Friday, July 22, 2011

How Can Foursquare Can Serve Small Businesses?

 is fun. For me, Foursquare is a utility. I'm less into the standings than I am into remembering things I want to do and places I went that were good. I'm very much into hearing what my friends think about places I want to go. It's been getting a lot better at helping me 'explore'. I think that these are the pretty obvious use-cases from my (end-user) perspective.

But, the service is free for me to use. And, as they say, "if you aren't paying for a product, you are the product being sold." So, what are some possible use-cases for the real potential buyers, the businesses?

1) Venue Stats
The venue stats can be valuable to small business owners who do not have the time or tools (or the interest in investing in them) to measure traffic patterns. It does not require installing any hardware, and only minimal effort to 'claim the venue' and start understanding when people check-in to your business. Foursquare provides these basic analytics for free. Great. Now what to do with that?

2) Help Managing Inventory and Staff
To me, an industrial engineer and all around numbers guy, I love digging into the info about peak usage, flow rates, etc. I think improved inventory management is amazing because it often feels like free money. Or rather, what's so amazing is that it doesn't necessarily feel like anything and then, suddenly, money!
Regardless of the business, a better understanding of congestion can help better plan production. That's the same if I run a restaurant or a salon. Most business owners will tell you they already understand their peak times (e.g., lunch at a deli, "2:30 Feeling" for5 Hour Energy). But, for those places that do not invest in a high-end POS, Foursquare provides hardware-free analytics showing how busy business really is. These analytics could help anticipate growth/decline and manage it more effectively (e.g., through changes in staffing or offering specials as a means of congestion pricing).

3) Specials and Loyalty Programs
Ok. Specials. Daily Deals. Groupons. Whatever you want to call them. They exist already from multiple parties and are among the hottest areas in startups right now. Foursquare reaches lots of customers who are near a purchase decision. It already has specials and is distributing deals from partners (i.e., LivingSocial, AmEx). That’s great. 
Futher, the Foursquare Specials platform can easily be a turnkey customer loyalty program (and it sells it this way). It provides additional value past punch cards because customers broadcast their spending to their friends. And, right now, it does not cost anything more than the cards for the free advertising. At redemption of “10th coffee is free” it would create desire in other customers wanting free stuff and could motivate new customers to choose that coffee shop over competitors.

4) Close the Loop & Estimate Cash Payments
Now it’s time to use the data you have on customer behavior. Other than credit card companies (and maybe no one has a better handle on customer behavior than Foursquare. There has to be more here than specials, right?
Foursquare gets data on consumer interaction regardless of their method of payment. Use that information to create some measure (estimate, SWAG, whatever you want to call it) of cash spending. That would be an enormously valuable bit of information for businesses and their payment providers, from established banks and credit cards to Square and PayPal all trying to grab a bigger share of payments.

5) Customer Experience Measurement
Provide an easy way for customers to share info about how long they spend in the store. Maybe they were going to come in, but didn't because it was too crowded. Maybe they didn't find what they were looking for.
I bet a delicious new burrito store would pay up to find out how long it takes someone to come in, get a burrito, eat it, and leave.
Adding this complexity could easily drive users away, but it might make the remaining users much more valuable sources of info. One way to implement could be a 'simple check-in' tab and a 'complex check-in' tab. Users would opt-in to sharing their progress through the line to give feedback that helps their favorite businesses improve their own experience, like a business focused version of the Yelp Elite.

6) Follow Up Feedback
Another way to improve data collection for businesses could be to let users receive email and quick (and I mean quick) surveys from venues they visited. I already get an email from online purchases I make asking me to rate the experience. Even the receipt (which I don't want, btw) at the Duane Reade encourages me to fill out an online survey for a chance at $10,000. There's value in fostering that data collection.

7) Potential Business Owners
Provide insights into the aggregate check-in data for a neighborhood. When a commercial real-estate agent says "great foot traffic", Foursquare can provide the real data behind that and the specific times of day. Is this a neighborhood for a late-night spot or a mid-day spot? How many locals are here? How many tourists? Where do the various groups check-in?
Show me the CarFax.

8) Business to Business Sales
Help business connect with each other to sell efficiency products (e.g., better registers, better inventory management, scheduling software, etc). If the data analytics are still free for the small business owners, well, then they might be a second layer in the “you are the product” stack. So, Foursquare can act as lead generator or market maker to help connect small businesses with service providers. 
Even better, integrate Foursquare software with existing solutions and makes it easy to close the loop. Then it can provide understanding of the customer experience from check-in to payment to follow up through customer feedback.

Ok. Those are some ideas.  What might be a hurdle to adoption?

1) Understanding the psychology of the 'check-in'
A small businesses owner needs to understand when and why people check-in. Is it before their experience, regardless of what happens? Maybe afterwards? Maybe only check-in if they loved or hated it. This, to me, is the biggest limitation facing Foursquare. Possibly the very large and growing user base would wash away the outliers.

2) Customer Segmentation and Bias
Customers are going to be more diverse than the subset of smartphone owners who also have Foursquare who also check-in who also leave tips. Business owners are already busy managing a Yelp page (and the actual business). They don't have time to check out the check-in data. Maybe the data around specials is more interesting, but by then, the business has already been convinced of the value of the Foursquare deal platform over competing deals services.

3) Fine. So, why Foursquare?
10 million registered users. Free business analytics (for now). Data. Insights. Profit!
I’ve made some assumptions about the depth, breadth and quality of data and inferences we’d be able to pull from Foursquare. Which are too big? What do you think of these options?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Androids and iPhones

With the launch of the Nexus One, there is a lot of talk about whether Android will ultimately beat the iPhone. Lots of very smart people are going both ways on it. Comparisons to the Microsoft / Apple competition of the past have said that Apple will be content to own just a small share of the marketplace, while Android is apparently going to go on to be the Windows for mobile that Windows Mobile should have been.

I think these people are probably right. Despite having an iPhone (and kind of loving it), I do like the idea of an OS that lets you change everything about it. I have gripes with the iPhone settings and apps that can't change (email, contacts, text messages, sound profiles). However, I have to imagine that Apple will one day improve them.

An important advantage the iPhone (the 3GS at least) has for now is that it is noticeably more responsive than any android phone I've used. Again, that probably will change as HTC, Motorola, Samsung, etc get better at design and the suppliers build capacity for the newer chips. Plus, the iPhone software is pretty slick. And, until the hardware manufacturers get better at customizing their android builds to make them as slick, the top of the market will belong to the iPhone.

The first mover advantage of the iPhone is huge as well. It already has a ton of apps, and by being first, it got all the geeks and nerds to adopt it. Mobile apps are generally built for the iPhone first, with Android (and Blackberry) versions following later. That's probably due to the market share of iPhones, but it's a virtuous cycle for Apple (apps beget market share which begets apps) that will be very hard for Google and its partners to bust. Getting the iPhone onto Verizon next year, as rumored, will go a long way to blocking the biggest avenue Android has to reach an untapped audience.

In mobile, since the device is carried all the time, it seems rational to spend a bit more to have the best, rather than accepting second tier. Android will try to, and probably need to, be lower cost at first. I hope that the competition opens up the iPhone OS a bit more, but if it doesn't, hopefully Android will catch up in slickness by the time I'm ready for my next phone.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Another music site

Neon music signImage via Wikipedia
I came across this website, called recently, but it does a good job of playing music by theme. I've been digging it lately. It's not fantastic for discovery, like hype machine is, but it has the benefit of playlists by 'mood', so you don't have to think for yourself.

No time for a full write-up, but it plays with limited lag, even at my office that seems to throttle anything that might help me enjoy my day. So, that's a big plus.
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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My iPhone Experiment: Conclusion?

So, I caved an bought an iPhone 3Gs, 32GB. After about 3 weeks of use, I'll say that I'm used to it. I do not think I am as crazy for it as everyone else is. Apple has a history of limiting the options available to users, for me that's annoying. I love to play around in the advanced settings and customize things to fit the way I use them.

So now, here is a quick review, followed by some tips I discovered while playing around on how to make your iPhone more productive.

The Big Things that Everyone Else has Already Commented on:

  1. The Keyboard. It's fine. It's not great. I miss having a real keyboard. It's not that typing on the keys is so bad, but not having a dedicated keyboard makes having keyboard shortcuts impossible. This is a minor knit, but I notice it constantly. Especially in the email program
  2. The Keyboard again. Automatic correction is awful. Why is "Yo" not in there? Also, I constantly hit "b" instead of space and "m" instead of backspage and Shift instead of "a". Hassles, all of them. Landscape mode makes it easier, but it's still not as nice as a real keyboard.
  3. Landscape Mode. Sometimes, I don't want to rotate. Sometimes, I want to rotate back. It is often unresponsive and requires closing and re-opening an app. (If you have a tip on how to solve this better, please let me know!)
  4. The Email Program. It stinks. No push email is fine (suboptimal, but fine), I can survive because I only use my personal email and things are rarely urgent on that line. I don't like that I cannot sort by unread. Also, the search stinks. If, the gmail webapp weren't available and good, I would go crazy. It would be nicer if it used tags instead of folders, but, again the gmail webapp comes to the rescue.
  5. Copy and Paste. It stinks. It's nice that it's there, but it's a pain to use. It makes composing emails harder because moving thing around is tricky. If I had this phone before copy and paste, I would have left it instantly. Huge feature missing at the original launch.
  6. Multitasking. It's impossible. Other than playing your iPod, you cannot do two things at once. That is annoying. Again, it makes this device terrible for being productive. Or even just chatting and sharing links at the same time. Push notifications have proven to be pretty good for IM. Except that you have to reload the entire program every time.
  7. Battery life. It lasts for a day, max. I think they should be required to include two chargers so you can always have one with you. Frankly, there is no reason they couldn't use the mini USB plugs adopted by Blackberry and roughly everyone else at this point to charge. That would be MUCH more convenient.
Little Things that Irritate (probably only) Me:
  1. No sound profiles. This seems like a pretty major oversight. I don't need a million, but I would prefer 3 or more. Also, I'd like more options than just "ON/OFF". On my old Curve, I used at least 4 on a regular basis.
  2. Home screen can't be customized enough. Sure, you can set a picture. But, I want a notice of how many missed calls, voicemails and emails I have. Seems like there should be an easy fix, but I haven't found it yet
  3. Not a portable hard drive. If it exists, I haven't seen it. I want an app to let me use my iPhone as a hard drive. I want to be able to upload from it and download to it. Not even necessarily to view the files, but to be able to transfer them (via USB, bluetooth and wifi). I don't know why I thought I would have this option. Lame to leave it off (a DropBox app would be sick!). Even if it was not ideal, the Blackberry with a microSD card let me use it as a storage drive.
Good things that I like
  1. The internet. It's good. I used Opera Mobile on my Curve, and it was good, but slow. I believe that is entirely due to the EDGE vs. 3G network that I was on. But, basically 3G is way better than EDGE. So, get a new smartphone, [almost] any new smartphone.
  2. The apps. I have fallen in love with a few apps (listed below). Instapaper is by far my favorite. I have a full reading list to check out on the subway or anywhere else when I finally find time to catch up on the news / analysis I want to read. I actually paid $5 for this when I was still testing out the original iPhone because I love it so much.
  3. One device. I only carry my iPhone now. No need for an iPod and Blackberry. Though, the battery life sometimes makes me limit how much I listen to the iPod.
  1. Shake to undo. No one else I know managed to discover this, but if you shake your iPhone it undoes your recent typing. Try it, it works. You look stupid, but it can be helpful.
  2. Double Click for iPod. When you're in the locked screen or any app, you can double click the home button to bring up the iPod controls and change the song. The only multitasking you can do on the phone, and it isn't even the default setting. Go into Settings > General > Home and flip the switch labeled iPod Controls to "ON"
  3. Turn down the brightness on the screen to save battery. That's a no-brainer. The battery life is bad. Help switch it to not good by turning down the brightness as low as you can stand.
App Recommendations
  1. Instapaper PRO. It's amazing. Start with the free one, and then upgrade. It's great because all the links and articles you see at work are there for you to read when you commute home. This is the only app I've paid for. (I've been writing about it for a while)
  2. Evernote. It's a note taking application that also syncs with your home computers and a web interface. Also, if you take a picture of something with text, it converts that text and makes it searchable. Amazing!
  3. Palringo Lite. Free IM application that has push notification. I like it. I wish it had landscape mode, but it works fine.
  4. Facebook. Seriously, v3.0 is amazing.
  5. WSJ and NYTimes. Free apps that give you all the articles on these papers. They also download for you for reading later, so definitely practical if you don't know what you want to read later.
  6. KICK Lite. Free NYC subway map.
  7. OpenTable, UrbanSpoon, Yelp. If you don't know what these are, google it.
  8. Fandango. Let's you order tickets from the phone, which makes it better than Flixster in my opinion.
  9. Remote, Boxee, VLCRemFree, MochaVNC Lite. These are all remote control apps for full programs your computer. They are great if you use the associated programs, which I recommend (and have in the past)
  10. Shazam, Pandora, Imeem. Music apps. If you don't know what these are, google it.
  11. Google and Vlingo. Both enable voice search of your phone. Vlingo let's you search your phone too, though, and make phone calls. Though, I'm not sure it's voice recognition is as fast or accurate.
  12. I have a bunch of others that I don't use as much. But a sudoku game is great. As is the Chipotle app, Epicurious, AllRecipes, TripIt, TweetDeck among others. If you have favorite apps, that you can't live without. I would love to hear about them.

Overall, my impression of the phone is that it's really great at everything not related to actually communicating. On the communication front, it's passable, which is why those other things finally swung me in favor of the iPhone. But, I think I would have been equally happy with a new BlackBerry Tour, HTC myTouch, or even Palm Pre (oh, and I've been on AT&T for my entire cellphone life, so I don't really notice network issues).

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

My iPhone Experiment

I just activated an old, first generation iPhone. The experiment begins. If I can last a month, I'm getting an iPhone 3GS. If not, Blackberry, Palm, HTC / Google are all in the running.

I expect to miss my BlackBerry. But, I don't want to commit to an iPhone 3GS over the Blackberry Tour (probably on Verizon), without at least seeing if the apps can be worth the loss of instant messenger. Key things I expect to miss in addition to google talk include background apps, over the air syncing with my google account, and a real keyboard. I'm already not looking forward to deleting all the duplicates this just created by using both my google contacts and apple address book (which it forced me to do!). Note to apple: I don't always want to use your product. In fact, most times, I don't want to use it. So, leave me be.

Any tips for making the switch greatly appreciated.

On the bright side, I'm no longer carrying around 2 Blackberry Curves and an iPhone. Not sure if that makes me more of a geek or less of one.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Quick comments on Cuban

Mark Cuban is a leader in thinking about the future of media. No one with more money is more open to challenging the existing paradigm. He knows what consumers want before they do, maybe because he is a consumer (though I have no idea how he could have time to be one).

His recent post about the issues that new media faces and internet TV in comparison to the two other businesses that have been decimated by the new distribution methods already (music, news). I highly recommend it. I want to say that he agrees 100% with what I've been writing recently. I have been advocating for the cablecos who already control the pipes to take advantage of their monopoly on delivery and get the on demand content to a higher level and basically shut down all of the upstart web companies (though I love them so much).  However, he raises issues I haven't gotten to yet, so definitely give it a read.

Here the main argument against internet TV:

The path of least resistance to get TV, is turning on the TV. It works. It works fast. It’s reliable. The product is consistent and equal for everyone. It is predictable. The best content is available first on TV. The same can not be said for internet delivered TV. In fact, its the opposite. You have to work to get your internet TV to work. Which site has which content changes. Which content is actually available changes. Internet TV quality is not consistent from usage to usage. Internet TV requires upgrades to software to stay compatible which creates work (your next flash/silverlight/quicktime upgrade is when ?). The experience is not consistent from website to website. So every time you want to sample something new, you never really know what to expect. TV is the no work platform relative to Internet TV

I think his definition of Internet TV is too narrow. Based on his narrow definition, he is definitely right. A lot of the advantage traditional TV has is due to legacy content partnerships based on the distribution monopolies that cablecos had. There is no reason it has to stay that way.

However, cablecos should be upgrading the software (and remotes) on the set-top boxes they rent. As you know, I think that's the way to crush internet video startups, grab new media ad dollars, and justify their new emphasis on broadband pricing tiers (or other price increases). To me, his arguments in favor of cablecos dominating are the same as why an internet company would dominate in the absence of a cableco pricing per byte (which is probably why Hulu has seen such impressive growth). Sure, the cablecos could do it, but that doesn't mean the right startup isn't already there (e.g., TiVo or boxee). There should be a lot of OS/interface options to choose from, and they all should just work.

And, frankly, my cable (from Time Warner Cable) is often not working. My HD channels will go out, or onDemand won't work. And, the choices on any channel are constantly changing just like they do on the web. Further, the argument that 'which site has which content changes' is just as true if you replace site with channel. So, regular TV is just as frustrating as Internet TV.

And, while his argument for/against a la carte pricing may seem slightly insane today. It isn't. There is no reason to bundle shows together on a network. That is an artifact of a legacy distribution method. If we had to buy individual groups of television shows like we buy tickets to sporting events, we would not buy tickets to see Nets vs. Bucks when, for the same price, we could buy Cavaliers vs. Lakers.  But, the way ABC chooses the Sunday Double Header shows that people will pay for good content (even if they just have to pay attention).

He ends with this:
In order to be sustainable as a platform, there has to be a way to pay for it. TV is winning this battle and by all appearances is advancing further, faster in a more standardized way than Internet Video. Hard to believe, but you need to ask yourself “Who would you rather depend on for open platforms and standards for advertising, google or cable/satellite/telcos”.
He is right, of course. That cable/satellite/telcos are more likely to make this happen, but I think that consumers don't want Internet Video. They want video on demand. Right now, the internet does a better job of providing options/selection, even if you don't get the benefit of the big screen TV.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Comcast hits 11 billion served

Comcast recently announced that it served it's 11 billionth video since it launched 6 years ago. That's more than tons of other products over the same period (2x iTunes, 4x Big Macs, blah blah)

Here's why it's important. They felt the need to tell someone. Seems to me that means that Comcast gets it. Sure, they're moving way too slowly for my (and the web's) taste, but then, they don't have any competition in their markets. So, I say kudos to Comcast for finally doing something on their own. They also launched PBS in HD OnDemand. Nice.

Hopefully, they are getting convinced that people will cut the cord. Also, hopefully, they won't push too hard on bandwidth caps. Anyways, progress is progress. Let's try to keep a positive view of the world.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another great read about digital video

From the guys at TV by the Numbers: Four TV trends to track that don’t involve whether Chuck and Dollhouse will be renewed!

The four theses:

  1. Reallocation of existing revenue streams
  2. Increased DVR viewing and advertising strategies aiming to combat it
  3. Increased online viewing and more commercials online
  4. Look for new and better offerings from your cable and satellite providers (watch out, Netflix!)
I definitely agree with everything he says. I would love to see more on-demand content in general, if it comes from the cable guys, that is fine with me (I pay them every month already). Interestingly, he feels online video is the least important of the trends. I agree with him, the real importance of online video is the potential for on-demand everything all the time. And that won't happen until content owners can figure out how to get paid.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Boxee finally gets an iPhone remote

Boxee iPhone appImage by nwistheone via Flickr
My favorite mediacenter software finally got the iPhone app that has been so longly anticipated.

It has two modes, gesture and buttons. The button mode is straighforward and pretty easy to use. The gesture mode is good as well, though it takes some getting used to the sensitivity.

My only complaint is that there are no shortcuts on the phone. This app definitely does not take full advantage of the canvas that is the iPhone screen.

Search is the biggest missing component from Boxee in general, but the remote app could go a long way to solving that. Ideally, it would have text-based search function. Scrolling is so analog. At the very least there should be an alphabet down the side like the contacts app. Different sources may organize differently, but if you take the term alphabet loosely it can mean anything. It could mean a adding shortcuts for date, show title, or any other category of data they can get.

So, is this boxee's next move in usability? Should they start to catalog all the content they have available from their different sources by all the available information so that you can browse and search your available video content like it's your email? That would be very much welcome.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Interesting Reading re: TV networks future

Take a look at this article, he's definitely onto something (though a certain someone may have been making similar points lately)...

Today’s Threat To Broadcast TV Networks  (TV by the Numbers)