Social-Media Service 'Foursquare' Expected to Break Out in 2010


foursquareAccording to Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of tech blog “Mashable” and a frequent contributor to CNN.com, Foursquare – an up-and-coming social-media service – is poised to make its grand debut next year.

Whereas Twitter dominated the tech headlines in 2009 – a rise to prominence that we’ve document here, here and hereCashmore presents the case that Foursquare is making all the right moves to make itself a mainstream hit.

The first – and perhaps most important thing it has on its side – is that it has many Twitter connections that are sure to help it gain a foothold across the social media landscape. Cashmore writes:

“The parallels with Twitter are numerous. As technology early adopter and popular blogger Robert Scoble wrote in September: ‘Go back three years ago. Twitter was being used by the same crowd that is playing with Foursquare today.’

“The similarities don’t stop there: Twitter first took hold at Austin’s South By Southwest festival in 2007; Foursquare made its debut at SXSW 2009. Members of both founding teams have previously built successful social startups; both those startups were sold to Google.

“The two companies share investors, too: Union Square Ventures is a backer, while Twitter inventor Jack Dorsey made an angel investment in Foursquare. Other notable investors include the founders of Digg and Delicious, and famed angel investor Ron Conway. Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson observed that Foursquare’s first round financing was ‘among the most competitive early round financings I’ve seen in a long time.'”

Of course, Foursquare can’t survive on similarities alone. And it’s not like the service doesn’t have its own competition. Services such as Gowalla, Loopt (read what we wrote about Loopt here), Brightkite and Google Latitude are all built on the same general concept of being able to share your location with other users within your network.

But where Loopt, Latitude and the others leave off, Foursquare picks up.

As Cashmore puts it, “Foursquare ventures beyond utility, however: It’s a virtual game in which participants earn badges for checking in at various locations; those that check in most become a venue’s ‘mayor.’ By all accounts, this mechanism is as addictive as Twitter, Facebook or checking your e-mail on a BlackBerry.”

While the addictive nature of Foursquare is simply Cashmore’s opinion, we agree that the service is taking great strides to set itself apart from like-minded competitors. And he makes a solid point about Foursquare’s strategy, saying, “Foursquare debuted the singular piece that launched Twitter into the stratosphere: an API. This application programming interface allows third-party developers to build anything they desire on top of Foursquare’s location-based social network. It’s been shown time and again that once these ecosystems gain momentum, potential competitors face an arduous task. From Flickr to Google Maps to Twitter and beyond, it’s clear that early critical mass — having enough users and applications to make a service invaluable — sets the stage for a landslide victory. Google’s Android, entering the mobile platform wars long after the iPhone App Store had served up a veritable smorgasbord of apps to its army of users, is evidence of the chicken-and-egg problem that arises for new competitors: What’s the incentive for users and developers to switch to a smaller, less visible platform once a leader has emerged?”

All true. But as we’ve seen time and again, just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come.

Nonetheless, we want to know what you think. Have you used Foursquare? Have you compared it to the other location-based services? What are your thoughts? Will Foursquare be 2010’s Twitter? Or will it fizzle and fade into obscurity before the countdown to the new year begins? Let us know.

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