Dennis Crowley at Street Fight Summit: Foursquare Always About Data

The original plan for Foursquare was not about building a check-in app—it was about data.

Furthermore, creating a recommendation engine and software for navigating unfamiliar cities, based on said data, was always part of the agenda, said co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley.

“The point was to build something that connects little bits of data every single day about where all these people are going,” he said during the Street Fight Summit, a conference on hyperlocal marketing held on Tuesday in New York. Crowley spoke in a fireside chat with Digiday editor-in-chief Brian Morrissey, laying out some of the other tricks his company can do.

Crowley has been talking up Foursquare’s data for a while now, such as in a visit more than two years ago to the New York Tech Meetup. The company has collected tons of information through the millions of check-ins it records, and can create dazzling heat maps that show the pulse of activity in cities. Turning that data into something useful and actionable, such as curating and recommending places to visit, is what Crowley said separates Foursquare from review sites, such as Yelp.

Foursquare split off the check-in aspect in 2014 to the companion Swam app, which feeds data back to Foursquare to fuel its recommendations.

In the six years since Foursquare’s formation, the company has mapped 65 million places around the world, with 300 million photos associated with those sites, and 100 million reviews. “The amount of data we have is staggering,” Crowley said.

The challenge, still, is changing the narrative that Foursquare is known for. Sure, the company rose to fame as people competed to become the “Mayor” of their favorite coffee shops. Over the years, however, there have been questions about whether Foursquare was just a fad and how it would handle Facebook getting in on the check-in game.

Crowley wants Foursquare to be known for the other work it does, and to prove the company is in a defensible position. “The big opportunity for us is, over the last year we’ve been building these advertising solutions; we’ve been building enterprise data tools; we’re able to get business intelligence,” he said. “We’ve become this location layer for everything on the Internet.”

And with passive check-ins, a feature which does not require manually tapping in visits on smartphones, Foursquare can tell where users go and how much time they spend there, Crowley said. It also lets the app suggest places of interest, based on prior activity and habits, when a user visits a new city or neighborhood. This collectively helps his company amass location data he said other companies cannot compete with—and points back to Foursquare’s root idea. “This is the thing we started the company in order to build,” Crowley said.

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