Building the Location Layer of the Internet With Mike Harkey of Foursquare

Mike Harkey, the Head of Platform Business Development at Foursquare, talks about how Foursquare is building the location layer of the Internet. 

Mike Harkey of Foursquare

To kick things off at Big Boulder, Gnip’s VP of Product, Rob Johnson interviewed Mike Harkey. As the Head of Platform Business Development at Foursquare, Mike talked about the evolution of Foursquare during the past four years. First introduced as the “check-in app,” Foursquare is now becoming known for its location recommendation services.

 Merchant Applications

As Mike stated, “the company is growing dramatically.” Foursquare recently received $41 million in funding in April 2013, and that is certainly shaping their growth. From a consumer application, check-ins and active uniques have grown 10% every month. However, Foursquare is really focused on providing real world applications for merchants, whose use has quadrupled in the past 6 months.

Foursquare has always offered a free solution for merchants to claim their business and run offers and specials within the app. Users can also follow merchants to keep an eye on these offers. However, at the end of the day this won’t matter if a merchant can’t see what needle Foursquare is moving for them. Enter merchant dashboards: Through the merchant API, merchants can track the value and success of their media campaigns and how Foursquare is influencing them.

 The Location Layer

Just as Facebook is the social layer of the internet, Foursquare has built the location layer. With 4 billion check-ins and 50 million places worldwide, it’s not hard to see why this data is so valuable and practical. And there’s something that’s fundamentally unique about Foursquare, in their ability to see real-time actions.

Foursquare is the first to find out when a venue opens and closes. This signal is not only beneficial for the application, but also for 3rd party platforms that rely on them. Maintaining the quality of data when it’s user-based is challenging but Foursquare has learned which levers to pull. A community of super users have the rights to edit and update data to help to “vet and validate” its quality. This further fuels the consumer application of Foursquare.

Using the Data

Foursquare check-ins show the pulse of New York City and Tokyo from Foursquare on Vimeo.

Foursquare holds itself to a higher standard with its data. They believe this data is not just theoretical, but has practical, real-world applications. For merchants, this means validating their presence on the app – according to Mike, 20% of users check-in to a place discovered by the recommendation service within 36 hours of discovery.

Since the founding of the company, people have wanted to access the data Foursquare provides. The API has always been open, but Foursquare has wanted to be careful about allowing access to the data. Gnip’s partnership with Foursquare to allow access to its firehose has tremendous possibilities for businesses. Examples include how individual users act during specific events. During Hurrican Sandy, Foursquare released visualizations around how people operated during and after a crisis.

Globally, using this data for good has been a priority for Foursquare. In Turkey, there was activity they didn’t expect during the recent riots. They had representatives on the ground of the riots and could see users posting photos and information as this was the only viable mechanism to expose this information.

The Future of Foursquare

Foursquare believes the applications for this data are virtually limitless, whether it’s making the data available for research or business applications. Foursquare is excited to see what people will build with their anonymized data from its partnership with Gnip. Foursquare has a number of products will be introduced this year. Soon, small businesses will be able to advertise through Foursquare and make the most out of this service. They will have the ability to turn on and off offers and reach long-term consumers.

Big Boulder is the world’s first social data conference. Follow along at #BigBoulder, on the blog under Big BoulderBig Boulder on Storify and on Gnip’s Facebook page.

  • Brendan McDonald

    Great post! The applications of Foursquare’s data are seemingly endless – the data science team must have so many cool projects to work on.