Foursquare continues in its efforts to take advantage of its massive dataset today, with the launch of ‘Explore’ the web. The company describes the feature as a personalized recommendation engine in a blog post …
“When you do a local search on many other services, you get a ‘one-size fits all’ set of results. But with foursquare Explore, we’re using your check-ins and your friends’ check-ins, along with the more than 1.5 billion check-ins from the rest of the foursquare community, to personalize recommendations for you. And every time you check in, foursquare gets better at finding places you’ll like.”
‘Explore’ on the web lets you search for something like ‘Sushi’ and filter the results by “Foursquare recommends,” “I haven’t been to yet,” “I have been to before,”"My friends have been to,” or “Have foursquare specials.” Saving a place on ‘Explore’ and then turning on Foursquare’s “Radar’ feature will result in a notification when you approach that place in real life.
“Having more real estate to work with allows us to approach the problem differently,” says Foursquare Product Manager Alex Rainert, “It’s more of an immersive experiment — you get a list result and a map at the same time, so it’s more tailored to what the desktop is good at. The mobile version is good at helping you find a place and get going.”
While many might automatically see the feature as going head to head with local search engines like Yelp or Google Places, those products can be more about finding contact information than actual place recommendations. ‘Explore’ on the web’s closest competitor is just a straight up traditional city guide, like the kind you’d find in a bookstore.
A look at Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley’s LinkedIn profile offers some added insight …
Crowley’s very first job was Product Manager at Vindigo*, which basically built mobile city guides for the Palm Pilot. One way to look at his efforts with Dodgeball and now Foursquare is that he’s spent ten years on trying to perfect the way people, eh hem, explore cities. Which is pretty badass if you come to think about it.
When asked if Foursquare was just a way to get Vindigo “right” (my wording), Crowley added support to this theory,
“I don’t think of it as ‘doing it correctly cause Vindigo did it wrong,’” he said, “Vindigo was an AMAZING product, way before it’s time and the thing that got me thinking about all these things. I feel like what we’re doing is trying to make local search much smarter… It’s based off what you and your friends actually do, where you go and when you go. There’s a lot of magic in there.”
You can’t really compete with magic. Or the kind of stamina that evolves over a decade of focusing on the same problem.
* Update: Crowley informs me that technically his first job was actually at Jupiter Research (where he started work on Dodgeball or “Citysearch, but you can write your own reviews!”), his second job was at Vindigo and (he adds) his third was “dot-com dropout snowboard instructor.”