Foursquare has added an interesting new feature to its main website homepage. You can now conduct a search for places in your local vicinity - without having its App on a mobile device or being a member.
Up until now Foursquares most useful features have required membership or the using of an app. This is very different and opens up another opportunity for potential exposure (albeit not a major one, we'd acknowledge that).
The search facility is shown at the top of the website and from the tests we've conducted it's quick and the results are very nicely presented; although we do have our doubts about their accuracy (see below).
Foursquare has been disappointing in the UK in 2012. We wanted to see it make bigger penetration than it has and we think their marketing of the platform over here has been poor (they promised lots of attention for the UK earlier this year and we haven't seen a great deal of it).
However, it still gives visibility that an organisation wouldn't have and its value to cafes, restaurants, High Street retailers and entertainment venues is apparent.
When you arrive on the Foursquare website (clicking any of the images below will take you to it), you'll find the top of the screen has a search bar like this:
After typing your desired word/phrase in and hitting return, you'll get a very well presented page of results and map markers showing the locations it has found, as shown below:
This is where you might start to notice a few differences between Foursquare and more traditional search engines.
That's because registered venues/locations will be shown by their Foursquare membership popularity. In other words, the more times Foursquare members have checked-in to a location, the higher up the search results it'll be shown.
That sounds good in theory, but it may be problematic and we've deliberately shown a test result above that proves it.
In our search for a local "supermarket", the foremost result was the Metro Centre. That just happens to be Europe's largest shopping mall. So, it gets millions of visitors, and it's fair to presume it has had a lot of Foursquare check-ins too. So, nothing wrong with that then?
Well actually, yes there is. It is a long way from being our most local supermarket. It isn't a supermarket. It's a shopping mall! There are supermarkets in it, but as we have a much more local supermarket (about a mile away) you'd have to ask how frustrating this might become.
We know it's likely that the small supermarket a short distance from us won't have had as many check-ins, and we also recognise that because all results are shown on the map we can easily find the one closest to us.
However, there are benefits for any organisation.
Firstly, Foursquare represent an additional channel for representation in the first place. If you're not listed on it, you should be. It doesn't have a collosal UK user base but those that do use it are very frequent (daily) in doing so. The chance for brand exposure is greater if you're on it than if you're not!
Secondly, the new feature means it is a new search mechanism with a wider potential audience because it is no longer restricted to their mobile app or members.
Let's not forget that Foursquare gives any organisation the chance of a map listinig, brand information and a link to your website, so the fact there is another referral opportunity makes it a platform to use anyway - even if you only ensure you have a presence on it and don't maintain it regularly.
It's also worth remembering that Foursquare had over 750,000 UK businesses that had claimed their locations as long ago as March this year, so if your organisation isn't listed yet then you'd be a late adopter and should try to put aside the 10 minutes it takes to set up a Foursquare profile and location.
Whether this new facility will become popular, we'll have to wait and see. We have our doubts, but it's an unusual step from what we're used to seeing from Foursquare and you can't blame them for wanting to capitalise on the map data they already have and that is used by their members every day.