Foursquare's Dennis Crowley has seen the future. You can forget a tech bubble and startup cage matches. Tomorrow's world of social networking sites and apps is an egalitarian one full of grown-ups who have lived through the mistakes of the last tech bubble and learned their lessons. Ladies and gentleman, your kinder, gentler Internet awaits.
Foursquare is Crowley's second venture—a distinction he shares with many of his peers—after a similar service called Dodgeball. Whereas the previous tech growth and subsequent bubble saw gobs of money thrown at anything with a .com behind it, Foursquare's contemporaries are actual companies with actual products, based on years of experience and a vision of fulfilling a need—although there may not always be actual monetization.
Foursquare's API has already been the backbone for a number of offshoot applications that both enhance user experiences and build new revenue and promotion opportunities for merchants. Far from being proprietary about his secret sauce, Crowley couldn't be happier to see other developers grabbing his code.
"A lot of people like to make these matchups: this startup versus this startup," he said on the AOL Stage at Internet Week headquarters Tuesday. "But we're helping each other out by opening up a lot of the data streams, by opening a lot of the parts of the API. We're making the whole ecosystem stronger."
Crowley says the greater openness of today's big platforms—the Facebooks and Twitters of the world—allows apps like Foursquare to move ahead. And the still-painful memory of how poorly things went last time is keeping entrepreneurs focused on building products first, hyping them later.
"There are a bunch of us who have gone through this a couple of times. We know what works and what doesn't," he says. "We're not making mistakes for the first time."
Part of that has means keeping focused on development before worrying about monetization. And as a result of this strategy, Foursquare can now claim that more than 400,000 companies are using the app to connect with customers.
Of course, there's still room for improvement. Right now, the biggest roadblock to growth is hardware. With the iPhone's four-hour battery life, running your GPS nonstop becomes a problem. Crowley sees Foursquare realizing its full potential in the near future when mobile devices handle the needs of the software better. Until then, he'll share and share alike.