Google officially axed the underutilised (and overhyped) Google Wave project last week (read Fast Company’s obituary here). I have a fear that my favourite geo-tagging program, Foursquare, will go the same way.

Foursquare allows you to use your mobile phone’s GPS capability to “check in” at various venues (read an intro slideshow here if you need to know more). But they are missing a few tricks by not understanding some basics of what makes social networks work, and also by misunderstanding some basic human psychology. I hope they sort this out soon, because I’d love to see geotagging really take off.

Here is my list of reasons why Foursquare is unlikely to grow further, and will ultimately die:

  • They have failed completely to discuss and engage with users on the issue of security. I personally don’t have a problem checking in and letting my friends know where I am, but many people do fear the openness of letting others know their physical movements. Foursquare needs to actively engage in debate and social values shaping conversations.
  • Their iPhone app provides no information from Foursquare. On a few occasions, Foursquare has shut down in order to do upgrades. But all that happens on their App and website is that nothing works. No messages, no interactions, no connection…
  • When you move from one city to another, you start all over again. It treats each city entirely independently. For what reason?
  • It provides no connections with my friends. Why is there no “friends nearby” feature? And why are there no features to challenge friends, connect with friends, chat to friends? This surely is the key to social media success: that you create connections between people, and enable them to connect with each other. Foursquare doesn’t do this.
  • It does not provide “near things”. The only “near here” type functions are paid for adverts called “specials nearby”. But what about “places your friends frequent” or “places your friends have written tips about” or “most visited place near here”?
  • It doesn’t do competition well. I have an ongoing battle with “Kay A.” for the mayorship of Raynes Park train station. But, there is very little way for me to interact with Kay. More importantly, neither of us know where we are in the competition stakes. The system doesn’t let me know how many check ins I need in order to become mayor, or how close other people are behind me in the race. Each venue needs a “leader board” type function to raise the stakes of competition. Otherwise, it loses its lustre very quickly.
  • What’s the point? Badges are too hard to earn. I can leave tips at venues, but there is no incentive to do so. Companies are given no incentive to interact with regular attenders. And so on… Incentives are required.
  • Finally, providing feedback to the system (especially, for example, indicating duplicate venues) is a really long and complicated procedure (and is not a feature of the iPhone app – why not?). This functionality also needs to be delegated down to “editors” in local areas (think of how Wikipedia manages content).

If you’re a Foursquare user, what do you think? Have I missed anything?

In summary, then, Foursquare has the potential to be brilliant. But only if it learns the lessons of other social media success stories. Connect us, and enable us to connect! Speak to us, and enable us to speak to you. Enable us to contribute to the development of the system.

Foursquare, I hope you’re listening, because I don’t want you to go the way of Google Wave. But if even the mighty Google can get it so wrong, then no-one is safe.

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