Foursquare Is No Fad, Argues Founder Dennis Crowley; Xconomy’s Podcast and Q&A
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we shouldn’t just bring the service back, but by using game mechanics we could get a whole new group of people interested. We realized we could use game mechanics to describe what people are doing in the real world, like going to the gym 10 times or going to a bunch of different art galleries. By giving people an incentive to go out and achieve something, we realized that we could maybe change their behavior.
X: Dodgeball wasn’t a game at all—it was a pure social networking tool. Where did you get the idea for making check-ins into a competition?
DC: We were hugely inspired by things like Nike Plus. By using game mechanics on top of personal training, it encourages you to run farther or more often than you normally would. There are contests like “Whoever runs the most miles in seven days wins.” Alex Rainert, my co-founder and Dodgeball, and I, when we were at Google together, we used to use this to keep us motivated to exercise. Nike Plus can drag you out of bed on a rainy Tuesday morning better than anything. We wanted to do the same thing for Foursquare, but do it for everything, to encourage you to do things you haven’t done before.
X: Foursquare started out as an iPhone app, but you’ve since expanded onto other platforms. Is it important that people be able to participate in Foursquare from all sorts of devices?
DC: The average person on Foursquare has like four or six friends—a pretty tight social network. You want all your friends to participate. But a lot of times when you get six people together they’ll have six different cell phones. You have to work on all of them—iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and the Web and text and Nokia. Luckily, everyone is kind of enamored with apps right now and it’s pretty easy to build and distribute them. If you go to api.foursquare.com there is a list of 20 to 30 apps for different platforms. We can’t build things fast enough in-house—the team is small and we get distracted by scaling issues and customer service and all sorts of things. But developers will come along and take the API [application programming interface] and do whatever they want for it. We are getting to the point now where people are using our platform to build new products that are better than the ones we’re creating, which is a big turning point for the company.
X: How do you turn all of this into a business? People like to check in from specific venues such as coffee shops, so does Foursquare become a vehicle for local merchants to offer rewards to their best customers?
DC: We are monetizing right now on several different levels. A lot of people have seen the deals we’ve done with media partners and big brands like Lucky Magazine and the New York Times and MTV and Bravo. Those are great deals that get us … Next Page »