Foursquare said Monday it experienced an astounding growth rate of 3,400 percent in 2010. Launched in March 2009, Foursquare enables handsets equipped with a free
app to "check in" to the GPS-enabled service, where they can access and share information about their specific locations with friends, colleagues and other Foursquare users.
Foursquare's membership base rose from five million users last month to more than six million as of last week -- in part because the service released a new app for Android handsets in December. "Honestly, 2010 was just insane," the Foursquare team noted in a blog. "The numbers tell the story better than we can."
381 Million Check-Ins
Foursquare is managed by a team of about 40 employees based in the East Village of New York City and backed by funding from Andreessen Horowitz, O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, Union Square Ventures, and other investors. The mobile social-networking service's free mobile app relies on data gleaned from the handset's address book as well as social-networking data from the user's Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Facebook launched a similar location feature called Facebook Places last August that enables users in the United States, Japan, the U.K., and other countries to share their current location with friends. However, the rival offering doesn't seem to have dented Foursquare's popularity among handset users worldwide.
Foursquare racked up 381,576,305 check-ins globally in 2010, including user activity in all countries with the exception of North Korea. The top check-in destinations included New York City's Ace Hotel, the Museum of Modern Art, and Union Square Greenmarket, as well as Webster's Wine Bar in Chicago, while last October's Rally to Restore Sanity at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was the single biggest event, drawing more than 30,000 check-ins.
Foursquare's more popular 2010 destination categories were related to food, work, shopping, travel and nightlife. This helps to explain why some restaurants, retail businesses, bars and brand-name vendors have been joining the service to attract new customers as well as repeat business.
According to the Foursquare team, tens of thousands of venues are currently experimenting with special offers targeting Foursquare users. For example, Starbucks offers product discounts to the "mayor" of each of its U.S. outlets -- the Foursquare user with the greatest number of check-ins.
An Influential Target Group
Still, the latest data from Forrester Research shows that only four percent of U.S. online adults have ever used location-based social networks on their mobile phones. Moreover, only one percent of those who do use services such as Foursquare Brightkite are using them more than once a week.
On the other hand, geolocation users -- typically young adult males with college degrees -- are 38 percent more likely than the average U.S. online adult to say that friends and family ask their opinions before making a purchase decision, noted Forrester Vice President Reineke Reitsma. "They are also far more likely to search for information about businesses and products, as well as read reviews of products and services," she wrote in a blog.
With the current uptake of these services, most organizations need to realize they can't run location-based campaigns and expect to reach a large audience, Reitsma observed. "However, cutting-edge, male-targeted companies can test location-based social networks now," she advised.
According to Reitsma, gaming and other consumer-electronics vendors are good examples of companies that should start experimenting with the technology right away. "While these programs might not generate a critical mass of volume, they can reach an influential audience and give your company a competitive edge," Reitsma added.