Embrace the API

Owing to astounding word of mouth, a solid product and an impressive growth curve, Foursquare now seems to be on every marketer’s to-do list.

You can imagine the commotion as higher-ups at brands and agencies from New York to London to Tokyo nudge their underlings to get the ball rolling with an innovative collaboration that will make them look smart.

The fruits of these partnerships thus far have been somewhat limited to big name, marquee brands (Bing, Starbucks, Zagat and The New York Times, to name a few). It is, after all, in Foursquare’s interest to be validated by the boldfaced names. But nothing truly inspiring has come from these collaborations just yet. Sorry, but I think the sponsored badge is going to go the way of Facebook’s SuperPoke.

My friend Naveen Selvadurai, a co-founder of the platform, mentioned to me that the business development team is getting approximately 700 inbound e-mail requests per week from agencies and small brands alike. This could mean a logjam in the near term and a lot of group think on behalf of them companies seeking to do business with them.

As the startup continues to scale, going in the front door and putting money down for a formal partnership (read: a badge) may not be the smartest move. Instead, it is advisable to go through the side door, which has been politely left open for the companies that have the chops and the creativity to do something cool.

It may seem obvious to any digitally minded person in the know, but judging by the figurative crowds with bags of money clamoring outside Foursquare’s New York HQ, the memo hasn’t reached a lot of brands and agencies.

Since November 2009, Foursquare has been publishing an open API, allowing savvy individuals and marketers to create something new that leverages the impressive (and growing) amount of data the site is collecting via an estimated 1 million check-ins per day. According to its developer page, “You can use the API to create new ways to check-in to Foursquare or visualize the data generated by the Foursquare community.”

Instead of a pricey branded badge or a simplistic, sanctioned collaboration showing to-dos around the city, why not create your own application that aims to do something better?

A few examples:

• Doug Pfeffer of The Barbarian Group has been an active developer on the platform, launching Last Night’s Checkins, a diary driven by your Foursquare check-ins, as well as Be the Mayor, a collaboration with Rick Webb and Emma Welles, which tells you how many times you need to check-in to reclaim your mayorship. It’s a fun project that empowers power users.
• Spotisquare aims to leverage the API to link Spotify playlists to specific venue locations, allowing people to play music from within Spotify’s app. Imagine recordings of iconic live performances from the Fillmore linked to the actual place in San Francisco. World changing? Not really, but it does show some creativity.

• Yipit aggregates the Groupons of the world, and uses your check-ins to provide location-based relevance.
• Top Guest uses the API to turn your check-ins to hotel loyalty points.

• The Foursquare folks are even OK with the Kickball app team attempting to simplify their own user interface and product.

But how could this all be made easier?

For starters, Foursquare could publish a list of its recommended developers — the people that have a track record of elegant code, innovative thinking and quick execution. Brands like Mashable can keep documenting API-based innovations, along with what works and what doesn’t, and brands and advertisers need to come with new, creative ideas rather than treading on ground that has already been covered.

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