Foursquare revealed a new search-centered homepage yesterday. The new layout comes as part of the company’s recent push to establish itself as a local search provider. But can the mobile location sharing app take on well-established local search leaders like Yelp and Google Local?
The new foursquare homepage
Foursquare’s new layout features a huge central search box inviting visitors to “find great places near you.” It is only visible to non-members or members who are not logged-in.
Previously, the Foursquare homepage featured several windows explaining what Foursquare is and encouraging non-users to join and download the app.
The focus now is clearly on local search. All references to membership or the mobile app are hidden below the fold.
How Foursquare Search works
The new homepage’s central focus around a search box strongly resembles Google’s homepage. This is not surprising, considering Foursquare hired a former Googler to head their local search efforts.
In November of 2011, Foursquare hired Andrew Hogue, a former Google Senior staff Engineer. Just two months later, Foursquare revealed what it called “Personalized search for the real world.” Users could “explore” their surroundings and find personalized recommendations based on their own activity as well as that of other users.
The team at Foursquare has been working all summer to improve the search algorithm to make it useful to non-Foursquare users. The algorithm is based on the many real-world signals Foursquare receives including check-ins, lists, likes, dislikes, and tips. From there, they are able to give numeric scores to business listings.
When visitors go to Foursquare.com, they can search for a type of location (restaurant, theatre), a particular item (chicken noodle soup), or a specific place (McDonalds).
Foursquare then shows a map view of the searcher’s surroundings with numbered blue and orange pins that match their search. Orange pins designate locations with a Foursquare special.
By hovering over the pins, users can see the name and address of the location as well as the number of people out of ten who liked it. In addition to the pins, the search results also appear in list form on the left, similar to a Google Maps search (coincidence?).
Will Foursquare be able to compete with Yelp and Google Local?
At this point, Foursquare has quite a mountain to climb in order to establish itself as a top local search resource. However, it has a number of things going for it.
First, Foursquare puts specials front and center in their results. Users can’t miss the bright orange pins. Although specials are only redeemable by Foursquare users, they give non-users a monetary incentive to not only join, but also continue to use the service.
Second, Foursquare is inherently social. Not only can they give more accurate results because they have real-world data, but they can also give highly personalized results. As the company continues to improve their algorithm, they can learn each specific users likes and habits and show better results.
Finally, although Foursquare’s initial success was due to gamification, it has ironically led to a local search tool that is very difficult to game. Whereas local search sites like Yelp rely primarily on reviews, an easy metric to alter with spam, Foursquare relies on real world activity – users must actually visit the location and check-in.
Read more about the updated Foursquare homepage on the Foursquare blog.