A significant move from foursquare could see the mobile check-in social network extend its location-aware services into totally new areas: the company has launched a new “venue database” — currently numbering 15 million venues — that can be incorporated into third-party applications.
The location-aware/check-in space is a particularly crowded one, as startups look to leverage the nexus of three key elements — smartphone use, GPS data on those devices and social networking — to develop a new army of apps offering check-in applications, local deals and other location-aware services.
The foursquare move, however, is one of the bigger moves by one of these check-in startups to leverage its data collection into the wider area of mobile content and mobile services and outside its own walled-garden app. Foursquare is among the larger of these players, currently with 7.5 million users and 250,000 registered businesses on its service.
The new level of access to foursquare’s location data announced this week is different from previous APIs, in that it does not require users of those third-party apps to be authenticated (registered) separately with foursquare itself to have full access to the venue information.
Other features foursquare promises are access to foursquare’s trending data, giving them the ability to display most popular places in real time; and “a way for developers to match venues from the foursquare database to those in other databases.” The blog post promises that this will be easier than manually matching up information although it doesn’t detail how this would work.
The news comes a week after foursquare launched a new version of its basic app, featuring new features like like an “Explore” tab, which offers recommendations to a user based on location and what you are searching for (eg a coffee house or bar); a “Leaderboard” that tracks how many check-ins you and friends have made has also been enhanced, to include different categories, and tracking different kinds of activities such as trying out new restaurants; and enhanced loyalty offers.
Like the new app, the new venue database is another indicator of where foursquare sees itself developing as a business, rather than just as a neat idea. “This will enable a whole new breed of location-based applications on the web – with foursquare at the center of it all,” the company wrote on its blog.
For now, it looks like this is being run as a free API. The advantage for Foursquare will be that, potentally, this vastly expand the number of people accessing its database: that will make it a more valuable tool for those companies looking to promote their sites, or run marketing campaigns, via foursquare.
That’s no small feat. Mobile advertising has been steadily growing, but is still a very small part of the overall digital pie. Move’s like foursquare, adding and aggregating significant amouts of location data, may well advance that trend.
Location services are one area that the advertising industry is certainly watching closely: Martin Sorrell, the CEO of WPP recently called location services the “holy grail” of mobile advertising.