Peter Kafka

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Foursquare Says It’s Ready to Impress You Now

dennis_crowley

Asa Mathat / AllThingsD.com

Earlier this year, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley raised $41 million, and promised to use that money “to do the things we want to do.”

Today, he’s giving people a glimpse of what that looks like: A new feature that will allow (a few) Foursquare users to automatically get tips, from their phone, about a place they’re in, without having to boot up the app itself.

“This is the version of Foursquare that we’ve been talking about building for a long time,” Crowley said. He teased the idea yesterday, via this oblique Instagram post.

Foursquare isn’t giving the the feature a formal name, but is instead saying that it’s going to eventually be a core component of the location/discovery app. And Crowley argues that it’s going to be so great that it’s going to boost Foursquare’s growth, both by attracting new users and bringing back old ones who still think of it as a once-trendy “check in” app.

It’s a crucial bet for the company, which is fighting perceptions that it missed its shot to sell out to Yahoo or Apple, and that it will struggle to survive on its own.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work, according to Crowley: Users will turn on the Foursquare app, then leave it running on their phone, on background mode. Then “you just walk to places that you’ve never been before, you spend time in a place you’ve never been,” and Foursquare will occasionally send you a tip about the place — i.e. “try the soup” — via a push notification.

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Crowley said the tips will generally come from other Foursquare users, though occasionally it may come from a merchant. But in any case, they won’t be paid messages, he said.

The feature will eat up a bit of battery life, but Crowley insists it will be manageable: “To run this thing for a full day, it’s like playing 20 minutes of Angry Birds,” he said. And if you don’t want it at all, you can toggle it off.

I can’t tell you how it works firsthand because I haven’t seen it. And most of you won’t get a chance to use it at first, either.

Crowley said Foursquare will roll out the new feature slowly, starting with about 2,000 new users who download the app to Android phones; iPhone users are unlikely to get the feature until Apple unveils its iOS 7 operating system. Eventually, all Foursquare users should get the new software by the end of the year.

And how many people is that, anyway? Crowley said the service now has 35 million registered users — that’s up from 33 million in April — but still refuses to say how many people use the app on a regular basis.

This shyness gives lots of people — including competitors like Yelp — the impression that Crowley doesn’t have much to brag about. But he insists he’ll have more to say about this down the road.

For now, here’s a brief post-publication exchange we had on Twitter this morning:


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus