Foursquare vs. Yelp for location-based notifications

(Answered originally at Quora: Why doesn’t Yelp have location based notifications like Swarm (from Foursquare)?)

Creating great location-based notifications involves solving a series of technologically challenging sub-problems. Foursquare has better data for solving some of these subproblems compared to Yelp, and that makes it hard for Yelp to create location-based notifications having the same quality as Foursquare.

Here are the most important sub-problems with details on how Foursquare and Yelp stack up with regards to solving them:

  1. Figuring out the user location: Knowing which restaurant/shop/street the user is at is step 1. This, actually, is a much harder problem than it sounds. And powered by its billions of past user check-ins, Foursquare does a really good job of solving this. Andrew Hogue, the Head of Engineering at Foursquare describes the solution here: How does Foursquare’s presence system work? Yelp just doesn’t have a lot of check-in data and that makes it really hard for them to do a good job with figuring out the place the user is at.
  2. Figuring out what’s good at a place: Both Yelp and Foursquare have a lot of reviews, tips and details about places and can do a good job solving this problem.
  3. Figuring out what the user likes: Knowing what a user likes is very important for sending great notifications. If you never go to vegetarian restaurants, you wouldn’t want a notification telling you about the vegetarian place next door. Foursquare can look at the past check-ins from the user and can tell what kind of restaurants/shops/places the user likes to go to and tailor the recommendations based on that. Yelp can also figure out the place preferences for a small subset of their users: the people who write reviews for places. But for the majority of their users who never create a Yelp account and only use the site for search, it’s hard to figure out more than the simplest of preferences.
  4. Figuring out what’s popular now: You wouldn’t want to send a notification about a Nightlife spot in the afternoon. Both Yelp and Foursquare have good “hours” data for places and can do a decent job of solving this problem. But by looking at the number of check-ins and comparing them to the average, Foursquare can additionally tell what’s really popular at this particular time of the day. Foursquare thus knows when a particular bar or restaurant is really buzzing and can further tailor your notifications based on that.

As you can see, Foursquare’s ace in the hole is its billions of check-ins, which allows them to better solve the sub-problems associated with creating good location-based notifications. Given the data Yelp has, it can build a decent location-based notification technology, but it will be hard for them to beat Foursquare.

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