How Foursquare wants to out-Apple Facebook

Foursquare's Dennis Crowley says his own service will continue to favor the "touchy-feely" aspects over other services such as, implicitly, Facebook Places. These, he believes, are "generic."

It has never been my ambition to be mayor of an artisan bakery or a partisan gas station.

However, I know there are quite a few people, some of whom remain my friends, who delight in attaining such a respected position on Foursquare. Their joy is doubled when they manage to oust someone else from the mayoral seat. Even if they don't know that person and will never meet them.

Such enthusiasm has clearly attracted the attention of Facebook, which, by launching Facebook Places , foresees a future in which your friends--as well as your very good friends at retail establishments--will be able to bathe in your movements and be richer from the information.

Some seem to believe that Facebook Places might decimate Foursquare's dispensation of mayoral majesty.

Foursquare's founder, Dennis Crowley, seems none too disturbed. Participating in a recording of the Gillmor Gang, Crowley offered some comments that, while were certainly tossed in the direction of Google, might also have been relevant to his feelings about Facebook.

CC Nan Palmero/Flickr

He said: "It's difficult to build services that are supposed to scale to you know 30, 50, 100 million users right off the bat, because they got to be kind of tailored down, by definition they have to be a little bit generic to speak to that large of an audience."

Crowley believes the joy of his brand is, well, the joy. Beginning with small steps, he said, allowed Foursquare to "put whatever personality and whatever face we want to on the product."

While Facebook's image has necessarily changed as it has got bigger and as it moved away from being an insular product to a worldwide beast, Foursquare continued to invite users in with the idea of play as its core.

Play, indeed, is as fundamental to Foursquare's persona as it is to Apple's. While Apple's sense of design has always been far, far ahead of its rivals, the simplicity of that design allows users to very quickly play with the thing in their hands, rather than spend hours and days attempting to master some infernal engineering cleverness.

Apple is fundamentally human. Foursquare clearly wants to be human too.

"You can poo-poo how like those touchy-feely things don't mean too much to users but I really think that's the core and kind of the soul of the service and people identify with that," Crowley told the Gang.

Facebook isn't exactly IBM, Microsoft, or even Google. With its own design, it has shown that it is able to be restrained and human, allowing users to express themselves in ways that are simple and open. (Perhaps too open.) But Crowley's implicit suggestion that Facebook's size forces it to launch products that are more generic is true.

The task facing Foursquare is that it has to make its own sense of play, its own rules of the game, that much more fun and that much more--I squint as I use the word--cool.

Apple prospered and grew because an increasing number of people wanted to be on the inside of the supposed cult, rather than merely admiring it (or even being suspicious of it) from the outside. Can Foursquare be location's Apple? Its next iteration, due reportedly in two weeks, might offer more of a clue.

Perhaps you'll soon be able to become mayor of, who knows, your best friend's tonsils.

 

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