Siobhan Quinn Says “Technology is the Underdog” in New York; A Check-In with Foursquare’s First Product Manager

4/11/11Follow @wroush

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being in a bit smaller of a community. You get access to people and you tend to meet everyone very quickly.

The other thing I’ve noticed, which is really cool, is that there’s this sense in the New York tech community of having to prove ourselves [compared to Silicon Valley]. You feel that in the community. That’s why everyone is geared to helping each other out. That kind of spirit, gumption, or drive is something I think would surprise people from the West Coast.

There’s one other big thing, and it’s an overarching thing about New York. I grew up in Redmond, Washington, in the middle of Microsoft’s domain, and then I went to the University of Washington, and then I went to the San Francisco Bay Area for seven years and worked at Google. So I was very much in the tech-bubble mindset. In New York, technology is an underdog. There is finance, fashion, the arts. With the mix of people and occupations in New York City, you really have to think about how your product will impact people in different ways. People might not get super excited here that Color launched something that can detect aggregated photos. I think you become a bit more tuned into a broader set of users. I’ve noticed that my groups are much more diverse. So maybe being in New York helps you define the right product-market fit for new technologies better.

X: Question Four: What future improvements in Foursquare are you excited about right now? And do you have favorite examples of the way people use Foursquare in their daily lives? Okay, that was two questions.

SB: With Foursquare 3.0 [which debuted in early March], where it’s really coming from is that over the last year we have gotten half a billion check-ins, and we have started to take those check-ins and turn them into value for the user. Recently we launched personalized recommendations, so that every check-in by you or your friends makes recommendations smarter. We also wanted to give you a lens to see your own history. What categories are you an expert at? Coffee in New York City? Where are the places you go the most? We are also excited about personal analytics, and getting you interested in continuing to check in. We are going to continue to update what you can do with your history and your check-ins. It’s a tool to really help you navigate your life.

There are so many people using Foursquare in ways we wouldn’t have expected that sometimes our users are teaching us. One time a person checked in and said they had a flat tire, and one of their friends came to help them because of the check-in. One kind of silly thing, but it teaches us about how people are using Foursquare, was a billboard in Germany where if you checked in, a free dog treat would get automatically dispensed. Someone else was using a check-in to unlock his apartment door.

We had a hack day here at Foursquare and one of the really interesting ideas was something this hacker built called “Foursquare and seven years ago.” Every day it will send you an e-mail about what you did on Foursquare exactly a year ago. So you can relive that day–maybe you went to the grocery and then a fancy restaurant. That kind of taught us how to make your history more useful. Recently there was a KLM promotion where if you checked into KLM locations at the airport, they would find you and reward you with a package to prevent you from getting homesick. It was an example of an innovative customer loyalty program. That’s what’s great about being a platform–we can let other people experiment and find out what’s really cool. And when we hear that people are changing their normal behaviors to earn something on Foursquare—like people who go to the gym every day to get the gym rat badge—that’s really rewarding.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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