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December 10, 2013 • Editorials

Foursquare’s New ‘Passive Notification’ System in Action!

4SQ Tracking1

4SQ Tracking

The other day I was at Target, and a notification sounded – it wasn’t email, or text, or Game Center or ESPN. In fact I didn’t recognize it at all – so I looked at my phone. It was Foursquare, as shown above. This was a surprise because I couldn’t recall the last time I’d even opened the app!

When I think about Foursquare, this description fits my perception:

Rather than automatically sending users tips as they moved from place to place, the Foursquare smartphone app required them to “check in” every time they wanted information about their location — a time-consuming process that rewarded sitting still rather than exploring and discovering new experiences.

I grabbed the screen because I was surprised, then today I was surprised by an article at Wired called “The Brilliant Hack That Brought Foursquare Back From the Dead”.

Here is what the company did to finally get closer to the initial vision of the founder:

But when Ranganath told Shaw about the problems, the data scientist had an idea. Why not take a shortcut? Foursquare already had a massive database of check-ins — location information about the places its users most liked to go. And this data didn’t just include the place where someone had checked in. It showed how strong the GPS signal was at the time, how strong each surrounding Wi-Fi hotspot signal was, what local cell towers were nearby, and so on. Leveraging this data meant that Foursquare could still grab a good current location even if users were underground, near a source of radio interference, or facing some other signal obstacle. Chances are, some prior Foursquare user had seen the world through the same flawed eyes and reported his or her location.

Foursquare’s ability to cut through the noise of crowded cities didn’t only help the company locate its users. It also reduced battery drain.

So now Foursquare can sit in the background and ping the OS for location data on occasion, and then send users info related to any check-ins in the area! Of course, I could just go into the settings and kill off these notifications, but I think it is a decent service – so long as the information is useful!

Chances are that users in more metropolitan areas have been seeing many more notifications simply based on the population density and demographics. Which also speaks to the usability of apps like Foursquare. If I have been out at stores, malls, restaurants and grocery markets since the update and this is the FIRST notice I got … I think we can assume that my area is not a huge Foursquare market.

What do you think? Have you seen the notifications? Do you like the idea or find it invasive?

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