foursquare the next Twitter? Maybe not yet, but Harvard is showing a way forward

Last year Pete Cashmore of A-List tech blog Mashable predicted that the location based social network foursquare would be the Twitter of 2010.   That seems an ambitious prediction given that, (at least in the UK) as anyone who has signed up will know, even the early adopters are still making patchy use of it.

For example the other month blogger Malcolm Coles checked into (London football club) Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and found that only three others out of the 60,103 in attendance had also registered their presence via the network.    Similarly last week, fellow Rabbit Louise Doherty became Mayor of ‘Matter’ – a nightclub inside London’s giant 02 entertainment complex.

Given that 20-something iPhone users like Louise are more likely to frequent places like Matter, you’d think it would have seen a fair few check-ins.   Not really.  Seventeen so far with only twelve unique visitors since Foursquare went live in London in October….in other words an unimpressive average of three check-ins per month.

One way it might achieve a bit more critical mass is if organisations start getting on board and structuring the foursquare discovery and badging process, so that there is more point to it than just checking in and seeing where your friends are.    Two organisations that are doing exactly that are Harvard University in the US and Metro newspaper in Canada.

Harvard University is now the first University
to use foursquare as a method to help students and visitors find their way around campus.

Tied into the network, Harvard keeps reviews of restaurants and shops in the area up to date and has special Harvard only badges students can earn.    Given that Facebook similarly also once started as a student network it’s a good move.   It becomes part of their daily campus routine and ideally they take it with them on graduation.

Similarly last week the Metro News in Canada, which like its UK name-sake is a freesheet, became the first newspaper publisher to sign a deal with foursquare.    Metro’s content and regular newspaper articles are tied into real-world locations via restaurant reviews and city / to-do tips.   Again, an organisational tie-up like this immediately turns foursquare into a kind of guidebook you access via your mobile phone, mixing user-generated with ‘professional’ content and keeping the friends / social network element of it.

Commenting on the foursquare tie-up, Harvard’s Perry Hewitt says that “Harvard is more than classrooms and buildings.   It is an interconnected community of people, ideas and experiences and we are actively pursuing ways to enhance those connections.”

You could substitute ‘Harvard’ in that quote with the name of just about any town, city, University, or even multinational company and it would still apply.    So Foursquare is nowhere near becoming the next Twitter just yet.  But by connecting more of those location-based communities of people, ideas and experiences, through tie-ups such as this one, it could take a big step forward in that direction.

Image – MkylRoventine

Update (1 Feb) - The New York Times Bits blog has another foursquare deal worth noting, a link with Bravo TV.   By the creation of Bravo-specific badges, the channel aims to “engage viewers long after they’ve turned off the television.”    The New York Times comments that this is a successful example of a TV experience moving into the mobile space.


  1. I must admit, I haven’t tried foursquare. I just can’t think of a real use for it (whereas Twitter has acutally saved me a lot of money that was being spent on online advertising) yet. Will there be a point where the “next” Twitter/Facebook just doesn’t need to happen? Not that that would our should prevent entrepreneurs from formulating new ideas and tech, but at some point the return will diminish, surely?

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