Six Years In.
A Few Thoughts on Foursquare.
By now I’m hoping you saw the news from Twitter about Foursquare powering location-tagging in tweets.
This is a big deal for Foursquare — not just because we all love Twitter and we’re psyched to be a part of what they’re building, but because it’s yet another example of how ubiquitous the Foursquare platform is becoming — this “location layer of the internet” you’ve probably heard us talk about.
As CEO, I spend a lot of my time talking to people about our company and telling the story of what we’re building and where we’re going. I’m always surprised to hear when people in the industry think of us solely as app developers — “you’re the company that makes Foursquare and Swarm!”
Well, yes, that’s true. We’ve built these two great apps that millions of people around the world use (50+ million every month across our two apps, our website and mobile web). But the real interesting part of the Foursquare story is all the technology we’ve had to build so that, say, the Foursquare app can ping you to suggest a sandwich shop you’d love as you walk through a neighborhood for the first time, or so the Swarm app can automatically “snap” you to the place we know you’re about to check in to. There’s a reason that we’re one of the only companies doing proactive and predictive local search and firing off contextual notifications — it’s hard. And we’re one of the few companies on the planet with the team, technology, and data to pull it off.
I know the history of our company is rooted in the check-in (and all the fun things we did to encourage people to press that “check-in” button), but remember, the big idea was never “build the world’s best check-in button.” The big idea was to create a system that could crawl the world with people in the same way Google crawls web pages with machines. To then put all of what we’ve learned to use in helping people find the best and most interesting experiences in the real world. And to build a company that would bring our vision of context-aware services — software that can learn about the places you’ve been and can proactively recommend places you’d love — to hundreds of millions of people.
And this is what we’ve been up to these last six years. Your 7 billion checkins have taught us about more than 65,000,000 places that exist in the world. The 250,000,000 photos and 70,000,000 tips you’ve left have shown us what’s great inside those places. The 90,000,000 “tastes” you’ve added to your profiles have taught us about the things you want us to help you find. The hundreds of millions of API calls we get per day from the 85,000 partners building on our platform contribute the freshness of the data and our popularity scores for places. In addition to building the world’s most accurate place database, we’ve learned how to see buildings the way our phones see them — as shapes and sensor readings on the ground rather than boxes viewed from space. We’ve built software that can understand when people move through, stop within, and then move on from these shapes — whether the shapes are places, neighborhoods or cities. And we’ve built search and recommendation algorithms that get smarter as they learn about the shapes you choose to spend time in and the shapes you simply pass through. You’ll hear us talk about these things as “stop detection,” “snap-to-place,” “the Pilgrim engine” — they’re the pieces that make us confident that no matter where you’re standing in the world — whether it’s your own neighborhood or a far-away city you’re visiting for the first time — we can raise your awareness of the best experiences nearby and help you find places you’ll love.
When we first started Foursquare in early 2009, there were no great location APIs to build off of (trust us, we looked everywhere)… and so we made our own. Since those early days, our place database has been (and continues to be) created and maintained by our user community. And because of that, we always thought our crowd-sourced place database should be open to other developers to build on, if only to save them from the messy work of having to build their own. What started with our first APIs in the summer of 2009 has evolved into a location platform which more than 85,000 different companies and apps now rely on (up over 30% from last year!). That includes companies like Microsoft (where Foursquare helps power location search for the Cortana personal assistant and Bing’s local search) and companies like Pinterest, Waze, Flickr, Samsung, Citymapper, and thousands of others. Starting today, it also includes our friends at Twitter, so that the 500+ million tweets they see daily can have location context, too.
I’m very excited about sharing today’s news, because I think it allows us to show a different side to a company that you think you already know. I look forward to sharing some of the other things the team here has been hard at work cooking up (stay tuned!). It’s always been clear to us that the future of mobile + local is predictive, proactive and personalized — a piece of software in your pocket (or on your wrist!) that’s always working to make sure you know about the most interesting things nearby. Every few months we get a little closer, and even after six years, we’re still just getting started…