Posts Tagged ‘LBS’

Thoughts on Foursquare

I have now been a Foursquare user for over a year, basically since they opened it up for international users earlier last year. Here are some quick thoughts on the service.

To the uninitiated, Foursquare is a location based service that allows you to “check-in” to a place, so your friends can know where you are. Every-time you check-in to a place, you are awarded points (if it is your first check-in, you’re +5, for example). If you meet certain check-in criteria, you may also get a badge (for example, if you check-in, shout a message like “happy halloween”, you get a new badge). It also allows you to inform your friends on Twitter and Facebook, though this option is turned off by default (it can get pretty noisy otherwise). It is ideally used through an app, and they have them for the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and many more platforms. If you’re on a phone that lacks an app, never fear, as they have a mobile site available for checking in (but not earning mayorship — fake check-in’s exist, even though there’s generally nothing to be gained from it).

Its nice to become a mayor of a place. Its also rather nice to get a new badge. These things work really well for Foursquare. There’s an element of game mechanics throughout the application. For example, if you are at an event with over 50 people, you’ll get a swarm badge. Or if you are a coffee snob, there’s a badge for that too.

Some smarter establishments are giving the mayors of the location a special or a deal for loyalty. Some say if you check-in after five times, you get a free cup of coffee. Its all geolocation based, so if I check-in at a Muji, I might see a special nearby at a Topshop which may entice me to pay it a visit.

Naturally, this has led to spammers showing up. I’ve seen job adverts, private banking adverts and lots more, all of which, generally get annoying.

The game mechanics behind a check-in is such that you are given points for discovering a new venue, checking into a venue for the first time, and how many times you’ve checked in all day. The problem with giving points for creating a new venue (discovering it) is that you tend to get people creating duplicate venues all the time. To be fair, sometimes the database is down so people do end up having to create a new venue, but most of the time its done to game the system.

Why? There’s a leaderboard. It shows where you stand amongst your friends, and where you stand in your city of choice. It gets reset weekly. It seems nothing more than a temporary high, but the problem of dirty data is amazingly bad. I’ve seen dirty data in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Delhi, Ho Chi Minh City, Istanbul, Bangalore and more. There are “data cleansers”, also known as Super User Level 2’s. Level 1’s can propose merge requests. In KL, there’s a movement called #4sqKLCleanup just to curate the dirty user generated content.

After a year of checking-in, I’ve asked myself what exactly is it I still like about Foursquare that makes me check-in?

  1. I occasionally bump into people that I’d like to see if we happen to be at the same mall or location. This has happened twice in a period of twelve months.
  2. I like reading the tips and todo’s left by users, especially if they’re my friends (because I then put more trust in what they’re telling me). If people say things that are generally negative about a place, I’ll probably not visit it. Businesses beware.

The badges and the mayorships mean nothing to me. I think deals might make sense, but there are so few of these in Asia, its almost negligible to even mention. I have yet to cash in on a Foursquare multi-check-in deal.

Third-party tools are making Foursquare (and other location-based check-in services) more useful. For example, I’ve seen which gives you a text message whenever you check into a NYC restaurant that is at risk of being closed down for health code violations. I’d love to know if the place I’m about to eat at is at risk of giving me diarrhea. I wish this was available everywhere, but I presume there’s an open data issue here.

I enjoy using Topguest. I travel a bit, and when you check-in at one of their partner locations (be it hotels, airport lounges and so on) you’re given like 50 points for a check-in. While 50 points in my mileage accrual probably means nothing, I do know that after 20 check-in’s at the ICH Group, I get 1,000 points from Topguest, which has a dollar value of about USD$13.50 or so.

People need to find a reason to check-in, and I’ve got basically three – bumping into folk, reading tips, and using Topguest. Are there other uses for a location based service? My friend Bernard Leong started up Chalkboard which aims to answer this dilemma, in where they provide deals based on location. It’s currently very Singapore-centric, and it is getting more use in Malaysia. Chalkboard helps me save money, and who doesn’t want that? They are currently growing though — I believe they just passed their ten-millionth ad impression.

I once thought that Foursquare could replace loyalty cards. The service however is not reliable enough, and fake-check-in’s are not good business.

Where will Foursquare go? It has competition from Facebook Places (not rolled out everywhere yet). I’ve never used Gowalla. In Malaysia, we’re starting to see the coming of Wootfood, which is checking in food items as opposed to just a place (Malaysians love to eat — exploit a niche!). Yelp has basically decided to ignore this market (notice how I usually only care about the tips, from friends?). Google has Places, Latitude and Maps which I think could be useful if Google understood social a little better and tied it together.

I guess the most important thing about Foursquare is its data. Is it big after a year of being available outside of the US? Let’s just say that after two to three check-in’s, I’ve become mayors of places that are in locations that I do not live at! I sincerely hope the focus is more on creating useful tips (give points for that, allow people to vote), rather than just simply checking in or adding locations that already exist in the database.

Learnings from the Philippines

Learned a few things during my trip to the Philippines this time. Another country that amazes me. For the first time in history, Philippines attracted more foreign direct investments (FDI) than Malaysia, in 2010 (see: Malaysia’s FDI plunge).


There are a lot of people here using prepaid phones as opposed to postpaid phones. This is because the requirements of getting a postpaid account is quite tough (you need bank documents, etc. before they give you an account).

Many people carry more than one phone (or have more than one SIM). Smartphones face an uphill battle – they cost too much and there is generally no operator subsidy because everyone prefers prepaid accounts. It makes economic sense to have more than one SIM, as you’ll end up saving money (operators like to offer free text, calls, etc. from time to time).

It’s interesting to note that SMS is very common in the Philippines. At the conference, you ask questions the traditional way – going up to the microphone. Here in Manila, you can also send a SMS message and it will be asked on your behalf. Very handy use of technology, especially in Asia, when people are occasionally scared to ask questions in-front of a large audience.

Data plans are not very common here. The cost of mobile data only recently took a price cut here, it would seem. USB dongles with data can be had for about PHP1,200-1,500 per month, with no implemented data cap (they’ll tell you its 3GB, but apparently nothing happens if the limit is hit). That’s quite impressive, since you might also just plug it into a MiFi and get data for cheap, on the go.

Social Networking

Facebook is the social network of choice. Multiply is losing ground. Friendster is the network of the past. This is true with the universities, and it is also true on popular TV shows (I caught a VJ talking about the shows Multiply and Facebook presence). Twitter seems to be pretty large here.

´╗┐Foursquare and other location based services (LBS) do not seem to be very popular at all. In the Makati area, you’ll find people checking in, and there has been some use of Facebook Places even. You’re usually about 4-9 check-in’s away from becoming the mayor from what I’ve seen. Students have next to no use of these LBS services; I have a feeling that it should largely be attributed to data plans being uncommon.

Gaming, payments, OFW’s

´╗┐People love to play Farmville and other Zynga games online. Credit cards are not common here. You can buy prepaid cards to buy credits for online games. Virtual goods is a large market here. Social gaming – I see this more and more now. Online shopping/e-commerce is not too widespread.

Gaming (gambling) is common. There is legalised e-gaming (presumably with taxes going to the government), but there is also a growing number of illegal gaming making lots of money. Apparently this industry is quite large. Here gambling also has another problem – the Catholic church is not necessarily very happy with it.

Today, remittance can happen via mobile phones from overseas. From what I understand, if you are an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) you can remit money from Singapore to the Philippines using your mobile phone. Telcos are going past banks, becoming clearing houses. It turns out that last year, through official means, OFW’s contributed about 20 billion dollars to the Philippine economy. That is something in excess of 15% of the GDP of the nation. About 11% of all Filipinos are overseas as an OFW. Population currently stands at 80 million.

In conclusion

There are lots and lots of smart people here. UP has about 80,000 students. Over 19,772 people attended Y4iT. The crew did a fabulous job in terms of organising and getting people together.

The people are all very friendly. They all speak English. I know many people outsourcing work to the Philippines through services like oDesk.

Generally, good stuff is happening here. Manila is the only place I’ve been to, but I know there are DevCon’s happening elsewhere and there are other IT hubs in Cebu, for example.