Foursquare Replacing Check-in Data With Data From APIs, Crowley Indicates

By Cameron Scott 

foursquare, social networks, social media, location, sxswFoursquare CEO and co-founder Dennis Crowley indicated that the company does not need users to check in to businesses and other points of interest to retain relevance as a local search engine, suggesting that the company can rely instead on data sent from apps that use its API.

“If people think it’s all about mayorships, that muddles the story. We’re starting to put a lot of that stuff in the background,” Crowley said in a keynote presentation at South by Southwest, the tech confabulation where Foursquare launched four years ago.

Foursquare has struggled to gain traction as a social network beyond a relatively small set of early adopters. It has increasingly pitched itself as a local search engine, but skeptics have noted that it continues to rely on user check-ins.

Still, the database Foursquare has developed of businesses and landmarks is widely tapped as an API to power other apps’ location-tagging features. Twitter-owned Vine, Facebook-owned Instagram and Path are among Foursquare’s 40,000 API users. Foursquare’s database includes 50 million points of interest, which other apps access using the API.

Those users can help keep Foursquare’s own database current, Crowley said.

Each time a user employs location services through one of those apps,  “there’s still a little bit of that signal that we get,” Crowley said.

Foursquare is able to track users who, for example, fly from New York to Tokyo. They may share a Instagram photo in New York in the morning and a Vine video from Tokyo later that day even if they never check in using Foursquare.

To produce and deliver business ratings and tips, Foursquare is increasingly active on the Web.

“We’re trying to put more Google juice behind some of our pages. We’re driving more traffic through Google than we were last year, for sure,” Crowley said.

The company is also trying to make its app more useful by allowing it to run in the background and alert a user when s/he is visiting another town, for example, Crowley said. Foursquare has sought to be more useful for merchants, too. It launched a separate merchant app earlier this year.

Foursquare has 30 million individual users and 1 million merchant users. Nearly 65 percent of its users are outside the United States.