A future IPO as exciting as Twitter's

Not every app has to serve lofty missions. Foursquare combines fun with on-the-ground usefulness and continues to improve as Yelp deteriorates.

By TheStreet.com Staff Nov 6, 2013 1:23PM

Foursquare logo Courtesy of Foursquare via FacebookTheStreet.com logoBy Rocco Pendola

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When Facebook (FB) went public in May 2012, I wrote 'A future IPO more exciting than Facebook' -- a column about Twitter (TWTR).

Now, with Twitter's own public offering sure to produce some form of explosive headlines, I'm still looking ahead.

Lots of tech types -- as well as some perfectly normal people -- like to diss Foursquare as a waste of time. They argue that all it does is satisfy the narcissistic fetish of telling your friends where you are every minute of the day. If you're "checking in" at a five-star restaurant or doing something else widely perceived as cool or of the affluent, all the better.

While I would agree that an app such as Klout -- easily the biggest waste of venture capital since Webvan -- fits this self-indulging bill, I don't with respect to Foursquare. In fact, I argue that Foursquare is every bit as good as Yelp (YELP) and could, in its own way, end up just as useful, fun and engaging as Facebook or Twitter.

Foursquare is fun. And it has gotten much better, and more useful, over the last six months or so.

There's too much focus on devices and apps that change lives or completely disrupt the way we do things. Not every app we put on a smartphone should have to serve missions as lofty (and, quite often, hollow) as giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected or providing everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers.

Talk about narcissistic and self-indulging!

Whatever happened to fun coupled with down-home, on-the-ground usefulness? I mean sometimes I just want to listen to The Bangles. I don't require the deep meaning I find in Bruce Springsteen and Elliott Smith.

Somewhere along the way, Foursquare made the mistake of allowing itself to get typecast as "that app you use to check-in at places." While it was cool to "check in" a year or two ago, the luster faded fast. Those of us who still use Foursquare to check in are quite likely to rank high on narcissism scales or maybe we just like to compete with our friends for points.

I know. It's a time waster, but it's fun. I have a competition with one of my Foursquare friends to see who can rack up the most check-in points. We needle one another all of the time. For instance, he made his home -- "The Residence" -- a place that he checks into, sometimes multiple times a day. I'm writing up a grievance to protest this practice with the Foursquare Board of Directors or competition committee, assuming the company has one. (If it doesn't, it should!)

In the process of merely "checking in," Foursquare continues to up the ante with a mix of fun and useful features.

Fun: Foursquare knows I'm a Taylor Swift fan?

More fun: Every time I turn around Foursquare throws something else at me that's engaging and/or relevant to my experience in the moment.

Because they're not as fun, I tend not to screenshot the more useful Foursquare moments as they happen. But, the more I see them, and put them to use, the less I use Yelp.

Yelp, slowly but surely, feels like it's becoming a place to bitch about an experience you didn't like or troll for a social media following by being snarky, funny or otherwise clever and creative. I don't want to experience anything close to an Internet comments forum or message board when I'm looking for a place to eat.

Talk about narcissistic and . . . !

At least in Manhattan and Southern California, the two places where I most frequently use each app, Foursquare's ability to offer relevant suggestions of places to go -- that are actually within a reasonable distance of my current location -- continues to improve as Yelp's gets worse. I can't tell you how many times, even when filtering a search, Yelp does me wrong. Foursquare knows what's nearby, based largely on the behavior of its users, and doesn't send me on a wild goose chase for food, drink or some other indulgence.

Yelp should have taken Google's (GOOG) offer when it had the chance. If you've made money on the stock's epic run, say thank you and get the hell out. Consider the degradation of Yelp's user experience a sign of things to come.

Foursquare, on the other hand, sits in prime pouncing position.

Larger companies have taken note of the progress founder and CEO Dennis Crowley and his team have made. There has been talk of interest from Microsoft (MSFT) and American Express (AXP). (Microsoft owns and publishes MSN Money.) Foursquare continues to collect treasure troves of data and, methodically, to expand its functionality for advertisers. It recently opened up a self-serve platform.

While Dick Costolo talked about operating on his own timeline with respect to if and when Twitter would go public (that sounds so funny now!), Crowley actually appears to be walking the walk. He's taking his time and building a company that will likely be better-prepared than both Facebook and Twitter if it ever gets to the IPO stage. Chances are somebody takes Foursquare out before then. Here's hoping whoever makes the move and wins the prize doesn't kill the fun and/or ruin a startup that actually appears to be growing in the most orderly and strategic fashion possible.

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