Archives for posts with tag: Foursquare

A few weeks ago, I started working with a new client, a mid-size business. They started using Social Media a few years back and, over time, developed presences on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ YouTube, LinkedIn, Foursquare, a blog, Facebook Places, Tumblr and just started on Pinterest. Their previous Social Media consultant operated on the premise: Businesses need to be on as many social media channels as they can.

Why? In this rapidly changing world, businesses never know where their customer is going to be, so a business needs to be everywhere.


Mr. Consultant, stand in the corner and write “I will never recommend something that insane again.” 10,000 times.

There are two reasons why consultants, experts or agencies would give obnoxious advice:

– They try to fleece customers.

– They don’t know what they are doing.

I won’t even bother with people that try to fleece brands. Ultimately, brands will see through it and end the scam prematurely.

I’m much more concerned with people that believe in the philosophy that brands should be everywhere. Should Axe advertise on each TV Channel, even the Hallmark Channel? Should PETA run an ad in the Hunter’s Journal? Should Obama advertise on the Rush Limbaugh show?

Social Media shows its immaturity when “being everywhere” is still an advice I hear every day. Just like traditional and digital media, social media needs to rely on research – for example a social media audit. Understanding demographics, psychographics, spend decisions, social network use, day/time parting – all the good stuff and more that helps you understand where you need to be, when you need to be there, and what you should be doing/saying while you’re around. This helps brands and their community not to waste anyone’s time, helps to achieve goals and measure results.

Don’t be everywhere. Just be where your research tells you to be.


2012 was supposed to be the year of stalking apps for the hyper-networking types: Glancee, Highlight, Banjo – you name it. Once we arrived at SXSW, we would use these platforms to meet new people, find new connections. A funny thing happened.

Nobody cared.

Besides the usual technology cheerleaders, most SXSW participants just shrugged their shoulders and moved on. It’s pretty apparent, these are total duds. The technology and philosophy behind many of these apps is sound as the concept of implicit social graphs tied to explicit graphs through background location is indeed an interesting idea. Yet, they fail because they don’t solve any problem.

Foursquare and Gowalla (and gazillion other forgotten platforms) were the hot startups a few years ago that dominated the conversation when it came to social location, focused on the check-in model. Foursquare, the winner of the first location-based arms race, with its check-ins plus deals, tips, photos and to-do lists is mildy useful. It’s good for events like SXSW where you want to connect with people in your graph. It’s a reactive app.

The next generation of location apps will be about ambient location: You could be planning on going to one place and see that your friends are at another and go there instead. The app could pull you to a different place than your original destination. Ambient location apps will have amazing data sets: Better location and social models based on location awareness mixed with the data created by such interaction theoretically could have a profound affect on user behavior. In addition, brands and retailers could find this information useful as well.

It’s clear that Glancee, Highlight and Banjo did not crack the code of background location data. (Delete, delete, delete.)

In the next two parts, I will be exploring the differences between noisy and calm technologies, followed by a glimpse in the future of ambient location platforms and the emergence of calm technologies.


“(In the publishing business) the readers are the product, and the customers are the advertisers.” – Dave Winer

It started with Path last week, and now we learned that Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, Foodspotting, Yelp, and Gowalla all either upload your contacts’ phone numbers or email addresses to their servers for matching purposes.

As the post on Venturebeat states:

“Some of these applications perform this action without first requesting permission or informing you how long they plan to store this data. Foodspotting is the worst of the bunch, as it appears to transmit your data over an unencrypted HTTP connection (in plain text), making it even easier for mischievous parties to intercept.”

It’s a sign of a major problem.

Tulip Mania. Railway Mania. Poseidon Bubble. Japanese asset price bubble. Dot-com bubble. Rice bubble. Housing bubble. Bubbles after bubbles. After the housing bubble, one would think we’d have enough of bubbles for a long time to come. Think again.

The dot-com crash had nothing to do with technology. It had everything to do with the business model used to pay for the technology, which was primarily either display advertising revenue or VC money advanced with the expectations of returns based on display advertising. Display Advertising was trackable, it would be more effective online than offline. The bubble burst, crazy valuations went away and the digital ad market boomed. Ad Networks, DSP’s and exchanged drove down the value of ad impressions. CPM’s went from $100 for premier placements to $10. And impression junk was and is still anywhere. Suddenly, new businesses that relied on advertising revenue to support their model had to pivot.

Welcome to the age of user data.

Massive assumptions are now being made based on revenue generated (or soon to be generated) by personally targeted advertising drawing on user data. Facebook has a business model but their valuation is based on future realization of user data. Twitter doesn’t have a sustainable business model yet but it’s worth billions of dollars.

Often, companies don’t even know what to do with this data, they just have it because one day it will rain gold. You can’t open your computer without reading of the promises of Big Data. Your user data, goes the theory, allows ads to be specifically targeted to you. Should you buy a big bag of dog food, you will likely receive more ads for dog products, sometimes coupons. You’ll be grouped in a segment with other “dog food buyers”, your age and location will be determined, and a data model of you will be developed. A very simplistic one-dimensional model of you is living in some data warehouse and that’s why you encounter all those online ads.

The problem is not with the use of data to make decisions – the problem is with the simplistic one-dimensional use of data to make decisions. And the other problem with this assumption is that it believes in the rational consumers. Targeted advertising draws on the idea of our observed behavior presenting a coherent and realistic picture of our desires and needs.

It doesn’t.

My spending behavior in 2010 bears no relation to my spending currently or in the future – economies change, circumstances change, tastes change, opportunities change. More importantly, we are social beings, not rational beings. We are more driven by emotions and our clique than anything you can find in our brains.

As we know, targeting works on a limited scale. It does lift metrics, it improves performance. But the user data dream that one day all served ads will be relevant and lead to immediate conversion is just that: a dream. I’m not trying to minimize the opportunities at the intersection of data and human behavior, as explained in “How companies learn your secrets.” from the NY Times. I just don’t believe the way to collect and use data right now will lead to a pot of gold.

Tulips have value. Houses have value. Data has value. But the value is not as high as people tend to estimate while the user data bubble is expanding. It’s highly questionable if even a small part of these valuations can be realized. At least, I haven’t see any evidence of that, yet.

Nobody wants to hear things like that, when everybody is enjoying the user data ride. Just like nobody wanted to listen to Nouriel Roubini when he predicted the financial crisis. Nassim Taleb the “Black Swan”. Or Dave Winer the end of the data bubble. But something is wrong here, very wrong.

VCs spend billions of dollars investing in companies based on the user data model. They even tell kids to leave college early to participate in the gold rush. “You can be the next Mark Zuckerberg.”

They fund companies that need our personal data to succeed, just like the mortgage bundlers needed the junk mortgages to create fictitious AAA ratings. One day, when reality sets in and the fundamentals don’t add up anymore, the bubble will burst. A lot of money will be lost. A lot of people will be hurt.

Out of the ashes, new companies will spring up that have realistic expectations about the value of user data. And, who knows, even give us control over the data. Now, that’s valuable. Correct, Doc Searls?


Yahoo!, the last traditional media company, is in deep trouble. Just like AOL, MSN and – dinosaurs founded in a time where media agencies had to manage scarcity. The Yahoo! Homepage used to be part of a digital media plan just like buying commercials during the NFL season for beer brands. Two things changed: ad networks, DSP’s and ad exchanges changed the focus of media agencies from placement buying to audience buying. And, more importantly, people are less interested in reading professional content and pay more attention to content created by their friends.

What is Yahoo’s response to a changed marketplace and customer behavior?

More content, more video, more, more, more. I wonder if Albert Einstein’s “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” has become Yahoo’s mission statement. More is not the answer. Traditional media companies will never be able to compete with the amount of content created on Social Networks, Twitter, Foursquare, YouTube, Facebook, Google+, Blogs, sites, Tumblr, etc. I’m not predicting the death of Yahoo!, nothing ever dies. VCR’s are still flashing “12:00” in millions of households, papers are being delivered to millions of door steps each morning and millions of faxes are being delivered each week. It took decades after the telegraph

was invented until the last telegraph was sent. (January 27, 2006, to be exact.) Yahoo! will be around for a long time to come. More irrelevant and less valuable by the day.

The demise of Yahoo! points to an important development

Online advertising is in the middle of a radical evolution but the majority of agencies/brands are acting as if it was still 2005. During that period, the majority of digital marketers were complaining about silos and the fact that they were cut off from the traditional campaign. Digital advertising had no place at the table and was not more than an afterthought: “Make sure the banner ad looks like the commercial.”

The disconnect is now between display advertising and social media

I see more integration between TV/Print campaigns and Social Media compared to Display Advertising and Social Media. The challenge is that Display Advertising continues to be deeply anchored in the world of Direct Marketing, creating a massive disconnect between that display advertising and Social Media. When your goal is to convert prospects into leads, a Social Media integration seems nothing than a silly distraction. Or, is it?

We’re reliving 2005 in the display advertising space: SEM/SEO is always at the table, Social Media the hot new toy and display advertising was relegated to the basement and algorithms.

What is the remaining value of media buying agencies?

The agency role in this new ecosystem will be re-evaluated by brands. The main challenge for media buying agencies will be their unique value proposition. It used to be access, buying power and custom tools. That competitive advantage is slowly disappearing because content created outside of traditional media properties gains importance and relevance over time.

The secondary challenge is the lack of trusted measurements. Ask 100,000 marketers about trusted and reliable measurements and you will get 150,000 answers. Is it impressions, clicks, conversions, engagement, connections – what the hell is it? It’s a lack of industry leadership but also a lack of confidence by agencies based on the fickle brands. “Oh, you focus on conversions? Sure, we can do that.”

Sorry, I don’t know the answer. I just have a lot of questions.

The marketing landscape continues to evolve rapidly. We’re still trying to answer the questions of 2005, while our clients expect us to answer the questions of 2012. As a industry, we need to find better ways to measure, to attribute and to communicate our value proposition to clients.

The conference season is upon us. I hope we can spend less time talking about case studies and acting as if we knew the answers. Instead, let’s ask more questions.


First there were portals. AOL, Yahoo and all the other sites with names we don’t remember anymore.

Then came Google.

And now there’s Facebook.

History has shown us that early dominance doesn’t translate into long-term leadership. While Google is still a dominant player in search, they are struggling to remain relevant. Their latest move to tie bonuses to social success smells like Microsoft with a hint of Yahoo!

Facebook is as vulnerable as AOL Google.

Facebook is the dominant Social platform. No doubt about it. But just like Google, they own only part of the pie and the majority of the pie is up for grabs or still in development.

Facebook has been successful in aggregating our social graph. For most people, it’s a mess of friends, co-workers, family and weak ties. Our social graph has become a very weak social network: difficult to navigate, even more difficult to control. The truth is: we have hundreds of networks. Our work network, our employer network, our commute network, our hobby network, our family network, our local community network. There are opportunities to develop networks for sporting events, movies, any shared interest.

While I’m writing this, I’m watching the Masters. I would love to tap into a temporary network to share my viewing experience with others. Facebook is not the right platform for it.

I would love to tap into a temporary network of my office building to help with improvements or get to know other tenants better.

I would like to meet somebody within 2 miles to go out for a run. Facebook can’t help me with that.

Disposable and temporary networks

The answer could be to develop thousands of disposable and temporary networks. Many location-based apps feel that way: Foursquare is a great tool when attending massive conferences like SXSW but it’s a daily nuisance to see my friend checking in at the same Starbucks over and over again. Color has gotten a lot of attention (mostly because of its disastrous launch and $41 million investment) but it’s an interesting attempt to tap into network for a moment in time.

However, when I look at all the apps battling for attention on my iPhone, I hope there will be aggregators that can develop disposable/temporary networks based on my interest and location. And integrate new friends into a bigger network. Such a platform would make Facebook feel like Microsoft: too big to be agile.


This fabulous illustrations courtesy of Ogilvy (via Brad Hill)

I’m writing this a few hours after my return from Austin. As usual, SXSW was whirlwind of knowledge, brilliant minds, trial of new technologies and a lot of socializing.

It’s getting bigger and bigger

It was merely impossible to see 20% of the panels/keynotes I was interested in. The conference is now so spread out that you really have to limit yourself to 1-2 panels and go with the flow the rest of the day. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better but my experience was much better than last year. Maybe it was my overall attitude, my focus on networking or the conference felt more elevated and improved from last year.

With one exception, the keynotes weren’t good

Blake McCoskie, CEO and Founder of Tom’s Shoes, stole the keynote show by a huge margin. His story was inspiring and conveyed the passion he feels for his brand. I wish all keynotes would have been of that caliber but it gave me more time to network and learn by talking with fellow attendees.

SXSW’s content: It’s what you make it.

SXSW has turned into a huge farmer market. You have to walk down all the stands, try out some fruit, bite into a few sour apples until you discover something sweet. It’s up to you to do all the legwork in advance, have Plan B and C for each session in place and leave as soon as you feel the session doesn’t meet your expectations. I went to 10 or so sessions and 5 of them were fabulous.

It’s about the people

In a cab, in line, at the Allhat party, at the DraftFCB event, at a local restaurant, on the street: SXSW is about connecting with people. Replacing the Twitter avatar with a real person. Meeting strangers and parting as friends. Connecting friends with other friends. That’s the real story of SXSW.

Big brands are moving in

Samsung hosted the blogger lounge (Ironically more Apple than Samsung products inside the lounge) with interviews, book signings and a lot of Pepsi. Chevy really made an impact with their car service for attendees, test drives, charging stations, the Volt lounge and party sponsorship. Pepsi was basically everywhere, sometimes the only drink you could get was a Pepsi Max. They sponsored a lounge and a stage, sometimes manned by my friend @schneidermike. (He should just legally change his name already.) American Express partnered with Foursquare to launch a form of a loyalty program. Should be interesting to see the results. And, once again, Apple was the marketing king without spending any money on sponsorships: They opened a “pop up” store and geeks lined up for hours to get their hands on the new iPad2. Just to show them off in the next day and do the marketing work for Apple.

More importantly, more executives of large brands and enterprises were present, trying to figure out how to transform their business. I had more discussions about social business and less chat about bright, shiny tools.

Oh boy, so many apps and not enough screen real estate

Situationist, Hurricane Party, Beluga, Ditto, Yobongo, LiquidSpace. And I’m barely scratching the surface. It was fun to try them out and evaluate their worthiness to remain on my iPhone. Unlike other SXSW’s, this year there was no break-out technology. No Foursquare or Twitter. A lot of hype surrounding SMS group chat tools like Beluga and GroupMe but I didn’t experience a high adoption rate in my graph. It felt more like a new feature than an innovative  tool. The LocalMind Q&A tool looked interesting and could become quite helpful over time.

Would love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I’m busy deleting some of the apps I downloaded a few days ago.


Josh Williams, founder and CEO of Gowalla, surprised the audience during his keynote with quotes like “Badges are bullshit.” and “Gamification isn’t cool.”


For three days we heard that gamification will solve every problem known to mankind: Education, Global Climate Change, ingrown toenails. And, suddenly gamification isn’t cool? Maybe it’s just not cool because Gowalla is losing the battle of location-based services to Foursquare and Facebook Places? Why was it cool when Gowalla signed a deal with Chipotle? And maybe badges are bullshit because Foursquare continues to bank highly on them and thrive?

We could ask these questions but there’s more behind the repositioning

When you’re losing to your competitor, you re-evaluate your mission and your vision. You have done everything in your power to beat them but, for some reason, they are leading in each and every category. And you start to realize that the initial reason for starting your company might have been forgotten while trying to catch-up with your competitors. You never meant to be like Foursquare (just like Yahoo never wanted to be like Google and the comparisons were always weak and meaningless) and you always tried to differentiate yourself by offering passports, connecting people with experiential places. But the public didn’t see this subtleties, they saw you as the LBS loser.

You have two options: Either dig in and continue the war until the bitter end. Or change the game.

Gowalla decided to change the game, transforming the service into a storytelling platform where people can document their memories by associating them with the places where they happened. No specific plans were revealed but it’s likely that Gowalla will add tools that will help people to add more content around specific places. The gamification part of the platform seems to be destined for the pile of buzzwords. And the pro-active part of check-in might change to a more passive activity.

A good move by Gowalla. The execution of their revised vision will determine if user will follow them on their new path.


Hurricane Party, Liquid Space, View, Localmind, Situationist – just some of the apps I’ve downloaded in the last few days at South by Southwest. I’m sure I missed out on tons more. And I’m glad I did. The appsphere has become unmanageable. I have around 100 on my iPhone, use maybe 5 of them regularly, 5 more on a weekly basis and a handful during special events. Foursquare is an interesting tool during events like SXSW, it helps me track people I want to connect with. Personally, I have no use for this tool when I’m back home. (I see benefits for the youth market but doubt we’ll ever see adoption throughout all segments.) The ‘dealification’ of location-based services as David Berkowitz calls it, might prove to be successful for Foursquare and Facebook Places (all others seem to fade rather quickly). But it will also transform its value from social to pure commercial. Hey, Valpak is still around and making money.

It makes sense for companies like Foursquare to cash-in as quickly as possible. When Mubarak’s regime an be swept away in 17 days, Foursquare can be forgotten with one tap of a new app. There a new apps that move location-based services into a more semantic and intention-based space. And there are apps that are more focused and useful when you’re in a certain mindset. The cold hard truth is: We have way too many apps. And it’s getting harder and harder to break through the clutter.

We need to aggregate functionalities

QR Code? I need an app. Picture sharing? App. Location? App. Intention? App. Conversation? App. Information Sharing? App.

Why? I want an app that integrates all these functionalities. How many photo sharing apps do I need? I want one app where there’s one camera button and I can choose between QR Reader, Photo (include Instagram while you’re at it), Video and, if possible, Google Goggles. Suck in my complete Social Graph and allow me to engage with them on my terms. Integrate readers (RSS/Instagram). And let me customize it. In short: help to delete 20 apps by aggregating all their functionalities. Cleaning the apps wasteland will help me clean my screen, clear my mind and give me back some time to look for real innovation.

The time of incremental innovation is over. You either aggregate or innovate. Or I delete.

I met Jyri Engestrom at the Monaco Media Forum late 2010. He was in the early development stages of Ditto and we talked about the idea of VRM, and how location-based services have to move into that space to become really useful.

The growing armada of location-based services just let me share where I currently am. I always questioned the value for user and advertisers. Why would I be interested to receive a $1 off coupon from the bar across the street when I just plopped down on my chair, ordered a drink and checked in?

Ditto goes beyond the check-in: It shares your intent to do something. Much more interesting for the user (commercially but also socially) and definitely for advertisers. If I know what you’re intending to do, I can provide you with extremely relevant offers. The application won’t be limited to food and drinks, Engestrom envisions expanding its offering to anything that’s discoverable: books, music, movies, etc.

I find this application very useful and much more valuable than any of the other location-based service apps have to offer at this point. (Sorry, no badges.) We’ll see if it will take off during SXSW.

The Techcrunch write-up.

iTunes link

Former Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker, now at Kleiner Perkins, just published her newest slideshow about the rise of mobile computing.
A few observations:
  • Slide 19: 60% of time spend on smartphones is new activity for mobile users. That’s an amazing stat. Just think about how hard it is to change behavior. Not in the mobile world: Apps, Social Networking and games make people change their daily behavior. Think Foursquare. Think Yelp. The question is: How long is that window of opportunity open? When will it close?
  • Slide 22+: Mobile Advertising -growing pains but huge promise. It’s a short-term promise. Once advertisers flood the market with mobile ads, users will be turned off and tune out very quickly. We need to focus on utility, not advertising.
  • Slide 35/36: Mobile Shopping changing behavior. Once again, we need to focus on this changing behavior. How we can add more utility to this behavior, make it more valuable? NOT disrupt it with ads.
  • Slide 42: “Gamification of apps is the ultimate way to engage a new generation of audiences.” YUP!
  • Slide 50: Google, AOL, eBay, Yahoo! and Amazon are shaking in their boots. Pretty convincing slide documenting the wealth creation, destruction cycle
  • Slide 54: Pretty poignant on this day, watching the events in Cairo: “Empowerment – impact of empowering billions of people around the world with real-time connected devices has just begun.”