Foursquare Goes For Flash Rather Than Functionality

Foursquare is going “social.” Foursquare adds photos and comments, Techmeme tells me this morning. Color me unimpressed; I’d much prefer the developers focus on functionality. Here’s why.

Foursquare Newbie BadgeI’ve been using Foursquare since August 2009. I have 20 badges and am currently mayor of nine venues. I’ve left 27 tips. I’m certainly not a power user, but I’m a regular user. Yesterday, not for the first time, I ran into two situations that chapped me enough to take screenshots so that I could write about them. Today’s rah-rah about photos moved the rant up in time. I’ll add a few comments about today’s upgrade, as well as a quality-control whine.

My frustration centers around Foursquare’s inability to know where I am, even after repeated refresh. My suggestion includes better integration with the iPhone’s phone. (I know, what a concept, huh?)

Where Am I?

It happens more times than I can count. I don’t know if the  “problem” is AT&T, the iPhone or Foursquare. And frankly, I don’t care whose “fault” it is — I’m writing as a frustrated consumer, a consumer who is inclined to soldier through frustrations like this due to the nature of my job. Casual consumers are going to bail, which hurts adoption stats.

Refresh Doesn’t

Foursquare Trader Joes I’m running errands. I check in one location, hop in the truck and drive to the next location on the errand list. But when I try to check-in, Foursquare still has me at the prior location …. even when it’s miles away!

Like everyone else (I guess), I “swipe down” to force the app to refresh. Only, too often, it doesn’t. The app remains fixed at the prior location.

Refresh not working … I force a search by hitting the spacebar once in the text field. Still no go.

If I’m feeling stubborn (I’m going to make it work, dammit!), then I type in the name of the venue. In this case, it was Trader Joe’s. I’d just driven more than a mile from Fred Meyer (probably five minutes), where I had experienced the same problem when I tried to check in there.

So I type in Trader Joe’s and tap search.

Foursquare “forgets” that I am in Lynnwood. Rather than show me the Trader Joe’s that is my “favorite” — the Trader Joe’s where I am periodically the mayor — Foursquare leads off with Trader Joe’s on Capitol Hill, which is 15 miles away. I have never checked in at this venue. Ever. In fact, I have never checked in to any of the five TJs that show up on the first search screen.

Foursquare devs: this is broken behavior.

How Foursquare Should Work

Let’s say this problem is AT&T’s fault. Or Apple’s. (This FAQ — focusing on Android, not iPhone — makes it sound like a combo of OS and network provider.)

First, if the app isn’t getting new GPS data, tell me that. Feedback. It’s one of the most critical parts of interaction design. The Foursquare app has none. [Note: the interface now has a little crown appear in the lower right corner when Foursquare is accessing the network and thus is temporarily “frozen.”]

Second, if I try to force the app to figure out where am I by typing in the name of a venue, why not assume that I’m still in the general area, especially if I have a favorite with the same name as the venue I’ve typed in the search field? You’ve got that data. As an alternative, let me check in by going to my history and saying “This is where I am right now.”

Integration With Telephony

I want to be able to one-click (sorry Amazon) call a venue from inside Foursquare.

In other words, when I want to place an order for take-out (or call to figure out business hours), I want to be able to open Foursquare and (1) easily find the venue; (2) have the description include the phone number; and (3) have that phone number “click to call.”

Foursquare could be about more than “where I am right now.” It could also be “where I’m going next.”

Why not use the iPhone’s address book?

First, mine is a mix of people and work. Second, when I’m out-and-about, the app that is generally open is Foursquare. Third, I think of Foursquare as an app about places where I do business.

Why not use Yelp?

Because its search is worse than Foursquare’s and because I don’t use it enough for it to “know” my regular haunts. And I think of Yelp first as a review site; it’s where I go when I want to learn about a new place.

Why not use Safari/Google?

This is my fall-back, and Google does a better job of figuring out where I am and what I might be asking about than Foursquare does. But guess which app has the more detailed about my habits?

Fixing Bad Entries

Trader Joes Foursquare I really wish I knew what it would take to be a trusted Foursquare person, someone who could fix mis-labeled venues. Like Trader Joe’s. It is not a Wine Bar!

Then there’s the problem of duplicate entries for the same venue.

Misspellings.

Bad addresses.

I’m volunteering, Foursquare. Use the crowd.

About Today’s Announcement

In making the feature upgrade, Foursquare positioned the app as a direct competitor to Yelp.

First, the most logical head-to-head competition comes with photos:

Tips with photos changes everything. See dishes before ordering them, figure out if a venue looks fun, or easily identify a hard-to-find spot. More info = better exploration.

Notice the choice of business? Restaurants, a key player (and PITA) in the local ad business because so many restaurants are one-offs.

I already use Foursquare tips as a form of mini-reviews. It’s logical, especially since American eat out a lot. (In 2008, Americans spent $575 billion on food away from home compared with $597 billion on food at home.)

Second, developers are assuming we are glued to our friends lives in what I think is an unrealistic manner:

[G]etting a last-minute comment reminding you to order the best dish saves your meal.

Are Foursquare folks really going to be monitoring the app like this? Remember, Twitter quickly morphed from “I’m eating lunch” to “here’s something important about WikiLeaks” … I’m not convinced that this is a reasonable use case (even if it is positioning Foursquare as a Yelp alternative). Maybe, if the universe of “friends” is kept small. (Right now I have almost as many friend requests as I have friends — 138 to 144. I’ve tried to keep Foursquare constrained to people I really know. I have had friend requests from complete strangers in London, for crissakes!)

Finally, there’s a teeny swipe at Facebook:

You can visit your history page on foursquare.com to see all the places you’ve been, with photos and comments preserved.

No need to beat the dead horse that is Facebook’s unwieldy UI and it’s opaque archives. This is the advantage of a single-purpose application, the special tool versus Swiss Army knife (also known as “kitchen sink”) approach to software development.

Yes, these things are interesting, especially the photos. But basic issues with functionality are far more important if the application is going to cross the chasm and reach mainstream adoption.

Default, as usual for “social” apps, is to share with the world. Here’s how to change that.

Get To Settings Options

In the iPhone app, tap your personal icon (lower right corner), which will take you to this screen; then tap the settings icon (upper right corner) for the account settings menu.
Foursquare Settings

Ping Settings

From the account settings menu, select “Pings.” Default is “yes” for friend’s check-ins (“current city”) and when friends comment on your check-in comments. Adjust to fit your preferences. I probably should have friends check-ins “on” given how few of my friends actually live in Lynnwood (my normal “current city”). But when I’m downtown …. no, the potential for floodgates is too great.
Foursquare Ping Settings

Photo Settings

From the account settings menu, select “Photo Settings.” The default will save, in your regular photo library, any photos taken inside Foursquare. I always want a copy of pix that I take and am annoyed at apps that do not do this by default. So I’m a fan of this default setting!
Foursquare Photo Settings

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2 thoughts on “Foursquare Goes For Flash Rather Than Functionality

  1. Great post Kathy. I have bookmarked to my StumbleUpon and my Delicious (both listed under LindaSherman). I admit that I actually wanted commenting on Foursquare but your functionality points are great. I started using location based services (Foursquare, Gowalla and Whrrl in particular) to feel them out for geolocation marketing for my clients. I was checking-in everywhere. Recently I have cut back to checking-in to events and to venues that I want to want to give the gift of checking-in to. None of my friends needs to know that I am on a shopping run to Ralph’s super market.

  2. Wow, such a long post…you really are a Foursquare user! The majority of my problems with 4sq occur at a location that offers “free” WiFi, but you have to login to the store splash page or click a Term and Conditions box or something. This means you have to open the browser and wait for it to load, etc. (These stores would be Starbucks and Barnes and Noble mostly)

    Without doing this….To find the location, I have to switch my phone’s WiFi off and revert back to 3G to get a list of venues nearby. Depending on how many cell towers are nearby, that may take a l-o-n-g time. Also, in malls and parking garages, any GPS signals are probably getting washed out so 4sq might put you miles away from where you actually are!

    That said….I have been having fun meeting people that are currently checked the current locations at the same time as me. One day there was a 2cm picture of a girl with pink hair (this being L.A.), and I turned around and there was a girl with Pink Hair tutoring a college student at a table. I think that is so neat.

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