Kara Swisher

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BoomTown Reimagines "Hamlet" Soliloquy for Foursquare's Crowley

Much to the chagrin of valuation-hyping Silicon Valley VCs, Yahoo is still in the running to acquire Foursquare, the hot social geolocation start-up, much longer than expected.

Foursquare’s board met last week about the possible acquisition deal. But, so far, it’s turned it down flat.

Nonetheless, (YHOO) is still interested, sources said.

Yahoo declined to comment, and I have an email into Foursquare, which has yet to respond.

But sources close to the situation said that Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley is holding his cards very close to the vest about whether Foursquare will reconsider the offer–which could reportedly go up to $125 million to $150 million in cash–from the Internet giant.

Crowley’s alternatives are two powerful venture firms–Andreessen Horowitz and Khosla Ventures–which had put lucrative funding deals on the table, trying to entice Foursquare to remain independent and turbocharge its fast-growing status-update service.

Other big firms have dropped out of the race, although sources said more are now sniffing around, including free-spending Russian moneybags, Digital Sky Technologies. It has already sunk copious funds into social networking giant Facebook, game powerhouse Zynga and, today, social buying site Groupon.

The VC selling point is freedom, the ability to sell for more later and perhaps a more modest payout for talent, including Crowley, by buying some of their common shares. Their valuation is hovering around $80 million.

Crowley (pictured here) controls a large chunk of the shares of the start-up and has so far turned down the $100 million offer from Yahoo, despite the fact that Foursquare is still small (about one million users) and unprofitable.

But it has grown dramatically and raised $1.35 million last August, valuing it at $6 million. Funds came from O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and Union Square Ventures, as well as a spate of well-known angel investors.

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz hopes to best all VC offers after having recently made some significant noise about starting to engage in aggressive M&A to attract talent and inject innovation into the company.

She has mentioned mobile start-ups specifically, and Foursquare is indeed among the hottest in the space, offering its growing base of users an ability to “check in” from a variety of places.

But the location-based services arena is heating up, with multiple competitors to Foursquare, such as Gowalla, as well as recent efforts by Facebook and Twitter to enter the space in a big way.

In fact, Wednesday at its F8 developers event, some expect Facebook to talk about its own version of Foursquare.

Still, Crowley may welcome the challenge after selling a similar location service called Dodgeball to Google (GOOG) in 2005 and ending up with very little. He left the search giant on bad terms two years later, and Dodgeball was closed down by Google in early 2009.

At the time, Crowley called the experience of being at a large company “incredibly frustrating.”

Which is why it will be interesting to see the choice he makes in what one person close to the situation called: “A very deft Hamlet act.”

Until he does, this is a perfect time for my Foursquare version of the indecisive Prince of Denmark’s most famous soliloquy–with apologies to Shakespeare–redone for a New York-based hipster Web 2.0 dude:

Dennis Crowley Does Hamlet:

To sell, or not to sell, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous Facebook,
Or to take arms against a sea of Twitters,
And by opposing end them? To die, sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we become Digg with
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That over-hotness is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be avoid’d. To die, to become Friendster;
To sleep, perchance to be crammed down:
Ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what hotter start-ups may come,
When we have shuffled off this overhyped coil,
Must give us pause to check in constantly:
there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long it takes for funding;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of bloggers,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despis’d love by Andreessen and Yu,
the law’s delay,
The stalker ways of those scary Russian investors,
and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy lowball offers,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin of no profits?
Who would these fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a Yahoo life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d acquisition, from whose bourn
No Flickr returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to VCs that we know naught of?
Thus overvaluation does make greedy piggies of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of Pets.com;
And Web 1.0 enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And as was predicted by Economics 101.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald