Foursquare is reportedly partnering with bulk-content company Examiner.com to provide reviews of restaurants and other venues whenever a user checks-in at a location. On one hand the move will add helpful content to otherwise barren place pages when users haven't yet added their own tips to those places, and it will provide lengthier content even when user tips are available. On the other hand, the inclusion of reviews instead of news and other content seems like a big lost opportunity. Examiner content is also widely derided as low-quality. Some users will undoubtedly feel that Foursquare has chosen a content partner who paid over place annotation solutions that add more value for the users.Location based social network
David Kaplan at PaidContent reported on the partnership this morning but very few details are available and Foursquare has yet to reply to our request for comment. Update: Foursquare replied to say that this partnership is less unique than we expected, it's "no different" the company says from its other brand partnerships (discussed below). It appears that not everyone will see the Examiner's reviews, though that's made unclear by the company's statement that "Local tips will also be available to non-friends who check-in nearby."
We've long written about location as a platform for innovation here at ReadWriteWeb and we're really excited about it. Given the incredible amount of rich information that could be tied to Foursquare places, it is a disappointment that a major new feature on the site sounds like it will look more like a commercial than a living encyclopedia.
The way that most brands have been using Foursquare is to upload tips about places around the country, then encourage users to Friend their account. Once you do that, if you check in near a place that's been annotated by a brand you're following, you'll get a push notification with that brand's tip. The History Channel, for example, is a great account to follow - it pushes really interesting and educational tips about places around the country.
The untapped potential on a platform that ties a person's declared location to the web and to their friends is incredible. Last week, for example, I checked-in on Foursquare at a park down the street from my house. I go there often and decided to Google the name of the park. On the second page of search results, I found a PDF map of all the trees in the park, listing what kind of tree they are and offering more information in a walking tour! I added a tip to the venue to do that same Google search, but otherwise that great place-based content never would have been surfaced in Foursquare. Instead we'll have to settle for some content-farm's review of the dive bar across the street. Presumably because the content farm paid Foursquare for the privilege. (Update: The company emailed to say they do not charge partners for this. Interesting to know.) Thanks, Foursquare.
The company has said in the past that it is interested in adding cultural and informational layers to the check-in experience, but that it's limited in its ability to do so in the near-term by constrained resources. Branded location annotation has gone on via Foursquare for at least a year, though, and the company has raised tens of millions of dollars. A simpler explanation is that the company's leadership doesn't really care.
That much is disappointing, but if the Examiner content now being added is as bad as some critics say and is as tightly integrated into the Foursquare experience as it sounds, this move could be more than just another missed opportunity - it could be downright annoying. If you're not familiar with the Examiner, the Wikipedia entry about the company is illuminating, especially the criticism part. Basically, the company pays contributors bottom of the barrel rates to write content that's widely criticized.
Update: On the subject of the Examiner, Foursquare emailed to offer us the following obligatory defense of their new brand partner. "Foursquare offers brands the ability to create pages of curated tips to engage with our more than 5.5 million users. When we receive a request for such a partnership, we consider the brand's relevance and willingness to provide community members with valuable insights about various locations. We're excited that Examiner.com's contributors - who are in-tune with their cities - are able to take advantage of foursquare's platform to enhance the experiences of our users." Also: "The only time a non-follower might see an Examiner tip is in the post check-in screen if they check into a venue where no friends have left tips (and there's an Examiner tip at that venue that has been voted up)."
For what it's worth, each time Foursquare frustrates me or Gowalla disappoints me, I get more hopeful about the fast-approaching public launch of another little geo startup called Geoloqi. Somebody's got to nail this location based web stuff.