The version of Foursquare’s iOS app released today marks a significant milestone in the location-based social network’s reinvention as a local search engine, but its Chinese counterpart Jiepang points to another tack the company could have taken to address users’ lack of enthusiasm for checking in to local businesses.
Like Foursquare, Jiepang invites users to check in to various locations throughout their day and share those locations with others. Jiepang was among the first social networks in Asia to employ a location model, launching in 2010. Like Foursquare, it has an active but niche set of users – mostly in China’s modern coastal cities.
But, CEO David Liu acknowledged, “We’ve had pressure to think about what’s next.”
But while Jiepang initially saw itself as a Foursquare counterpart, it no longer does, as the companies are diverging in their efforts to tackle the problem of check-in ennui.
“Everything that we’ve been thinking about for last six to nine months has been really different than Foursquare,” Liu said.
Liu and his coworkers also saw the promise of healthy revenue streams in connecting businesses with new and loyal consumers. But early experiments in local search less than promising.
“We found that a lot of our users weren’t really responding as much to our local content,” Liu said.
So the company has opted to appeal to its users to continue to check-in, not just by serving up check-in offers—though it has those, too—but also by enabling users to check in to activities and states of mind in addition to businesses.
“The app is more like a journal or a diary in the way that users have been using it. They use our locations and our design to share life activities. Some people post a lot of photos that don’t even have locations. Some people check in to virtual locations,” Liu explained.
Jiepang is looking to roll out ways to check in to common social activities, such as eating out with friends, that put the social factor first and don’t highlight the particular business.
It doesn’t sound like much, perhaps, but Liu compared the pivot to what Tumblr did for blogging. The app would still be a location-based social network, just like Tumblr is a blogging platform. But by offering a simple design that highlights the aspects of sharing that users most enjoy, Liu hopes to make checking in more fun.
“We’re thinking about how we serve other types of offline activities and prepackage those types of content. You’ll be able to have certain types of content that you would do with friends, but also some personal ones like when you’re reading a book, and when you go to sleep. A lot of it comes from what users were already sharing,” Liu explained.
Jiepang may have more leeway to move in this direction. China’s economy is booming as Western brands move in and look for just the kind of young, affluent users who use the social network. With brands and commercialism are relatively new in China, the users are more willing to identify themselves with a brand.
“People in Shanghai and Guangzhou are open to showing off their lifestyle. If we have a Burberry or even a Starbucks, people will be happy to show off that they’re at these places. It’s given us the luxury of being a little more proactive in terms of revenue,” he said.
But Jiepang has also kept itself relevant by optimizing the app to allow users to push their content to many other social networks.