By now you’ve surely heard about the release of Facebook Places. Many are calling this release the end of Foursquare, which has been the market leader in mobile location-based apps so far, but I believe the two can coexist, just as they promised they would at the launch event on Wednesday.
The reason they can coexist is that their products are different and will therefore serve different markets. Foursquare from its inception has been focused on making check-ins into a game by rewarding users with badges and “mayorships.” Foursquare also helps people stay connected by pushing notifications when their friends check in near them, but I’ve found this feature to be annoying personally. Often I’d find myself in the middle of something when I’d receive a check-in from a friend telling me they’re at a restaurant or something, which is rarely useful information. Am I supposed to stop what I’m doing and drive across town? Maybe this is more useful in small cities or for high school/college students whose friends aren’t quite as spread out.
Surely Foursquare will integrate coupons or some other Shopkick-style shopping features to make the service more useful, but it’ll likely always be focused on the gameplay aspects and on aggressively notifying friends of their friends’ whereabouts, making it attractive for a younger, constantly-connected demographic who will likely be very loyal and use it non-stop.
Facebook’s offering lines up nicely with their overall positioning – their check-ins are aimed at helping people connect with their friends, see where their friends are (or have been), and share their activities with those they care about. The entire experience is more opt-in – if I want to see where my friends are, I can go look at the list – it isn’t always pinging me to tell me where people are. When you post check-ins, they go straight to your Facebook feed, just like any other status update. Once Facebook gets the privacy settings all worked out, it promises to be an elegant, less “always-on” approach to keeping friends connected.
Facebook also has the advantage of a larger installed base. Most people have far more friends on Facebook than Foursquare, so it’s inherently more useful than Foursquare (although I could see kids using Foursquare specifically to avoid broadcasting their check-ins to their parents/relatives…)
Ultimately I think the debate is about “mainstream” location services, and “hardcore” location services. Foursquare can continue to dominate the hardcore and can likely be very successful with it, but Facebook will own the masses.