Category Archives: Location Based Services (LBS)

SXSW 2011 - Trip to Austin - Dennis Crowley (Foursquare)It’s about time someone stepped into all this discussion about location-based services and set the record straight. Most of the past week has centered around who’s the big application that everyone will want. The central theme has been all about location-based services and we’ve been discussing services like Glancee, Highlight, Banjo, EchoEcho, and Sonar to name a few–way too many for anyone to keep track of. But while the location wars seem to have picked up steam, we hadn’t heard that much of a peep from the current king of the mountain about what they were planning at SXSW this year. Well now we know what the number one location-based startup is doing over the next 5-6 days in Austin and it’s sure to be one heck of a ride (that is if it doesn’t rain).

Announced today on the evangelist blog,, Foursquare will be hosting a bunch of activity on the streets of Austin, including attending and being on panels, holding office hours, having parties, and much more. You can read more on the Foursquare website about their activities, but here’s a general list of what they’re up to:

Panels at SXSW:

If you’re going to be at SXSW and have a badge, you might want to sit in on some of these panels between Friday and Tuesday of next week in order to gleam some knowledge from the Foursquare team. It all starts off with Evan Cohen in “Raising your Profile with SXSW” and ends with Tim Vetter’s talk on “Mobile Privacy: Developer Kits & Tips“. In-between, people like Dennis Crowley, Holger Luedorf, Alex Rainert, Siobhan Quinn, Morgan Missen, and Eric Friedman, will be on panels addressing social discovery, location tracking, geo-local Internet, and designing for mobile. You don’t want to miss any of these panels!


Like last year, Foursquare will be setting up shop right near the Austin Convention Center where they’ll have a Foursquare court complete with games, food, and entertainment for anyone that stops by. On Sunday & Monday of SXSW, there will be free breakfast tacos, coffee, and pain relievers served–all the way from 10am until they run out. In-between, make sure you check out the court area for great events happening like their SXSW office hours where you can chat with the community, business, and engineering teams (Friday-Monday 1:30-3:30pm) or stop by to find out how you can get more involved with Foursquare on Saturday (11:30-12:30pm). This won’t be a recruiting meeting (or will it?), but it’s more about how you, as the community, will be able to take better advantage of Foursquare. But if you’re a developer, then never fear because Foursquare wants to talk to you as well–a developer open house is scheduled for Sunday, March 11 from noon-1:30pm where you can talk all you want about their API.


SXSW 2011 - Foursquare Party - Tristan Walker & Romany MalcoLast year’s Foursquare party was unbelievably packed, but fun. Long lines await you, but you’ll be able to mingle with some of the best and the brightest, not to mention famous celebrities–who knows who will show up this year? Last year, party-goers got a chance to mingle with Paul Reuben (Pee-wee Herman), Ashton Kutcher, and Romany Malco so this year could be even bigger and better.

Foursquare will bring the party back to the Cedar Street Courtyard with an awesome DJ set by Bobliz and will most certainly be even busier–make sure you get to the venue early (no joke) as the fun begins from 9pm until late on Sunday, March 11. Tickets are already sold out, but you can always try and stop by and maybe the lucky few will get in?

But in case you can’t get in, there’s always the Foursquare happy hour taking place on Saturday, March 10 from 5:30-7:30pm with free beers and booze at the Foursquare court. Enjoy some games of four square and take a break from it all–well deserved!

The most important thing of all:

With Foursquare, what’s perhaps the most important thing of using the service? Well besides finding out where your friends are? The badges! That’s right! And this year, Foursquare isn’t going to disappoint you. If you’re going to be at SXSW, then make sure you’re actively using the service since they’ve released 12 new badges for your enjoyment. Just take a look at these cool new badges:

Foursquare SXSW 2012 badges

From badges you can get while grabbing cups of coffee to going to several places on the Foursquare crawl list to a plethora of other fun things to do, make sure you check-in frequently because the goal here is to capture them all! Oh, and you can view this nice little tip on how you can get them here on

So now that we know that the location leader is doing something at SXSW, what were we all talking about earlier with regards to the other apps like Highlight, Glancee and the like?

Photo Credit: Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley plays Four Square at SXSW 2011 via Ken Yeung/Flickr

QuandaryI pretty much knew that as soon as I wrote my post about Highlight that I’d have to write yet another one about all the other location services taking off this year at the South by Southwest conference. Just a few years ago, the main competitors in this arena were Foursquare and Gowalla. Sure, there were other folks like Brightkite, Whrrl, Loopt, and others, but what everyone was pretty much talking about was Foursquare and Gowalla. And three years later, Foursquare seems to be the only one standing tall–well until this week.

The location-based service space is rapidly heating up with over a dozen new services set to take off and fight for attention at SXSW starting this Friday. If you think that this is almost like a primary battle like in politics, then you’re absolutely right. Services like Glancee, Banjo, Intro, Sonar, EchoEcho, and many others are seeking the spotlight and to unseat the front-runner service that folks like Robert Scoble and TechCrunch are calling the “must have” app at SXSW: Highlight. But if you’re trying to find a good way to figure out which ones are which, then I suggest you take a look at this great analysis done by TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez.

With SXSW, most people are either wondering about which parties they should RSVP for or which sessions they should put into their schedule. However, the recent news of emerging location-based services has added some unneeded stress in their lives. Contrary to the time when Foursquare and Gowalla did battle, the one consistent thing in that scenario was that they had a bit more privacy associated with it–revealing one’s location to the public (and when others were logged in) was opt-in, but now, the services doing battle all will reveal your proximity to others along with other pertinent information like your interests, your photo, and maybe your biography. It will also reveal mutual friends that you have. I think that’s kind of interesting and useful, but there are some scenarios where just giving out that information freely (without some sort of opt-in) would be a bit much.

Google LatitudeInterestingly, this battle royal location services brings a new era in location-based services into light. You might say that it’s the marriage of Google’s failed attempt at using and promoting Latitude with Foursquare to create a service that will slowly change the way we find people. But is there a discernible difference between the 12 or so applications that are fighting for your attention? Let’s take a look at some of the details about these applications as reported byTechCrunch:


Highlight has been getting a lot of attention pre-SXSW, especially from members of the tech scene. The app uses your Facebook profile to match you up with nearby friends who share your interests. Highlight has a very cool and simple design, but it also seems to be moving toward becoming a personal, social CRM system that helps you remember people’s names and when you met them, as well as just suggesting nearby people you may like.


Glancee is most like Highlight, in that it also uses your Facebook profile data and interests to help you discover nearby users. But unlike Highlight, it doesn’t display people’s exact location on a map, only giving a general distance (e.g. “5 miles from you”). People are ranked by distance and common interests. On the app’s homescreen, it summarizes how many things you have in common – possible conversation starters, I suppose. You can then reach out to those suggested folks using the app’s built-in chat function.


Banjo has been around for a bit, but a recent update has given the app enough new polish to see it achieve “featured” status in the iTunes App Store. The best part about Banjo is that it doesn’t have a desolate first-launch experience – that is to say, even if none of your friends use the app, Banjo may still prove useful. Instead of only relying on Facebook, Banjo also taps into data from Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and more, and shows you where people are and what they’re saying/doing, based on their check-ins or geotagged tweets. The app also lets you know when your actual friends are nearby, even if they’re not on Banjo.


Just launched today, INTRO is meant for business, not social, networking. The app is built on top of LinkedIn, and includes messaging, privacy features and a premium “teleport” option that lets you virtually network with others anywhere in the world. In order not to limit itself only to INTRO users, the app also uses Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare data to display other nearby users.


Sonar, updated just in time for SXSW, has moved away from focusing on people checked into particular venues and now focuses more on finding recommended people nearby. The app separates your nearby friends from a section of nearby “relevant” people, who are ranked based on how many friends you have in common. Like Banjo, the app finds nearby users based on their check-ins in (or geotags) on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, but fills out user profiles with data that also includes LinkedIn info. Also, like most others in the space, Sonar can alert you when friends are nearby.


This app will be helpful to those at SXSW who are actually there to attend panels and presentations, not just parties. Why? Because EchoEcho can map your friends indoors, too. The app uses GPS outside then switches to Wi-Fi when you head indoors, using special tech from the startup WifiSlam to map out the interior of the buildings.


Launching just in time for SXSW, Kismet finds nearby people using ambient location data like Highlight and Glancee, but also finds them using active check-in data like Sonar. The app lets you create “pop up events,” too, which can then be discovered by other app users who are nearby (think “happy hour drinks,” “SXSW panel on social apps,” etc.). Nearby people are ranked based on degrees of separation, which extends beyond mutual friends. Kismet is also one of the few that lets you check-in to both Foursquare and Facebook, saving you that extra step.


Glassmap is more of a “Find My Friends” type of service, except one that works cross-platform (iPhone & Android). Built on top of Facebook, Glassmap finds your Facebook friends who are on Glassmap and plots their location in real-time on the map. You can selectively enable or disable who can see your current location, and the app makes smart use of server technology to preserve battery life.


Not to be confused with INTRO, the business-focused app, ntro is for meeting people who share your interests. You can either enter in these interests manually, or have them imported from Facebook. The difference with ntro (which is almost like the social version of INTRO, surprisingly!), is that you can filter through search results by interests and set your own “top” interests very narrowly. (e.g., not just “music” but a name of a band). Ntro also allows you to message users who share interests in common with you.


Mingle is most similar to INTRO, in that its focus is on business networking. You join Mingle using either your LinkedIn account, Facebook account, or you can sign up directly. It will then show you who’s nearby and available for networking using your phone’s GPS. Like INTRO, you can specify your occupation and who you want to meet, but you can also post that “intro” to Facebook, if you choose. The key difference between Mingle and INTRO, however, is that users are ranked by proximity alone on Mingle – there isn’t an indication of the friends or friends of friends you may have in common.

Once you’ve read all of the descriptions, there are two things that kind of become clear…the location-based app industry is slowly moving into creating clones with different niches and those that are the same are becoming very difficult to differentiate themselves from one another. The goal of each of these applications is to help you network and find people, but in an area like SXSW, the one thing that services will want to be absolutely clear about is telling people who are often interested in why they should use your service why they’re different from the others in the marketplace. But as of this point, the best way for people to really figure out what the market leader is going to be is to simply download all the applications to their mobile device. Then, they’ll need to create a screen where all these apps can be easily accessed and then test them out one by one–take them for a test spin, if you will.

Quite frankly, I might just stick with Path or Foursquare and leave it at that this year at SXSW.

Photo Credit: Quandary by Reikhavoc/Flickr

Naveen SelvaduraiIt’s funny that right when I published my post about location-based check-in leader, Foursquare’s, recent milestone celebrating its third birthday, days later, I would need to write another post about the service–this time about one-half of the legendary founder team leaving. Yes, you read that correctly, one of the Foursquare founders has announced they’re leaving the company. That person would be Naveen Selvadurai.

In his farewell post, Mr. Selvadurai, mentioned that he’s seen the company take-off and that he’s worn so many hats in his time working on Foursquare. The service now has over a hundred employees and are “building amazing things” and probably has a lengthy product timeline for new releases, but unfortunately it seems that Mr. Selvadurai has felt he’s done it all and now he’s going to move on. Slowly, but surely, as this month starts to wind down, so too will his involvement with the company. But he won’t be gone for good–he’s determined to stay on the board and will continue to advise the service on things to improve and build. Will he go the route of becoming an angel investor or full venture capitalist? Probably not…he says that he’ll probably get back to what he loves the most–being an entrepreneur, learning, and building new things.

First reported by GigaOm’s Om Malik, who apparently keeps close tabs on the company, Mr. Selvadurai’s departure comes at a time when there’s reports that two major VC firms are trying to pick up Foursquare stock. Both Spark Capital and SV Angel are apparently trying to help mold Foursquare into a company that can give them more bang for their buck. In doing so, and with Mr. Selvadurai’s departure, remaining founder, Dennis Crowley, will become Foursquare’s CEO–and it’s probably a good choice since he’s (1) the founder, (2) has got the vision for the company, (3) drive to make it happen. So far the company has secured $71 million in funding and looks to keep on going.

We wish Mr. Selvadurai nothing but the best in his next adventures and success as an entrepreneur!

Photo Credit: Foursquare co-founder, Naveen Selvadurai, poses for

Stalker LOLz CatEach year at South by Southwest, people are eagerly trying to figure out what the next big thing will be. After all, it was here where Twitter first got started and noticed. Then it was Foursquare versus Gowalla, group texting darlings Beluga, GroupMe, and TextPlus, and now tech influencers and journalists are pretty much calling what the next big application everyone will want to download is at this year’s show. So what’s the one application that will be the “it” thing? The word is that it’ll be this cool iPhone application called Highlight and its location-based service will enable people to discover others around them easily and with enough information to properly stalk them.

This isn’t the first time that Highlight has been introduced to the world. Earlier this year, publications like Mashable, TechCrunch, Gizmodo, VentureBeat, and Technologizer all reviewed the service–only now is it finally gaining significant traction. Why? Probably because there is critical mass in light of the thousands of technology enthusiasts converging on Austin and it would be a great case study to see whether the service. The location-based wars are back, people…and it looks like the offspring of Foursquares will battle it out for supremacy. On one corner, you have a similar service that’ll work on both the Android and iOS platform called Glancee with probably more filtered controls. On the other one you have what TechCrunch’s Eric Eldon is betting the farm on, Highlight.

HighlightSo what’s so special about Highlight? Well with over 20,000 users as of a couple weeks ago, they have a clear goal about how to use check-ins and location services to make meeting people much more significant and valuable instead of uber stalker’ish. As founder Paul Davidson said earlier this week, “We want Highlight to make Austin even more fun for you – by surprising you with hidden connections, surfacing information about the people you meet, and helping you remember these people when you bump into them at a random New York coffee shop a year later.” What this will mean for the community is that not only will you find you’ll meet new people, but you can also part ways from SXSW and have that little keepsake memory item that you can reference when you work on fostering the relationship.

But here’s how Highlight can help you improve your network skills at SXSW this year–all without crashing the private parties uninvited and making awkward small talk just to get the attention of an influencer, investor, or person you really want to meet. Everyone at SXSW who has Highlight installed with have it enabled allowing you to simply walk around the city to find them. What the application will do is alert you that you’re near someone. The information you’ll be shown about any particular individual is their name, mutual friends, photos, and anything else that wish to share–almost like a location-based Facebook profile. Highlight will help you see what you have in common with them so that you can strike up a chord with that person so you won’t have that short conversation where you can’t make any real connection. But then, later on, the service will help you remember their names as well!


So instead of simply knowing where someone is, you’re going to be able to get a bit more background–Highlight does all the stalking for you! As TechCrunch puts it: business cards would be dead. Forget stuffing your pockets full of cardboard at a party, going back home, throwing them on your hotel room dresser as you pass out, and forgetting them when you have to rush out the next morning to catch your flight. You’d just mark the people you want to stay connected to right when you meet them, and then at your convenience connect with them later.

From a safety standpoint, it doesn’t seem clear yet whether Highlight will only give you several close levels of friendship–your friends and “friends of friends”. You might think that this isn’t important, but while getting to know where people are and having their information handy is great, the problem can also be knowing where people are. Location is a double-edged sword, my friend. Alexia Tsotsis wrote a post raising this concern where she hoped that there was some sort of filtering control where you could only see where your friends are, not your “friends of friends”. And for females, especially, revealing one’s location through any public service like Highlight can have unintended (and maybe dangerous) consequences. I’m sure that the folks at Highlight are consciously thinking about this. In fact, Mr. Davidson told Ms. Tsotsis that privacy is a critical concern of theirs: “Having people’s trust is so critical for this sort of thing. We want to build something women can use and feel safe on. If you build this product the right way you can build something that will be really useful.

Whether it’s your goal to meet an investor, interesting startups, great people, or those with a high Klout score, make sure you check out Highlight–SXSW will be an interesting test case for the service and whether people can actually make more network connections than if they didn’t have the app. Either way, location-based stalking is cool again*.

Here’s a video by Robert Scoble interviewing Highlight’s Mr. Davidson about the service:

*By stalking, I do not mean this. Do not do this type of stalking.

Foursquare founders Naveen Selvadurai & Dennis CrowleyThree years ago, the real age of location-based services began. It was three years this month that two people got together to launch what would be the most talked-about service at that year’s South by Southwest interactive conference and what has helped serve as a good role model for emerging location-themed startups. Those people, Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai created Foursquare and this month, it celebrates a monumental birthday with a lot to be thankful for and an enduring sense of accomplishment.

Their original creation was a service called Dodgeball that Mr. Crowley started with another founder, Alex Rainert in 2000, which was intended to be a location-based social network software provider for mobile devices. Five years later, Google purchases it only to kill it off several years later with their location tracking service, Google Latitude. Because he found the experience at Google “frustrating”, Mr. Crowley left and later teamed up with Mr. Selvadurai and started the new and improved version of Dodgeball that they called Foursquare. Somehow, the two found a good foothold in the location-based market and in March 2009, they hit the streets of Austin, TX for the SXSW conference and wound up becoming a huge hit. Soon, clones and competitors popped up out of nowhere trying to make the space a little bit better with a different twist. Services like Whrrl, Rally, Brightkite, Check.In, Loopt, and Gowalla, all faded soon after launching, although Gowalla looked the most promising to take Foursquare on.

Mashable infographic on Foursquare vs Gowalla after SXSW 2010The true test of Foursquare’s power over Gowalla would come to a head at SXSW 2011 when the two would do battle in the realm of public opinion and have their peers in the tech community judge them. Each one has had their own successes in the public market, but at the end of the day, the industry spoke and Foursquare was the winner. Eventually, Gowalla collapsed under the competition and after an unsuccessful pivot that they announced at the last TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, the company’s CEO and founder Josh Williams, announced that Facebook was acquiring them. So that pretty much left Mr. Crowley’s pride and joy as the only sensible and legitimate location-based service out on the market who had the skills and experience to run a successful gamification of location.

What exactly was the appeal to users? The consumers “got” what Foursquare was all about–it was about checking into a location and telling your friends (and potentially the public) where you are. AJ Arora wrote a guest post on TechCrunch about Foursquare’s impending birthday and cited three distinct forms of game mechanics that highlighted the service’s appeal to the users:

1. Badges - Early users of a service rarely bring their entire social graph with them. Without friends to interact with, Foursquare users collected badges for individual accomplishments — keeping them engaged during their initial solo experience.

2. Mayorships -Once a critical mass was reached, “friendless” users could be engaged through interactions with strangers. Unacquainted Foursquare users compete to become the “mayor” of a venue, claim territory, and allow merchants to establish loyalty.

3. Social Competition - By the time users became bored with the basic badges, most had enough friends to form a social graph. Competing for points and position on the leader board became the new focus. And the utility of knowing friends’ locations became a draw for those growing tired of games.

In 2010, there were reports that large companies like Yahoo!, Facebook, and Microsoft were vying for the rights to buy the company from Mr. Crowley–all for a reported $140 million deal. Fortunately, Foursquare would hear nothing of it and turned it down. But how exactly was the service going to survive? Sure, there was a good rate of adoption by users, but that wasn’t helping the company. They had to make money somehow. And that’s where their innovation and pioneering skills paid off. They leveraged the venue–by this point, the only way that a venue was going to be created was thanks to the user and the Super Admins that they had deployed out in the wild. But now, venues could be claimed by businesses and merchants could even control what Foursquare specials are offered by the check-ins, keep the profits, and directly create a friendly relationship with all the customers who check-in.

From here, Foursquare kept growing and growing. In 2010, they announced that there was over 1 million check-ins per week! Currently they have an estimated 70 employees based in both New York City and in San Francisco–obviously because they want to tap into Madison Avenue and talk to the marketers and get some real business going and mingle with the tech capital of the world.

A great deal of large companies and organizations have paid more attention to the service, pushing it closer to being mainstream. They’ve done deals with the likes of Starbucks, Applebees, Bravo television, the White House, the History Channel, Louis Vuitton, NASA, the New York Times, Windows Live, and many others. So they get the best of both worlds! You can read more about their case studies on their website.

Oh! And let’s not forget about American Express’ amazing deal and partnership with Foursquare either!

Foursquare Explore option

And with an estimated $71 million in funding from the likes of Union Square Ventures, Jack Dorsey, Kevin Rose, SV Angel, Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, and more, there’s a lot of resources that they’re throwing to make Foursquare the best in location-based marketing. It’s become a valuable tool for merchants from any industry and their services are becoming essential for the traveling individual. Just last week, the service rolled out several key improvements, including adding in a “Suggestion” option, which came from an improved “Explore” feature that will allow users to search better and filter out unwanted locations and information.

According to TechCrunch:

…Foursquare’s local guide…is augmented by your friends’ recommendations and visits as well as other Foursquare users’ tips and comments. Like a mini local search engine, you can search for venues by category (“coffee,” “nightlife”), name, or even something very specific, like what  food you’re in the mood for (“tuna,” “burgers”). You can also tap “Specials” to see just those venues offering check-in or mayor discounts.

The Explore feature on the Foursquare application has become so much more powerful, thanks to a recent integration of NFC support to their Android app. Sarah Perez reports that thanks to the integration of Near Field Communication, users are now able to share their list of great places that they wanted to try out or that they’ve been to. Foursquare has upped the game of social by allowing people to check into their favorite places, add it to a themed list and then using NFC, simply bump two Android phones together (with both having Foursquare), and instantly transferring the themed lists over to the other. This will allow the friend to follow along and live that same location-based journey with the list creator.

Most recently, they announced that they were dumping Google Maps from their service and being a part of the OpenStreetMap movement. We won’t really notice much, but these subtle changes are quickly making Foursquare even better and more important to anyone who uses it or has an interest in location. Even the investors seem to agree as Spark Capital announced that they were purchasing $50 million in stock from the employees. Why? Because theyappear to be doing a lot of things right, despite the questions some have asked about its still-nascent business model. While Foursquare might not be the biggest social network in the world, the data it does have, and the ecosystem that is growing around it, makes for a promising story.

Foursquare's first post 2009

Yes, Foursquare...I think everyone can hear you just fine now.

More to come from Foursquare, I’m sure we’ll be seeing some great things for them, but what they’ve done in the three years of existence is nothing short of a rousing success. If they can accomplish this in that short of a timeframe, they’ll be able to take over the world (or at least monopolize the industry).

Happy Birthday Foursquare!

Photo Credit: Foursquare founders Naveen Selvadurai & Dennis Crowley pose for a GAP advertisement in 2010. via the GAP c/o Racked

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