Foursquare Attempts to Cross the Chasm…

written by Remy Kozak

I was at an NVBC marketing seminar for early stage startups Tuesday night where the speaker Dave Thomas from Rocket Builders was quoting extensively from the famous book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore. Although familiar with the material, a refresher is always a good way to seem material in a new light – usually from your immediate perspective, which is undoubtedly different from what it was 10 years ago.

Applying the Chasm principles to our current situation will be a valuable exercise. That said, we are several months away from even reaching the edge of the chasm – as Alex Iskold pointed out a couple of years back in Read Write Web, many companies never do. So I started thinking who, within the LBS sector, is at or closest to the edge of the Chasm. The immediate names that came to mind were Loopt, Gowalla and Foursquare. Of these, Foursquare is clearly getting the most attention and, arguably, experiencing the greatest growth – having reached 1 Million users less than a week ago. If you look at the growth curve, it looks to be accelerating and unstoppable… but here comes the Chasm.

As much as the tech and social media bloggers and even the social media writers within major newspapers love Foursquare: from Jason Kincaid and MG Siegler at Techcrunch in early/mid 2009, to Read Write Web’s Marshall Kirkpatrick and Jenna Wortham of the New York Times in earlier this year and even Catherine McCarthy of CNET as recently as last week.  All of these people love Foursquare, then again, all of these people appear to be hyper-social, or at least hyper-social media.

In short, these folks are, by definition, still part of the Innovators and Early Adopter groups – especially w.r.t. social media. And since Foursquare is essentially a social media game with an LBS twist, they are not what one might call objective.

Even within this “ideal” group of early adopters, however, there are concerns over privacy and security. From Jennifer Van Grove’s generally positive article on Mashable where she admits she only likes to check-in once she gets home to avoid stalkers, to more ominous articles outlining “common sense” for check in services from people like Jason Falls – early adopters are concerned about the implications to security and privacy.

As we move from this “early adopter” group, however, into the “pragmatists” seeds of concern over privacy and security being sown – and people are just not getting it. From folks walking away to those committing LBS suicide even bloggers who are supposed to like Social Media are writing it off.

And then there is the more conservative/family writers with well-founded and unaddressed concerns.

The topic of location sharing in social media is not as cut and dried as proponents of Foursquare and other check in services might have us think. Location-sharing via smartphones fuses the real with the virtual – so privacy and security issues become a vital consideration. As a recent LBSZone post by Ritesh Gupta points out, the challenges associated with sharing location include legal considerations designed to protect consumers.  Oddly enough, Ritesh was interviewing Stephen Deadman head of Legal – Privacy, Security & Content Standards, Vodafone Group Services Limited.

So what, might you ask, is a company like Foursquare to do?

Well, it appears the folks from the Big Apple knew this issue would be coming and started preparing for it as early as mid last year. By late 2009/early 2010 they were ready with a number of major “partnerships” with big media players.

While most might think these relationships were for publicity – and in no small part they were – the most important consideration had to be in building trust with the pragmatists. Pragmatists watch Bravo! and History Channel and VH1.  They also read the New York Times, Zagat and the Wall Street Journal.

And remember that legal concern expressed above by Vodafone’s head of Legal – Privacy, Security & Content Standards? Well guess who Foursquare is partnering with in the UK?

So where does this leave us?

At this point it is unclear if Foursquare will succeed in Crossing the Chasm. They have prepared their strategy and are implementing it well in the US. We can expect more partnering announcements in the coming months designed to build up trust. In Europe, the battle is more difficult. In spite of the fact that Europe adopted mobile technology (especially SMS and Data) faster than North America, they are notoriously private people – even the social media folks in Europe expressed concern early on.

The pragmatists are a tough bunch to figure. They love video games and facebook but proved resistant to satellite TV, video phones, and electric cars. In the end, I think the pragmatists’ love of privacy and security – especially for their family – will outweigh their love (need?) for attention and sharing, at least in a check-in format. Foursquare still has room to grow, especially in the US, but that growth is unlikely to reach the levels seen by facebook – except, perhaps in some voyeuristic online/mobile show format where pragmatists sit at home and watch celebrities’ comings and goings in LA and NYC.

I do ‘get’ Foursquare, even though I seldom use it. Then again I am an early adopter myself – who has recently become a lot more pragmatic in his choices. Perhaps it’s starting a family that forces you to change perspective. Then again, I have always been a private person – selective about who I share things with.

I guess that is why we developed echoecho. We saw the larger opportunity for a location-sharing platform that could meet the needs of the pragmatist for security and privacy, while supporting the needs of location-aware applications developers to develop cool services.

We are still battling to get to the Chasm and look forward to facing the challenge of Crossing one day – hopefully sooner than later.  The early adopters are getting on board (both users and developers) and we have more than a strategy for crossing, our entire platform was developed with the pragmatist in mind.

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