Today’s release of the latest version of Foursquare has me super excited. It puts together all of the data and capabilities the team there has built over the last five years to provide the best local recommendations: based on lots of detailed data and knowing your tastes. Dennis’s vision for Foursquare has always been to create the best local discovery engine — one that’s personalized just for you — by crowdsourcing bits of information from users all over the world. Today brings Foursquare a big step closer to that vision.
Unlike traditional review-based systems, Foursquare gathers lots of information on where people actually go and spend time and what they recommend. So instead of simply providing an average of a number of stars Foursquare computes a score. Because of the many signals that go into this score it is difficult to manipulate by any one individual (such as the venue’s owner or drive-by review). As another important innovation, Foursquare furthermore takes your specific tastes into account when making recommendations. When you start the new app for the first time it will prompt you with possible tastes (these are derived from your past usage but you can confirm and change them). Those tastes are then highlighted in the recommendations and you can change them over time.
With this new release there is also a different privacy model. Everything in the new Foursquare app is explicitly public and that includes a new asymmetric follower model. It means I can follow anyone to see the tips that they are leaving and more importantly have the recommendations I receive be influenced by experts that I have personally curated. You can go ahead and follow me — I am not yet an expert on anything although I am getting close on airports, American food and Chelsea.
This completely public model became possible by splitting out checkins (the privacy sensitive part) into their own app called Swarm. Swarm retains the symmetric friends model, which means that you are sharing your location only with people you have confirmed. Better yet, with Swarm you no longer even need to check in. The app knows where you are and shares that location with your confirmed friends (only at the neighborhood level — to provide a detailed location you check in). Again, this passive location sharing has become possible without being a drain on your battery through the company’s technology and accumulated data.
Both Swarm and Foursquare will continue to improve over the coming months. That’s not just because the team has a great roadmap and will also observe user behavior and feedback but also because the system constantly gets better as more people use it. Speaking of which, I am on the road today traveling up to Massachusetts and will shortly be using Foursquare to find a lunch spot.
Most startups spend all their time on optimizing the experience for registered and logged in users. But what about those who come to a site through a link? Or right to the home page by either typing the company’s URL or more likely searching for the company name. Most companies spend very little time on this which is a mistake because it is the top of the user acquisition funnel.
Companies that get the logged out experience right can get a lot of mileage from that. In particular showing immediate content and only then driving users into either registration or app download seems to work well. Pinterest did a great job with this both for deep links and for the homepage. Instagram's deep link pages are fantastic — you see the photograph but the second you want to take an action (e.g. heart) you are driven into registration.
I was thrilled to see foursquare earlier this week launch a logged out version of “explore” giving immediate utility to anyone coming to the home page. Venue pages, such as the one for Union Square Ventures, also have a strong calls to action now for users who are not logged in. This is a great way of activating the top of the funnel.
Huge kudos to the entire team at foursquare on today’s release. This is not just about the incredible amount of work that has gone into building the release (and for iOS and Android simultaneously to boot). It is primarily about what I have called the “courage of big changes.” This new foursquare release brings exactly the kind of big changes that take courage to make because inevitably there will be users who won’t like some or even all of them. It would be so much easier to get trapped in incrementalism but that’s not what startups are about. I am thrilled that foursquare is still behaving this way. I also recommend reading Dennis’s wonderful post on his personal Tumblr.
Last week I was in London to spend time with the team from AMEE. On the flight to London, I read an article that provided a potent reminder of the importance of measuring CO2 emissions. The Independent had a big story on Methane gas being released from the Arctic sea floor off the coast of Siberia in far larger quantities than previously feared. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas (20x more potent than CO2) that was trapped beneath permafrost. The release of this gas is a great example of the non-linearities involved in climate change.
Now of course by flying to London I was contributing a fair bit of CO2 to the atmosphere. A couple of months ago, I was at a dinner having a discussion with someone about climate change with someone who quickly asked me: “Do you fly?” and when I answered “Yes,” he immediately retorted “Well, then you don’t care about climate change.” Now I had to explain that I try to buy offsets for all my flights but I also had to admit that I wasn’t very good a tracking that.
Thanks to AMEE and foursquare that problem has just gone away. AMEE has just released ALF, which stands for AMEE Location Footprinter (not for ALF). It works as follows: you go to http://alf.ameeapps.com and authorize access to your foursquare account. ALF then knows where you have been — in my case that would include having been at too many different airports over the last 5 weeks. ALF uses this data to calculate your CO2 transportation footprint and sends that to you as an email with a summary and detail on each movement (here is my summary from last week):
Going forward, I will be using this to purchase offsets for my travels. In fact, I am hoping that at some future point AMEE will let me add my credit card and automate the whole process.
So unless you happen to believe that all this man made CO2 is a good thing start measuring your footprint off foursquare now (yet another thing those foursquare checkins are useful for!).
When I first met Susan in a cafe in Paris 20 years ago, one of the very first things I told her was that I had a list of all the things I was going to see in Paris during my vacation there. According to Susan, my super geeky line in asking her to join me on some sightseeing went as follows: “I am going to do all the things on this list, so happy to start wherever you want.” A lot of things have changed in the two decades since but my love for lists continues: I still keep many different lists, such as companies to look at, to-dos for portfolio companies, blog post ideas, possible vacation spots and so on.
Given my love for lists, I was thrilled to see foursquare roll out lists. This feature made the otherwise awesome announcement by the White House about joining foursquare seem unimportant by comparison. Here are some great examples of the variety of lists that one can find:
As I was thinking about what lists to put together, I first considered restaurants with a view. Turns out Tristan has already created that and I now follow it. So my first list are must-see awe-inspiring places in the American West.
I will be sharing more lists in the future. In the meantime, if someone has already put together a great list for Edinburgh and/or Scotland, please point me to it. Susan and I and the kids will be there starting late next week.
foursquare rolled out version 3.0 last night. Dennis and the team have a terrific post that explains all that is new and different. While I am excited about the new leaderboards and specials 2.0, I am most looking forward to the broad availability of recommendations.
The idea is pretty simple: tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll help you find something nearby. The suggestions are based on a little bit of everything – the places you’ve been, the places your friends have visited, your loyalty to your favorite places, the categories and types of places you gravitate towards, what’s popular with other users, the day of the week, places with great tips, the time of day, and so on.
I know I will personally get huge value out of this. I travel a fair bit and usually don’t have the time to do a lot of research about good places to go to.
There is a second reason though I am looking forward to recommendations. As an investor it is incredibly gratifying to see a team being able to realize the vision that got them excited about building something in the first place. This is just the first version of recommendations and there will have to be lots of learning and tweaking. But it does complete the circle that Dennis had in mind from the beginning: check-ins generate data that can power recommendations which in turn provides an incentive for checking in.
Congratulations to team foursquare on getting version 3.0 out!
Yesterday saw the “wire transfer heard ‘round the world,” as Bryce put it in a tweet. Foursquare did indeed close a Series B financing as has by now been widely reported. My job of writing a blog post about this has been made very easy: Dennis wrote a terrific announcement on the foursquare blog, Ben Horowitz from “A16Z" does a great job in his post of describing why all the investors are excited about Foursquare; and my partner Fred provides a refreshing perspective on the process.
The only thing I want to add is that I was hugely impressed by how much progress foursquare made during this time period. Whether it was negotiating a lease, forming new partnerships or recruiting some amazingly talented people, it appeared as if the company barely took a breather — in a situation that might have completely paralyzed others. That’s a great testament to the strength and conviction of the team.
All of us at USV are thrilled to continue supporting Dennis, Naveen, Harry, Evan, Alex and the rest of team foursquare on their exciting journey.
The original plan was to announce the Union Square Ventures investment in foursquare today, but then the news broke on Friday based on the Reg D filing (so much for thinking we could sneak the filing in late on the Friday before Labor Day). If you missed it then, here is a link to our post announcing the investment. All of this made for an exciting start to the long weekend — especially for the foursquare team as they were in the middle of a major database upgrade. They made a brief post on the foursquare blog on Friday and will provide more detail on their post financing plans this week.