People in the blogosphere are very interested, and even congratulatory, on location-based service FourSquare's new round of venture funding, to the tune of $20 million. I've used the technology, it's very interesting. It was even "fun" for a time, which I think is important for building communities. And I've seen a lot of new friends and acquaintances checking it out.
But I also have no choice but to wonder – where is it going? In general, the fun aspects of the service – badges and points – are worth nothing, and when they are, there is often confusion about them – for example, numerous blog posts written by people unable to get Starbucks freebies.
In order for this – free stuff for checking in, basically – to work, there needs to be coordination and trust among four groups of people. Namely, (1) the geo-services company, (2) the users, (3) business owners and managers, and (4) line staff. I have personally seen a number of disconnects in which (for example) a manager advertises a special for being Mayor and a waitress has no idea what you're talking about.
I commented as much on ReadWriteWeb's article about FourSquare and its funding, which San Francisco Chronicle writer Nick Saint seems to have taken a bit out of context. But what I wrote is true: I was a bit excited about the company personally, tried reaching out to do something work-related with Microsoft and their publi sector business and had trouble connecting with anyone, and then became a bit dejected.
Far from what Nick Saint wrote, I don't think FourSquare will "fail" (I never wrote that), but I do think there's a fairly narrow discussion happening in the whole "geo-app" space. I don't necessarily see why FourSquare or Gowalla or even Facebook will necessarily be the market leader. People generally speak of these three as if they're predertermined.
That's based on the geo-app environment not changing. But it could change very easily. It goes back to trust – who do you trust for local information as an average consumer or user? Something like FourSquare or Gowalla? Or what about something like Yelp (which is now sometimes discussed)?
Let's take this a step further. What other location-based services do you broadly use? Maybe it's EveryBlock + MSNBC. Maybe it's OpenTable. Maybe it's CraigsList. There are probably a dozen or more similar sites that you trust, use, and that contain geo-information about businesses and other locations.
I look forward to seeing a lot more in this exciting location-based services space. From my personal vantage point, I think this: Deploying the app and making it cool isn't the real challenge. Building trust among the userbase is.