Tag Archives: foursquare

Google Plusification, or It’s not about Latitude vs. Foursquare

Google+ logoForget gamification, the new marketing trend you should be thinking about is Google Plusification, the emerging social layer on top of every Google product. Yesterday it was revealed that Google Maps Latitude mobile product now came with check-ins for Google Plus users. This puts Latitude in competition (at least in terms of feature set) with Foursquare – a social game layer added to Google Maps. This comes on top of another announcement the same day which adds a +1 button to the main google.com page for some users. And all of that is on the heels of recent changes to Google Search which incorporate Google Plus results into the main Google search results and the addition of Circles to GMail. It’s clear that Google is making it a priority to weave Google Plus into the fabric of all of it’s products. And there’s no question that they’re only getting started.

The Impact of Plusification

Plusification is already having a profound effect on search engine marketing. A quick look at any SEO forum will give you a good sense that the plusification of Google search is completely rewriting the rules of that industry. Now thousands of words are spilled daily on how to optimize your Google Plus profile to appear in Google search, and any SEO worth their salt is racing to get their clients up and running on Google Plus. It’s not an overstatement to say that the Plusification of Google search is changing the SEO industry by the minute.

Just to drive this home, When’s the last time you really looked at a Google search result page? If it’s been a while, the results might surprise you. A simple search for AT&T reveals a home page packed with Google products – Google Maps, Google Places, Google AdWords and, yes, Google Plus, make up the vast majority of the content on that page. The only result above the fold? The actual AT&T website. The rest is Google. Try a search for “music” or “social media” or other generic terms – to the right, your AdWords have been replaced by Google Plus profile matches. The AdWords? Shoved down the page.

Let me say that again – Google has favored Google Plus over the thing the one thing it makes all of it’s money on. There’s no better indicator that their serious with their social initiative.

It’s not hard to look at the SEO industry as a model for how the Google social layer will profoundly impact their other products and industries they compete in. While the Latitude update may seem like a knock off of Foursquare, the implications are broader. Google is leveraging every opportunity to plusify every product it owns.

What’s Next for Plusification

So what next for Google Plusification? Well it’s easy to think of how the service could be weaved into other products. Here are a few examples:

Plusification of Google Places
Imagine local business search results and rankings being affected by the number of +1’s your business has. Looking for a local bakery? The bakery at the top might be the one with the most +1’s from people in your circles. How about reviews? Will reviews be filtered by the number of +1’s the user submitting the review has? The more +1 power of the user, the greater visibility and weight the review has. And photos? Sure, why not pull in photos from Google Plus geo-tagged with the address location of the business. And ownership? Tie your Google Plus profile to your page and let people see who the owner is.

Plusification of Google Docs
Share that doc of yours with a particular circle. Eliminate the current permissions logic and set permissions based on circle membership. Some can edit, some can view. Use it for soccer team call-down lists or product specifications. Share it with circles on Google+ for feedback and, well, sharing. It’s easy to see how current document commenting could morph into Yammer-like internal-only plusification of business documents that live in Google. In fact, the entire “Apps” suite could be leveraged in this same way – calendar, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. Now, commenting, editing and sharing are not confined to the individual document, but tied to your Google+ profile and the circles you choose to share permissions with.

Plusification of GMail
This is already underway, with the addition of Circles to your mail address book; but this is just step one. There is so much more Google can, and will eventually do, with the plusification of GMail. Priority inbox? The mail from your most important Circles clearly goes there. Individual users who have lots of +1’s probably get a better sender score and have a higher priority tied to their message. And what about spam and commercial mail? If you’re a brand with a ton of +1’s, maybe you skip the bulk or notification baskets and hit the inbox. No +1 power means you’re hidden with the rest of the bulk mail. These changes could be profound, and completely rewrite how people think about email and email marketing.

This is on top of the obvious competition against plugins list Rapportive, which can obviously be deprecated by Google+ profile information.

Plusification of Google Maps
While the Latitude points check-in launch is the first step, there is again, tons more that can be done with Google Plus and the platform. Look no further than Caterina Fake’s Pinwheel for inspiration on what Google can do with the plusification of Maps. Leave notes, photos and to-dos at the places you’ve been for your Circles, make them private or public. Save driving directions, favorite places and more. Share them or store them.

Plusification of Ads
Another area where plusification is under way. As a user you can +1 ad units, and supposedly these +1’s will impact the ad quality score, lowering the cost per click while increasing the visibility of the ad unit. There’s no reason this couldn’t go further. Have an ad that has been plus 1’d more than others by your friends? You’ll see that one first. Own a business that has more +1’s? You’ll probably get a better quality score as a default and enjoy those benefits. And that’s just AdWords. What about remarketing? Couldn’t that be optimized based on your profile information and +1 history? I think so. Here, the options seem to go on forever.

Plusification is Just Getting Started

All of the above are just the obvious ways that Google Plus can be integrated into their existing products. With more than a few minutes of thought, it’s not hard to go even further. Some changes will be small, some will upend entire industries. But one thing is certain, we’re in early days and Google is betting the house with Plus. We should expect more social layer announcements and launches in the coming weeks and years. And when it’s all said an done, Google Plus won’t be a URL you visit, it will be baked into the Google Products you use every day.

So when we see a new announcement about social in a Google product – like Latitude – we should stop and not look at it individually, but analyze it in the context of this proliferation of the Google social layer. Because Google is not out to take down Foursquare, or bury Rapportive, or any other individual pursuits. These are all just collateral damage. Google is focused on making everything you do with Google social and connected. Their plusifying their product set and the Web, and that is the trend worth paying attention to.


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Will Beluga and GroupMe be this year’s big winners at SXSW?

Beluga LogoThe SXSW prognosticating season was officially kicked-off by TechCrunch’s MG Seigler just the other day; and I’m ready to throw my hat in the ring with my picks for this year’s darlings. Of course, there’s no real way to predict this; and entrants are likely to come out of the woodwork between now and the start of SXSWi, but recent trends point to a few promising possibilities. In my opinion, the big winners are going to be the micro-social network applications and sites. Why? Because group texting services like Beluga, GroupMe, and others will help attendees cut through the noise of the conference and connect with those closest to them.

Why do I think that inherently non-viral products will catch on at SXSW? Recent history provides the best clues. The launches of Twitter in ’07 and Foursquare in ’09 are examples of how the interactive crowd embraces products that help them make a large, overwhelming conference seem more intimate and personal. Twitter and Foursquare, at launch, allowed users to connect in new ways; ways that leverage connections weak and strong, provide real-time, high-quality information, and help cut through the noise and clamor of a crowded environment. These tools and services gave people the ability to create a personal, custom experience for themselves in a very noisy and chaotic space. And while Twitter and Foursquare are much more open than Beluga or GroupMe, my picks provide the next evolution of delivering those same important elements.

Twitter broke at SXSW in 2007 and was widely used at the festival in 2008 as attendees surfed and Tweeted the #sxsw hashtag to find the parties, venues, impromtu gatherings and panels that were most noteworthy. In ’07, people used it as not only a communication tool, but as a networking and real-time information network. A network that connected like-minded folks with one another in a way that wasn’t possible before. And the rest is history as Twitter blew-up, becoming the preferred communication tool for the digerati and, with later help from Ashton and other celebrities spread to the early-majority crowd as well.

But as Twitter blew up, it’s utility for connecting at SXSW ’08 diminished. Too much noise. Too much pollution. It’s value as an information source remained; but the #sxsw hashtag became unruly and less valuable to help ferret out the best events. It opened up a new opportunity for Foursquare to provide that high-signal, that more personal, manageable connection that Twitter delivered the year before.

Foursquare launched and provided a similar noise-filtered way to connect with friends at SXSW ’09 and again at SXSW ’10. Interactive conference attendees used the service to find out where their friends were. And the SXSW-specific rewards only helped to make using the service more fun. With the Twitter stream polluted and the quality and ease of groking it for useful information diminished, Foursquare stepped in and provided a better filter on connections and information. We had gone from Scott “Laughing Squid” Beale Tweeting about being at a bar next door, to people just watching their friends check-in to venues and forming impromtu gatherings as those check-ins reached critical mass.

Last year, at SXSW, one of the best parties was not a planned party at all. Brian Solis and a small group of influencers checked-in at The Driskill Hotel and within an hour the place was packed. The word was out and the party swelled. After an hour you couldn’t move. The power and faults of a service like Foursquare were evidenced in one short moment. The service worked brilliantly, connecting members of those people’s networks and letting them know where their friends were without any additional coordination or communication. On the flip side, as the message propogated and grew, the event tipped from a small gathering to an all-out free-for-all. The utility of the service fell apart. It went from an intimate gathering to a ridiculously jam packed event. And, for the rest of the conference, many of those people checked in off the grid to keep a similar scene from repeating everywhere they went.

Robert Scoble recently asked how SXSW could regain the intimacy of the conference in face of the ever-growing crowds.

Me? I want to get more of those intimate experiences we used to have. I remember when the entire Web Standards Project fit at one picnic table. I remember having a fun conversation with a small group, all huddled around Craig Newmark in the rain at a BBQ place across the street. I remember being able to get into parties without being a VIP and last year the VIPs even had to wait in line at nearly every party. Heck, I remember when Scott Beale Tweeted in 2007 that he was sitting all alone in an empty pub and I joined him and had a leisurely beer at a picnic table with him and a few other friends. Those days are seemingly gone.

Scoble doubts that we can, because there is too much opportunity cost. I think he’s wrong. I think we can with better tools. It’s not that we’re attention-deficited people who can’t decide where to go and what to do (ok, we are,); but that the tools we have have become too bloated to be effective. Twitter and Foursquare have lost their ability to create those unique, intimate moments because we’ve bent them out of shape with oversized followings and over-subscription. I believe the next wave of services that succeed at SXSW will be those that bring that intimacy back – that allow us to navigate the crowded noisy environment of SXSW and give us a better experience because of it.

Scoble starts to get at it here:

It seems weird for me to say this, but I’m tired of going to big massive parties where you collect a lot of business cards but don’t have any good conversations to show for it. I now have enough business cards. I don’t need more. I bet many of you are in the same place. In fact, this year we’ve seen companies like Pip.io and Path come along and try to serve smaller “micro” groups. Path limits you from sharing photos with more than 50 friends. I’ve come to like that constraint, somewhat. It’s just that I wish I could share with many small groups.

So, how about this as a proposal:

Kill the big parties. Instead, follow Zappos’ lead. This year they hosted a bus. It could only hold about 30 people (it had its own bar, after all). But the time I spent on that bus is still my favorite experience at SXSW. Why? Because it forced a small handful of people to sit together and talk. Even if it was just for 15 minutes it was nice to have an intimate experience with a small number of other people.

And it’s Beluga and GroupMe that can bring that intimacy and limited connection to the table – and create the passionate followings that ignite services like these to broad influencer adoption and buzz required to tip one of these services in terms of awareness and users.

Out of the two I’m picking Beluga for two reasons. First, because you connect your account with Facebook you can see which of your Facebook friends is using Beluga and automatically send them a message or add them to a group.  This is going to help the viral spread of the service.  Second, the ability to add friends based on email address or phone, over just phone makes the service more early-adopter friendly and allows you to add friends who you may have connected with online; but are not necessarily friends with on Facebook or whose phone number you don’t have. This will allow more loosely-connected groups to form to make dinner and other plans at SXSW and then disband just as fast. (GroupMe also has expiring groups, which are very interesting for ephemeral groups.) Other groups will persist as back-channel mobile chat rooms that will be running as its own data layer on top of the Twitter feed, Foursquare check-ins and other conference noise.

The benefits of a limited circle are most obvious when we’re in high-density network situations like SXSW. Over-subscribed friend and follower counts limit the effectiveness of the tools. When you’re in tight quarters, when you’re looking for high-quality information over the noise, when you’re looking for that quiet dinner party with your friends, more isn’t better. Better is better. Beluga and GroupMe and others can help give us a better experience. Can bring the intimacy of SXSW back and will be the darlings of this year’s conference.

Update: had my Foursquare launch years off.  
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Businesses Don’t Let Your Employees Grow Up to be Mayors

Having an employee as your mayor is bad for business. As more users and businesses stream on to Foursquare to take advantage of its unique game play and marketing opportunities, it’s important for businesses to ensure that their Foursquare-using customers don’t lose interest in checking in because of a stalwart Mayor who’s entrenched atop the leaderboard simply because they work there. If none of this makes sense, read on to understand why this is important.

Part of the appeal of Foursquare, the fast-growing location based social network, where users “check in” to physical locations on their phones, is the ability for users to earn points, badges and special offers from businesses. A particularly coveted achievement in Foursquare is to become “Mayor” of a location. A Foursquare Mayor is the Foursquare user who has checked into that venue more than any other Foursquare user over the past two months. Think of it like a digital representation of your best, or most-frequently visiting customer on the network.

For Foursquare users, being Mayor at a business without a special offer is little more than bragging rights. A way to claim some small piece of ownership in a location, to be the most regular of the regulars. But this is a surprising motivation. Foursquare has become so popular due to the game mechanics built into the social network. Game mechanics are mechanisms, like earning points and Mayorships, that are built into the product that make you more likely to use and enjoy the service. With Foursquare’s success, the gamification of social networks and applications has exploded (for good and bad, but that’s another post,) but they are core to the Foursquare experience.

Which gets us back to why as a business you shouldn’t let your employees become Mayors, and should ask that they not check in when they get to work. Because when your employees occupy Mayorships they make a key achievement of the Foursquare game unachievable. Which dramatically reduces its effectiveness as a marketing tool and an experience as a user. When a Foursquare user can’t become Mayor, no matter how many times they check in to your business, they get frustrated. They may even give up on checking in to your business. They may even find somewhere else to go.

It’s true. You may be reading this thinking, as a marketer or business owner the last thing I need to worry about is whether Foursquare users can become Mayor, “I’m trying to run a business,” you say. And I hear you. And for big brands and multi-location chains, it’s even harder. How do you communicate to all store owners and all employees to keep Mayorships open? It seems like a low priority, if you can even call it a priority. But before you roll your eyes, take one quick look at the Foursquare GetSatisfaction page. There you’ll see hundreds of complaints about employees being Mayors of their favorite establishment. Which is a small, connected and passionate ecosystem is a significant amount. It’s a real problem, and it can impact your business and your brand experience.

Luckily he fix is easy, simply get a Foursquare account yourself, claim your business on Foursquare.com and monitor the check ins to your business.

Claiming Your Business on Foursquare - Image via Foursquare

If some of your employees are using Foursquare ask that they not check in while they’re working, or at least not every time, to the point where they’re they intractable Mayor. That’s it. Whether you have one store or 100. Simply monitoring check ins and identifying possible employee check ins will keep you on top of it. Communication and reminders to your staff about the benefits of the service and your rules for engagement while at work should do the trick (you might have to remind your team more than once.) But I don’t think you should ban your employees from checking in at work outright, it’s more nuanced than that.

The reason there is some nuance into how often your employees check in, is that you may want your employees to check in to get some visibility across their Foursquare networks. When a user checks in at a location, the other people in their network are alerted and the location is displayed on their phones. This can be a valuable way to create top-of-mind awareness among users in your area, which can lead to new customers. For example, if I see my friend has checked into a restaurant lately, I’m more likely to add that restaurant to my consideration set the next time I want to eat out. It’s powerful stuff.

So, it may make sense to let your employees check in to some degree, which is some free advertising to people near by, but as your traction builds on Foursquare it becomes critical that you ask your employees to refrain from snagging the coveted Mayorship.

Why isn’t there a way for businesses to identify employees so that Foursquare knows not to award them the Mayorship, you ask? Great question. And one that Foursquare has addressed, at least partially. If you’re a business who is running a special on Foursquare, you have the ability to identify Foursquare users who are employees so that they don’t impact the offer. Offers on Foursquare can range from “Check in here to receive XX% off your purchase,” to “Get a free drink with your Xth check in,” to “Mayors eat free on Tuesdays.” You can see that having a Mayor-only special when your customers have no shot at the Mayorship is just bad marketing and bad for customer morale. When running promotions on Foursquare then it’s important to understand which of your employees are using Foursquare and exclude them from eligibility.

But if you’re not running a special, if being the Mayor isn’t tied to any financial reward for your customer, it’s still important to the game dynamics of the platform, and therefore important to your visibility on Foursquare. Because if your Foursquare-using customers sense that it’s pointless to check in to your venue, you lose visibility to a highly motivated, connected, and outgoing community of people in your backyard, costing you potential future business and the goodwill of your best customers – the one’s stopping in to buy something, and to become Mayor.

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3 Videos Every Product Manager Must Watch

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Being a product manager is tough work. You’re constantly balancing out the needs of the business, the needs of the users and the capabilities and bandwidth of engineering to move the product forward and to make it more successful. It takes a lot of smarts, enthusiasm, communication, persuasion, editorial skill and courage to do the job well. (There are other traits, but those strike me first.) Products need strong product managers to thrive and succeed. Product managers need to have a clear vision of where the product needs to go and what resonates with users to reach that success. The product manager truly is their brother’s keeper.

Over the last day and a half I’ve watched three impressive talks from some of the smartest product people in the world and I wanted to share them with you here.

Fred Wilson‘s 10 Principles of Successful Web Apps

This is a great talk where venture capitalist Fred Wilson (investor in Foursquare, Twitter, Delicious, others) outlines the 10 essentials to making a successful web application. Every product manager should be considering how their product stacks up to these ten things.  His ten essentials are:

  1. Speed
  2. Instant Utility
  3. Software as Media
  4. Less is More
  5. Make it Programmable
  6. Make it Personal
  7. RESTful
  8. Discoverability
  9. Clean
  10. Playful


Fred Wilson at the Future of Web Apps Miami 2010

Jack Dorsey: 3 Keys to Twitter’s Success

In this talk, Twitter co-founder talks about the four keys to Twitter’s success (he says 3 but then throws in a bonus fourth at the end.) They’re powerful tools for any product manager in the product design and definition phases as well as the ongoing evolution of the product itself.

His 4 keys to Twitter’s success are:

  1. Draw, get your ideas out of your head and in front of others.
  2. Luck, understand when the market is ready for your idea.
  3. Iterate, take tons of feedback, edit like crazy and refine your product.
  4. Know when to stop, know when a product is finished instead of adding feature after feature.


Jack Dorsey: 3 Keys to Twitter’s Success from 99% on Vimeo.

Kathy Sierra on Creating Awesome Users

Kathy Sierra gives a great talk on how our focus can’t be on our product, service or company; but rather on our users and how we can move them from frustrated first-timers to passionate advocates who spread our product effortlessly to their social circles. Here’s her recipe for creating awesome users.


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Location and Lifestyle Design

In a recent post, Andrew Hyde announced his location-based suicide. Recent stalking incidents left him believing that the personal safety and privacy risks of location sharing outweigh the benefits. It’s a common concern that I hear among non-early adopters and particularly women – and for good reason.  There are people out there that will use this information in ways you don’t want them to.  His post, however, finally inspired me to write this one, which is not about how other people use location based information; but how we can use it to impact how we design our life.

Lifestyle design is a term coined by Tim Ferris in The Four Hour Workweek, and its definition according to Wikipedia is:

Lifestyle Design is the design of one’s ideal lifestyle, especially an unconventional one, providing good opportunities for personal growth, leisure and adventure. Detailed methods include: career planning, entrepreneurship and travel.

I’ve used Foursquare since its launch at SXSW last year and enjoy the game of it, unlocking badges, earning points, etc. Lately I have been paying a lot of attention to where I check in, and more importantly, become mayor.  Because in this data lie answers to my lifestyle and, I believe my overall happiness and health.  I believe that these answers are an important part of location applications and services.  Using them to see what you’re doing and what patterns and habits you’ve established and then evaluating your choices and adjusting your decisions going forward.

For example I recently noted that I was mayor of the following places (note these are all in Orange County, CA except where noted):

  • Ralph’s supermarket
  • Del Taco
  • Taco Bell
  • Chipotle
  • Walmart
  • Costco
  • Panda Express
  • McDonald’s
  • Fatburger
  • John Wayne Airport
  • Woodfin Hotel Emeryville, CA
  • Starbucks Emeryville, CA

There are more, but I think it’s pretty easy to see a pattern in my mayorships. It’s more than a pattern, it’s more like a sad commentary on my life.  It’s also an eye opener.  Now, a man’s mayorships do not necessarily define the man; but there is something to be said for the choices I’ve been making out of convenience or habit and my overall health and happiness.

Since reviewing this list I’ve decided that I’m in serious need of a dose of lifestyle design recalibration.  A recalibration focusing on exploration, sampling local fare and shaking myself out of the comfortably numb routine that I’ve fallen into lately – one primarily made up of airports and fast food restaurants.

This self awareness is a powerful feature of location awareness.  We have the ability to reflect, to look at our actions over time, evaluate small choices that don’t seem like much individually, but add up to habits that we’d probably rather not have when all is said and done.  So I’m using Foursquare now to help shape my life in the way I want, which is to experiment with more local restaurants, to get out of my habits and try new things.

In addition to helping improve my personal lifestyle I expect it to improve my ability to think creatively, to view new solutions, to be more willing to try something new and take risks, to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable.  I believe that these are all powerful and valuable opportunities.

Would I have realized this without Foursquare? Maybe. But it might’ve taken a change in pant size before it clicked. Now I know much faster.  So while Foursquare and location have it’s downsides, it’s important to look for other non-obvious benefits.  I plan on using it to make sure I’m not the mayor of too many places I’d rather not be; and instead focus on getting out of my routine and seeing what’s out there.  I encourage you to do the same.

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