Are Location-Based Ads on Foursquare’s Radar?

New location feature goes beyond the check in

Foursquare just announced a new feature that could be embraced by users who are tired of checking in—and, eventually, by advertisers.

As described in a company blog post, Foursquare's Radar turns the app into a location alert system, even before you've checked in somewhere or opened the app. So you can get alerts when a group of friends has checked in nearby, or when you're near a location that's on your To-Do List.

From a user's perspective, this seems like an elegant solution to a problem that co-founder Naveen Selvadurai discussed earlier this year: Using Foursquare would be easier if you didn't have to check in all the time, but constantly sharing your GPS coordinates with friends isn't very meaningful (and it's a little uncomfortable from a privacy perspective). With Radar, Foursquare can always provide useful information based on where you are, but, as always, you only share your location when you want.

Radar also sounds like it could become a tool for local businesses and other advertisers. It's a way for Foursquare to tap into one of the popular ideas in mobile advertising, namely "geo-fencing," where businesses can send messages to consumers once they're within a certain distance of their store. For example, merchants offering specials through Foursquare might not have to wait for someone to check in and instead advertise those specials to anyone nearby. For now, however, a Foursquare spokesperson said, "There are currently no plans to monetize Radar."

That seems to reflect the company's general attitude. At a startup hiring event on Tuesday night, Foursquare head of talent Morgan Missen said the company doesn't employ a single salesperson. Instead, Foursquare is still in "heavy user acquisition mode," though it has announced a number of partnerships via its business development team. That situation won't last forever—Missen said the company will eventually start hiring sales executives. Once they're on board, Radar could become a powerful lure for advertisers.

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