I just found this article on Fast Company about Foursquare’s new Explore functionality, which lets you discover places in a given area that you may be in the near future:
…Foursquare has created an elegant solution to the problem of searching not just for things around where you are now, but also the area where you will be. If you’re making plans on the move, the latter is arguably far more important.
This neatly captures my problem with location-based services and apps. I very rarely (if ever) use an app or service to decide on a place to go right now: the reason I’m in a particular place is because I have planned to be there in advance, usually having researched places on my desktop machine, or after referring back to a note of a place I have been recommended.
So Foursquare now allows you to explore places to visit in advance by pinpointing an area that you will be in the near future.
This is great news… kind of.
My problem is now a bit more fundamental. Hardly anyone I know uses Foursquare rigorously enough for the checkin information to be valuable. The gaming nature of the app means that the most active users check into every conceivable place they can find in their database (“oh, so you’re in Starbucks…?”), diminishing the value of the data with every check-in.
Also, the nuance of what a check-in really means is missing. I’ve seen a great many check-ins associated by a negative review: a place to be avoided. Yet if enough people check-in to criticise a venue it will just be viewed as a popular place. Thus the data becomes meaningless.
What I’d like to see now is the perfect recommendation app: simply a small series of carefully recommended places (by people I know and/or trust) that you can choose, and plan to visit later rather than right now. I’m hoping to do this to some extent with The Gourmand, and The City Agenda.