With three billion check-ins, Foursquare has a Fort Knox of data about consumers' retail habits, but a sizeable portion of its 30 million tips about places leave a lot to be desired. Foursquare will have to do a lot of partnering or get the check-in crowd into review-writing mode to improve its search results.
Foursquare isn’t checking out of check-ins, but it is expanding into local and social search as it takes on companies such as Yelp and Google’s Zagat.
Foursquare made moves today on Foursquare.com, where it added a search box, and earlier this month in its iPhone app, where it enhanced its Explore tab. Foursquare described the homepage change in a blog post today.
Both moves are designed to make Foursquare a power in local search, where it can leverage its trove of user data from check-ins to make personalized recommendations and eventually deliver effective leads to advertisers.
“Foursquare has always been focused on connecting people to places and places to people,” says spokesperson Erin Gleason. “The launch of our new homepage and the ability to search without being logged in really emphasize the fact that we’ve evolved into a tool for local search and discovery, though.”
On the desktop, users — even those who aren’t signed into Foursquare — can try the new search box to “find great places near you.”
A video on the site emphasizes searching for a good place to eat a burrito or chow down some guacamole, with friends, of course.
But, when you log in to your Foursquare account, you can take further advantage of the social nature of Foursquare as you can opt to view places you’ve been to, places you haven’t visited, places your Foursquare friends have been to, and Foursquare Specials.
Foursquare content at times seems like a glass half-empty
Where Foursquare falls short at times, if measured against restaurant and other local business results from Yelp or Google’s Zagat, for that matter, is in the quality of the content Foursquare surfaces.
My local search for “hotels,” for example, produced the Hilton Short Hills in Short Hills, New Jersey, as the highest search result.
You can view a map of the hotel, the number of Foursquare check-ins, similar places, photos of the hotel from Foursquare users, and their tips.
The tips about the Hilton Short Hills can be less than illuminating.
For example, Paul A., wrote almost a year-and-a-half ago: “bneen [sic] there pool nice.”
Another cutting-edge insight came from Vincent P., who wrote on May 13, 2010: “Best public bathrooms in nj don’t use handicap stall its for the mayor only.”
Compare these sort of content with Yelp, which provides a widget to find room rates at the Short Hills Hilton, scores the property 4 stars out of a possible 5, and presents 23 user reviews.
Foursquare also tweaked the Explore tab in its iPhone app, enabling users to search for specific businesses, and cravings such as “nachos” or “sushi.”
Like the website, the app has search filters such as places you’ve “been before,” where “friends have been,” and it just added places where you “haven’t been.”
Foursquare definitely has Yelp in its sights: many of the app’s and website’s search suggestions, including food, coffee, nightlife, arts and shopping, are restaurant- and bar-oriented.