The Geo Wars: How Foursquare survives…..

With Yelp, Facebook and perhaps Twitter moving into Foursquare’s territory, and the start-up already facing competition from Gowalla, MyTown and others, pundits are starting to wonder, “will foursquare survive 2010?

My opinion: yes – and they’ll be big – if they can execute the following two tricks:

1) Make sure 4SQ is an experience, not just a utility
If checking-in is predominantly just a way to publish your current location to FB or Twitter, then 4SQ will ultimately lose to those services. But if 4SQ can build an experience on top of checking-in, they will create a differentiated use case. Examples of what this experience could be incl:
a) GAME: extending the mechanics of badges, mayorships, leaderboards, etc
b) RECOMMENDATIONS: using my personal geo data to not just track where i’ve been but provide me suggestions of where to go
c) COMMERCE: Discounts, sweepstakes, etc for checking-in at locations

2) Hit escape velocity fast!
We always overestimate the ability for bigger companies to staple on yet another use case to their product. Consumers often want simple tools that satisfy a need. Now at over 1m check-ins/week, 4SQ needs to throw everything they can at growing quickly and getting adoption in order to cross over to the mainstream – to become the snowball. This means eliminating frictions to sign-up even if it means collecting less info on users in the nearterm or relying more on FB Connect; accelerating a partnership or two for distribution even if it means paying to seed distribution; or being ruthless about delaying advanced user features in order to make sure the basics work across multiple platforms.

As an early 4SQ user I want the innovator to win – they can leverage my loyalty to help them out – put me to work – Dens, whatcha want me to do? Invite five friends this month? Update five listings? Mobilize us!

Once escape velocity is achieved you gain two advantages:
a) network effects of new users
b) competitors are playing catch-up, building the product you were as opposed to the product you’re becoming

If they get reduced to being a utility (“publish location”) or end up focused on too narrow a group of users, they’ll get passed by general purpose geo services or social networks on one side and out innovated by gowalla, mytown, etc on the other.

Alright, gotta run and check-in somewhere….