Six Reasons Facebook Places Might Just Beat Foursquare

By: Guest | December 7, 2010 | 

Guest post by Nate Riggs, owner of Social Media Strategies.

Recently I was sitting on a panel at a SMC Columbus event watching another panelist speak about social search. Halfway through, my friend Rocky leans over to me and says:

“Google buys up the technologies they want. Facebook just builds them.”

Huh. If you think about it, that’s a fairly accurate statement. Facebook has always been in the game of looking at new ideas for technology, finding the holes, and then figuring out how to make it better, faster, and stronger inside their own system.

Crashing the Location-Based Party

It’s no surprise then that Facebook Places entered the location-based scene a few months ago.

I’ll admit, being an avid Fourquare user snared by the very addicting game mechanics, I was a bit skeptical as to how Facebook would enter the room.

For the majority of 2010, Foursquare has led the race in attracting both sides of the network – businesses and human users.

But in the long run, I think Facebook Places might just win. Here’s why:

  1. The GPS is spot on – You would think if your core offering depends on GPS, it would be important for this feature to work seamlessly, right? The catch is Foursquare has always had issues with GPS accuracy. Facebook Places, on the other hand, always seems to know exactly where I’m standing and the businesses nearby.
  2. BIG captive audience – You know the stats already. Barring any disasters, Facebook will most likely reach a billion users in the next few years. In terms of adoption, it’s typically easier to get your user base to buy into a new feature in a familiar system as opposed to on-boarding users to a new platform.
  3. Tagging friends might be the key – Admittedly, there have been some privacy concerns with Facebook Places users having the ability to tag friends who visit a location with them. That said, every time a user is tagged, those updates are distributed across the social graph using the Facebook wall system. As more users start checking in on Places, more and more users will become aware of how to use Places, thus driving adoption.
  4. Facebook deals could be disruptive – Similar to the Foursquare Deals Nearby,  newest feature to add deals to Places locations offers an automated (and free) way for local businesses to attract new customers. This could be a very attractive feature for business owners.
  5. Facebook is always on – When is the last time you can remember Facebook being down? For me, it’s been quite a while. Foursquare on the other hand always seems to be “experiencing surprising new problems” or “over capacity.” Human attention spans are shorter these days. In the highly competitive space for mobile applications, you have about five seconds to deliver value though an app. If your app fails, we move on.
  6. Facebook Places doesn’t need Twitter – Consider Foursquare adoption has been largely tied to leveraging Twitter as a distribution network. Take Twitter integration away, and I’m willing to bet Foursquare numbers would be cut dramatically. On the other hand, Facebook already has its own (much larger) distribution network where users are already spending time. Facebook Places doesn’t need Twitter to survive.

What’s your take on this? Do you feel differently?

Nate Riggs works with mid-sized and large organizations to help them adopt and use social media communication tools and build social media offerings designed to serve their clients. He is a proud dad and lucky husband who enjoys music, photography, and distance racing and can be found blogging about business strategy, communications, parenting, and life in Columbus, Ohio, at

  • HowieSPM

    I agree with your premise if I had to pick a winner. The achilles heal of all of these businesses is the satellites, which you mentioned. For FourSquare it drops in NYC a lot. And you have no idea how many times I forget to check in, go into a store and now it’s too late. It also requires pre-check in at each store in the mall before entering the mall. Not sure if this would be different for Facebook.

    So I think as long as it is Satellite based it is hamstrung for effectiveness. That doesn’t mean they won’t have certain levels of success as people get used to LBS and make it part of their shopping M.O.O. I just don’t see a long term winner in my view. I think the whole shopping exchange between store and customer is going to be very different.

    Most of these LBS efforts so far are Gross Margin reducers and could very much damage your pricing ability if people get used to always getting special deals. And every store can easily match everyone else taking away certain LBS advantages. It’s a really tricky path. And not much different than Couponing unless I only earn things via Achievement.

  • Facebook is going to de-throne a lot of companies. They are throwing their weight around and nobody can really stop them. Users of Facebook won’t leave simply because they have no place to go, at least no place that has all of their friends there. Businesses won’t blink at the opportunity to join Facebook because of the reach and potential. I think it’s sad, but Four Square’s days are numbered. It’ll be a relatively slow takeover, but I, too, think it will happen.

  • nateriggs

    @JMattHicks You bring up an interesting point. It’s really hard to abandon Facebook by this point. Users have invested tons of content, relationships, memories. Makes it really hard to walk away, and retention is what wins the long term game…

  • @nateriggs You’re absolutely right: retention. And Facebook isn’t necessarily retaining people because of awesome customer support and relationship building, but because there is nowhere else to go, nor may there ever be for the foreseeable future.

  • nateriggs (now following you) thanks for the post; all were excellent points.

    “Google buys up the technologies they want. Facebook just builds them.”

    Wow. Your friend was spot on. This is a huge advantage and possibly the deciding factor in who wins the location battle (and a lot of other battles they are in). Facebook seems to deal with scaling better than most companies. Add that to an attention for detail and a strong demand for amazing functionality and you have one resilient, innovative company.

    Personally, I am excited to see how Facebook tackles some of the technological issues in our lives. Despite the plethora of criticism they face, I think they are dedicated to changing the way we live. It is up to us to communicate our wants and needs as best we can in order to facilitate their innovations.

  • nateriggs

    @JonHearty That’s an interesting point, John. And, thanks for the follow. 🙂 it will be interesting to see where Facebook stands 3-5 years from now. If you took Facebook out of the web today, it would leave a crater the size of the one in the Death Star on Return of the Jedi. That’s kind of scary and cool at the same time…

  • RobBertholf

    Great Article Nate!

  • NickStamoulis

    I have a feeling that Facebook is a force to be reckoned with. For whatever reason its popularity continues to grow, and whatever it has done this far, has been spot on. They are constantly looking for new ideas, ways to be better and the addition of “places” is just another feature to strengthen their position.

  • nateriggs

    @RobBertholf Thanks Rob 🙂

  • nateriggs

    @NickStamoulis Facebook won early by getting everyone (in a sense) addicted to connecting and reconnecting. The value for users was never in the flashy technology, it was in the emotions created by finding, reigniting and nurturing relationships. What’s most fascinating to me is how fast word spread. Facebook may be the most viral technology we’ve ever seen in our lifetime…

  • nateriggs

    @HowieSPM Good points Howie. LBS has lots of challenges to overcome in terms of malls and really any large steel and cement structures. Topography is also a challenge in terms of delivering relevant location and promotional info.

  • nateriggs

    Interesting follow up came out today on this subject. Interview with Dennis Crowley via the L.A. Times. If growth is really Dens goal, he has a long way to go to catch Facebook…

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  • nearbyfeed

    thanks for sharing your idea. Can’t agree more. I think one of the reason why facebook will beat forsquare is because foursquare uses facebook-like bi-directional friend model. Considering the size of the user base of facebook, I really don’t think foursquare can success in the future.

    However, there is still room for innovation in LBS.

    Ideally, at first, LBS should provide users with value-added information, such as nearby breaking news, deal, promotions, interesting people, places recommended by others, and the like, at the right time at the right place. Secondly, LBS should NOT overwhelm the user with lots of information of little interest to the users (for example, twitter’s user usually receives many tweets of little interest to him from their following users), in another word, LBS needs to improve the signal-to-noise ratio, so that users can easily focus on information of interest to them (in particular, user has different interest, one information may be interesting to user A, but may be no interest at all to user B).

    More detail can be found in my post: Opportunities and Problems of Foursquare-like LBS

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