were open to abuse. But rather than remove the feature completely, Foursquare overhauled and improved the points system and re-introduced the leaderboard to encourage competition between friends, and now it works well.

Without Items, the differences between Gowalla and Foursquare are almost minimal. Foursquare’s new Lists feature is very similar to Gowalla’s Trips, and Foursquare’s design improvements mean it’s not far behind Gowalla in terms of appearance. There’s now very little that’s unique about Gowalla and it’s a shame.

I also mentioned that Facebook Places. A recent Business Insider article suggests that Facebook is scaling back its Places feature, and so rather than you checking in you would simply add a location to your status updates and have a choice of venues to do so. Facebook updated its iOS app this week and whilst the standalone checkin feature is there, you can also attach a location to a status update. Facebook also recently discontinued its Deals feature in the UK (not sure about the US) which competed against Foursquare’s Specials, where businesses could offer special deals to those who checked in.

And finally Google Latitude. Earlier in the year an update allowed users to check into anywhere that existed on Google Places, rather than just updating their location co-ordinates, but there hasn’t been any changes since. With the advent of Google+, it may be that Google decides to focus on the location-based elements of that instead, similar to what Facebook is doing.

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