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Foursquare moves toward ditching check-ins

Foursquare's new passive alerting feature makes the app stickier, CEO says.

SAN FRANCISCO--Interviewed at the Web 2.0 Summit, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley talked about how the location check-in app is becoming more passive.

Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley at the 2011 Web 2.0 Summit.
Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley at Web 2.0 Summit 2011. James Martin/CNET

"One of the big hurdles we have is that you have to think about using it," he said of Foursquare. "If we can lower that barrier, we can juice the experience."

That's why the company recently launched the Radar feature, which, once you turn it on, collects info about where you are, the direction you're going, and so on. It'll tell you if people you like are nearby, and "we can do the same thing for recommendations," Crowley says. "This is what we've been trying to build since grad school."

Crowley said it's a challenge for a service like Foursquare to turn "curious users into active users," but the passive nature of Radar can make that happen. There's also a game dynamic in Foursquare, and people pay attention to it. "Whenever we tweak the game mechanics, we get a lot of feedback." Crowley continues to use the soft power of badges and the like. He says, "I'm a big believer in using game mechanics to push people to do things in real life."

Talking about the future of Foursquare, Crowley says the company is focusing on the recommendation engine, merchant tools, and the Radar feature, because "that's where we want to take the app."

The company does have a few big competitors. On the merchant side, there's Groupon. Crowley says it's one of the "better tools out there for merchants," as is Fourquare, implying that the rising tide lifts his company as well.

And then there's Facebook, which is "ripping off everything [Foursquare is] doing," Crowley's interviewer John Heilemann said. Crowley said, "It's one of the more challenging things to deal with," but that "we have a narrow focus on building things that help people experience the real world. How we are able to survive the Facebook onslaught is a big motivating thing for the company."

When pressed for an exit strategy, Crowley, like most tech entrepreneurs, said that he's just trying to build a great company and product. Will the company still be independent in a year? "I think so," he said. "I've never been part of a company that's running as fast as we are."