SiliconFilter

The Evolution of Foursquare: An Interview With Dennis Crowley

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Foursquare checked into our lives in 2009 and has rapidly grown its user base to 15-million, tripling in just over a year. And now the US-based service reports that just over half of its users reside overseas, largely in emerging market countries.

The social network is a piece of innovation that has won the hearts and minds of the fickle early-adopter crowd. It’s an online tool that plays in the rather hot and bubbly SoLoMo space. It’s a mobile-social network designed to give users information and recommendations about their immediate surroundings, allowing them to check in at venues.


This post first appeared on Memeburn and was written by Michelle Atagana. Memeburn is an award-winning site based in South Africa that tracks emerging technologies primarily in emerging markets, including the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. SiliconFilter occasionally features relevant posts from MemeBurn.


To say there is hype in this sector of the online world is an understatement, with start-ups proliferating in this space. SoLoMo is such a buzzword at the moment that it even prompted the respected Forrester Research CEO, George Colony, to say that these services will be “swept away” in a new “post-social era”. Late last year, Colony shocked everyone at a Le Web conference by outrightly dismissing Foursquare as “nonsense”.

Foursquare’s competitors are formidable. Look no further than Facebook, which sports its own check-in services in Facebook Places.

But Foursquare founder and CEO, Dennis Crowley, isn’t perturbed. This is a service that has “carved out a space”, and is showing no sign of slowing down.

Memeburn caught up with Crowley to talk about the company’s future, plans for emerging markets, and the beauty and future promise of Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

An early adopters’s game

Memeburn: You seem to have quite a following with early adopters, whereas when we look at Facebook, it has a much broader audience. Is that an intentional target market?

Dennis Crowley: It’s not intentional. I think it’s just how this stuff grows. Facebook started off with college campuses, Twitter was the early adopter tech crowd. A lot of people thought Foursquare would become half a million users and not go beyond that. There was a million and two million and five million and 10 million… I think it’s just a way that these things grow. If you think about it, Facebook is eight years old, Twitter’s five years old, whereas Foursquare is two years old, so we have a long way to go to get to those numbers. I feel pretty satisfied with the way we’ve been growing so far.

MB: Is there a strategy to grow beyond the early adopters?

DC: Yes, you know we have a lot of partnerships. We have a partnership with Orange, we do a lot of stuff with the New York Times and stuff for TV shows back in the States. One of the reasons we have a development guy in Europe now is to take advantage of all the opportunities there because it’s those things that will bring Foursquare to the masses.

MB: Looking at Foursquare fundamentally… what would motivate a user to check in on a regular basis?

DC: …it’s being able to see what our friends have been doing. A lot of people are using Foursquare just for its recommendation engine… [they would ask] like hey what should I do when I’m in this neighbourhood? You’ve got recommendations, you’ve got specials… you’ve got all those tips on the services as well, so people are motivated in different ways.

MB: Do you find that the novelty of wearing badges wears off after a while?

DC: Yes, badges are the thing that keeps people interested long enough to understand everything else that’s going on within the app, and you know they were designed that way and they’re very effective that way, so we’ll keep making changes because we want all users to be excited about badges. But I’m not surprised at all that people only use the badges for two months, but then they’re already hooked on the recommendation.

MB: You mentioned recently that you’re cutting down on badges — what does that mean exactly?

DC: So every single event should possibly have a badge, but that doesn’t make them special any more, so we like to think of badges as a thing you earn for interesting achievements, and not badges just for showing up. So when I say we’re cutting down, it’s more like we don’t do event badges but you do get the coffee badge for going to a lot of different coffee shops.

MB: Have you ever thought about expanding the game beyond just checking into places?

DC: Yes we thought about including a way to check-in to books, TV and music. But there are a whole lot of other start-ups doing that and I’d rather we just focus on location because it gives us a really good, strong focus. I think it’s very easy to get distracted by checking into everything… which is not what we want to do.

Emerging markets and beyond

MB: So what’s your emerging market plan? Not just for South America, but China and Indonesia?

DC: We’ve been thinking about our international plans a lot. About 50% of our users are outside the US and you know we have to be strategic about it because we’re still a relatively small company, we’re about a hundred people.

I know it seems big but for what we’re trying to do it’s small. We have one guy in Europe now, and we’ll see how that goes. We might expand to the Asia Pacific region, and expand to Latin America. We’re considering those things but we’re not ready to move onto that yet. We’re going to see how we do with one person in Europe almost in the same way that we did in San Francisco, and it turned into a twenty-person office. We’ll see what happens when we get one guy here and go to another couple of countries and see how that turns out.

MB: What’s your Africa traffic like?

DC: It’s not a huge growth area for us. Right now we’re seeing big growth in Indonesia, in Japan, and parts of Europe. We’ve seen a lot of activity in South Africa but we haven’t seen a lot of change across the entire continent, it’s something we’re keeping an eye on.

Mobile, social and the evolving platform

MB: We know that social-local-mobile is the big buzz. Do you think location-based services are the trend for the future or will it eventually pass?

DC: … location-based services are huge. It’s going to be part of everything we do, it’s going to be part of every social service, every recommendation service, services I can take advantage of, about where you’ve been, places you would like to go, all that stuff is valuable, it’s being entered into everything else.

People like Google Maps right? They use Google Maps all the time. If I can take Google Maps and put dots on where all your friends are all the time — I think that would be much more exciting.

MB: Do you foresee a time where Foursquare will be an HTML 5 app only?

DC: It could happen in the future, we have been doing experiments. HTML 5 apps are great but apps in appstores are still key… you’re starting to see more apps that use HTML 5 within the app, you’ll see something like that with Foursquare. A lot of the time you might not even see it, some of the app is HTML 5 and some of it is native control, the user doesn’t know the difference.

MB: As a company are you still betting on native apps?

DC: For now, yeah. Apps are the distribution platform, but whatever is in the app is up for grabs… the native Android controls and iPhone UX doesn’t really matter.

MB: What are your thoughts on the Windows phone?

DC: Yes we have an app for the Windows Phone. We worked with the folks from Microsoft to help build it. We’re starting to see more of that pick-up. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the new Nokia deal with Windows running on a Nokia platform. We hear from our users that the app works pretty well.

MB: And your views on the interface and the way Microsoft has rolled out the new phone?

DC: I think the phone is beautiful, it pushes the interface in really interesting ways. It’s fun to see people build Foursquare apps for that platform because they will be imagining what the UX looks like in a way that is different from what we imagined.

MB: I must say that I find the Blackberry app quite buggy. Is that something that you’d fix?

DC: BlackBerry can be a difficult platform to develop for because there are different handsets, environments, different screen sizes. But I think it’s [the Blackberry App] relatively stable. We have bugs from time-to-time on other devices as well such as Android and iPhone.

MB: And the future for Foursquare?

DC: Just to do a lot more of what we’re doing. One of the things we’re trying to do is get ideas out there for all the different types of products out there. Now we have to go back and make them a lot tighter and cleaner. I think we’ve carved out our space, this is what we want to do as a company and the rest is just to make sure that the rest of the world knows it.

MB: And your business model? Are you happy with revenues?

DC: Yes — we’re still at that phase now where we’re trying to grow as quickly as possible. It’s not about monetising immediately or becoming profitable, it’s building a huge audience and building an amazing product and then all the other stuff will work itself out. We do think a lot about the [business side], like having amazing partnerships with American Express. We’ve got more than 600 000 merchants that use Foursquare platforms.

MB: There seem to be two major routes to go — either a freemium model service or an advertising route. Do you have any preference or is it a case of both?

DC: Yes I think there’s a case for advertising that benefits the user. Peter Kafka from the Wall Street journal wrote a great piece which was: “Thank you Foursquare for this advertisement“, which was a living social deal about places he goes to all the time, and he’s like “this is great, this is exactly what targeted ads are supposed to be”.

I’m getting a deal, it’s targeted because it knows that I like these places, I’ve been there before, and you know that’s the direction we’re going’, it’s suddenly pushing you in the direction of things you like to do.

Image: Matthew Buckland



9:19 am


Mocality Kenya Scandal: “Mortified” Google “Apologizes Unreservedly”

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A “mortified” Google has issued an apology to Kenyan mobile listings site Mocality over customers and data that was allegedly pilfered from the startup’s database.

Mocality CEO Stefan Magdalinski in a blog post on Friday accused Google of “telling untruths” and a “human-powered, systematic, months-long, fraudulent… attempt to undermine our business”.

The story hit the internet like wildfire on Friday afternoon, with major international sites and techblogs like The RegisterTechcrunchBoing BoingThe NextWebPaidContent and Slashgear all reporting on it. The story moved mainstream with prominent news sites like the Guardian picking it up.


This post first appeared on Memeburn and was written byNur Bremmer. Memeburn is an award-winning site based in South Africa that tracks emerging technologies primarily in emerging markets, including the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. SiliconFilter occasionally features relevant posts from MemeBurn.


In response, Google’s emerging markets product and engineering VP Nelson Mattos issued a statement on Google+ saying the search engine had “unreservedly apologised to Mocality” and was still investigating the incident.

“We were mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality’s data and misrepresented our relationship with Mocality to encourage customers to create new websites. We’ve already unreservedly apologised to Mocality. ”

“We’re still investigating exactly how this happened, and as soon as we have all the facts, we’ll be taking the appropriate action with the people involved,” he said.

It is unclear at this stage whether the individuals involved were Google employees or contractors working on the company’s behalf.

Mocality is a three-year-old startup owned by South African-based emerging market internet giant,Naspers — an US$18-billion company that has stakes in Facebook, Tencent and mail.ru — and many other emerging market internet properties dotted around the world.

Mocality said Google illegally used the Kenyan site’s database to boost its recently launched Getting Kenyan Businesses Online (GKBO), an initiative aim at Kenyan SMEs who do not have an online presence.

How it happened

In a long, and detailed blog post, Mocality boss Magdalinski makes the startling allegations, explaining that his suspicions were aroused shortly after the launch of GKBO.

“Shortly after that launch, we started receiving some odd calls. One or two business owners were clearly getting confused because they wanted help with their website, and we don’t currently offer websites, only a listing. Initially, we didn’t think much of it, but the confusing calls continued through November,” he wrote.

Mocality’s sting operation

As the number calls rose, the company decided to set up a “sting operation” to find out where the calls were coming from. The site made some adjustments to its code and served a different telephone number to the IP address that had been accessing a large amount of its data.

“For visitors from the 41.203.221.138 address, we changed the code to serve slightly different content 10% of the time. Instead of the real business phone number, we served a number that fed through to our call centre team, where the incoming calls would also be recorded. Our team were briefed to act like the business owners for the calls.”

According to Mocality, within a few hours of the change going live, six calls came through to its offices (which was recorded) from someone who identified himself as a Google representative claiming to be working with Mocality.

“[The caller stated] that GKBO is working in collaboration with Mocality, and that we are helping them with GKBO, before trying to offer the business owner a website (and upsell them a domain name). Over the 11 minutes of the whole call he repeatedly states that Mocality is with, or under (!) Google.”

Google also apparently told business owners that Mocality would begin charging for listings, something the company had no plans to do.

It seems someone, somewhere got wind of the sting operation and stopped accessing the site via the IP address Mocality was targeting. Magdalinski then claims that the guilty party outsourced the operation to a company in India.

Business owners were receiving calls from India with the same promise as before. A day after the old IP address had stopped accessing the site a new IP address, 74.125.63.33, made 17 645 requests, 15 554 of which were to business profiles.

 

 

“Since October, Google’s GKBO appears to have been systematically accessing Mocality’s database and attempting to sell their competing product to our business owners. They have been telling untruths about their relationship with us, and about our business practices, in order to do so. As of January 11th, nearly 30% of our database has apparently been contacted,” writes Magdalinski.

He poses three interesting question at the end of this post:

— In discussions with various Google Kenya/Africa folks in the past, I’d raised the idea of working together more closely in Kenya. Getting Kenyan businesses online is precisely what we do.

Until we uncovered the ‘India by way of Mountain View’ angle, I could have believed that this was a local team that somehow forgot the corporate motto, but not now.

  • If Google wanted to work with our data, why didn’t they just ask?

  • Who authorised this?

  • Who knew, and who SHOULD have known, even if they didn’t know?

‘Highly disappointing’

Well-known Kenyan technology blogger and TED speaker Erik Hersman, who also blogged about the issue, told Memeburn that Google in Kenya have “always been above reproach”.

“…the hard facts that Mocality has produced are hard to dispute though, so it’s highly disappointing and I only hope that Joe Mucheru [Regional Lead Sub-Saharan Africa at Google] has a palatable answer for us,” he said.

“Otherwise, Google will have lost much of their hard-won trust over the past few years.”



1:22 pm


Why Social Media is Cooking in Emerging Markets

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The Arab Spring, the Slavic Spring and the Iranian Twitter revolution all proved how deeply engrained the use of social media is in emerging market countries. But did you know that their rate of engagement with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is growing a whole lot faster than that of developed markets?


This post first appeared on Memeburn and was written by Michelle Atagana. Memeburn is an award-winning site based in South Africa that tracks emerging technologies primarily in emerging markets, including the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. SiliconFilter occasionally features relevant posts from MemeBurn.


Social media penetration is on the rise in emerging markets. A recent report from research and analysis site, eMarketer.com, looking at three studies from Pew Research Center, TNSDigitallife and Brazilian-based F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi on social media usage and how it is aiding brand awareness in emerging market territories.

Pew research social media

Last year eMarketer estimated worldwide social network ad revenues would surpass US$8-billion by the end of 2012, allocating just under half of that figure to the United States. “Non-US revenues were expected to grow faster, as marketers attempt to increase brand awareness, market share, and profits in fast-growth countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) and beyond,” says the research and analysis site.

Social media penetration in large emerging market regions such as the BRIC territories and countries Mexico and Indonesia, currently ranges from 56% to 86% of internet users, according to Pew Research Center’s “Global Digital Communication: Texting, Social Networking Popular Worldwide”. The highest figures go to Indonesia and Russia, at 86% for each in May 2011, up from 63% and 76%, respectively in 2010 — though F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi research reveals Brazil’s internet penetration reached 93% as of August 2011.

Brazil social network

Pew’s research further finds that in some markets, especially those with relatively low overall internet penetration, social network usage is higher than the US’s 60% of internet users. Notably in the past year, social media usage in Egypt has grown from 18% in 2010 to 28% in 2011.

A key point revealed by these studies is the way social media is being used in these regions and what it means for the emerging world. Last year’s social media revolutions may have woken the world up to the role social media can play in times of unrest, but also showed how important social media can be when it comes to consumer behaviour.

According to the TNS “Digital Life 2011″ study, social media marketing is more effective in emerging markets than more established ones. The study shows that users in “BRIC, Indonesia and Mexico were more likely to view social networks as a good place to learn about and buy brands and products than users in developed markets like Canada, the UK and the US”.

eMarketer explains the difference in growth between emerging markets and developed markets using an “experienced consumer” analogy. According to eMarketer, developed market users “are accustomed to third-party eCommerce sites and payment methods, and look to social networks mainly for keeping up with friends. In emerging markets, eCommerce is untested and new; and knowing the person or brand, even virtually, can engender more trust among users.”

The report speculates that the reason emerging market users engage more with brands on social media is due to “higher levels of trust” in these regions, which allows social networks to play a bigger role in the purchase cycle. Online shopping is still a relatively new idea in most emerging markets, being able to engage with brands on social media platforms helps build user confidence.

In the TNS report, Larry Bruck, senior vice president of global media and marketing operations at Kellogg Company, says “Digital is a business enabler, not just a marketing enabler.” Using the emerging world as example, Bruck explains that social media, not just online media, provides an opportunity to foster new business for savvy brands.



10:17 am