In order to broaden its appeal Foursquare has been backing away from its origins as a “check-in app” for a long time. The banishment of check-ins into a separate app, Swarm, seemed to mark a complete break with the company’s “gamification” legacy.
Not so apparently. Gamification is in Foursquare’s DNA. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the company has added such an element back in to the new app.
Foursquare is creating a category of “experts,” which is conceptually similar Yelp’s Elite Squad. It also bears similarity to Foursquare’s old “mayor” system, though it benefits the larger user base. It’s a status distinction intended to incentivize certain types of behavior.
By creating tips that others like or save, Foursquare users earn what amount to points on the way to becoming an expert. Users can become experts about a business/place, a neighborhood or a city:
The result of this is ‘expertise’ you can earn (think of them kind of like badges for leaving great tips). To earn them, you just have to show off your knowledge. When you leave great tips, you make progress. And, the more people like or save them, the faster you’ll earn expertise. You can earn expertise at a type of place (like ‘Dumplings’ or ‘Vintage Shops’) or a neighborhood or city (who doesn’t want to have expertise of Chinatown or SoHo?).
Foursquare says this was a popular feature among early testers of the new app. The idea is to motivate more and better tip creation. And it will likely work for a core of loyal users. More casual users probably won’t be inclined to participate but they’ll be able to benefit from the content created by experts, whose tips will be more prominent than others’.
Google developed a somewhat similar program (modeled on the Yelp Elite Squad) in City Experts, who are required to generate a minimum number of reviews each month that meet quality guidelines to maintain their status and membership in the group.
The Foursquare app is due out relatively soon. Then we’ll get to see how viable it is in its bid for more mainstream appeal. I’m somewhat skeptical. Indeed, the unbundling of check-ins from Foursquare has largely been met with criticism among the company’s core user base, who have given Swarm very mixed reviews.
As Foursquare charts a new course (or is it a “last gasp” before an acquisition?) it’s relying on features such as experts and personalization to provide value and differentiation from Yelp and others. But it’s an open question as to whether these efforts will work.
We’ll soon find out.
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