If you use Foursquare on an Apple or Android smartphone, you will notice a significant update to the app this week. Version 3.0 has been released, and with it come significant changes that not only change the app experience, but also show that Foursquare is maturing in its use and positions is clearly alongside Facebook Places, the other dominant location-based service.

We have written before about the power of Foursquare, about how location marketing should be about more than just vouchers and discounts, and about how Foursquare can really help you to discover new places. This latest version changes the game in a number of small but important ways.

The value of a tool like Foursquare is not necessarily the race to earn points and to become mayor (although I am in a fierce competition to be Mayor of my favourite local deli). The value is in the data that Foursquare captures: the listing of places, the reviews and tips, and the popularity of them as judged by how many people check-in there. The gaming tactics that are used to grow Foursquare are just that – tactics to help capture and gather this information. It is in this that the value really lies, and a major weakness to date with Foursquare was how this data adds value back to users. The new version of the app changes that. And changes it for the better.

What Foursquare really cracks with this new update is the discovery of this information; using it to provide a real service back to users. It turns the service from being fun to being useful. The two most significant changes are improvements in the way you can explore areas in your locality, and ways to find deals and offers:

1. Explore new places

Previously it was very difficult to find venues on Foursquare, and the huge amounts of data they gather on user behaviour, friends and connections, reviews and comments was unused. The real benefit of Foursquare comes when it van help me find a new venue, when it can recommend places my friends like or places that are similar to places I have checked-in at before. The new ‘Explore’ feature does this and does this well. I can search by type of venue (such as my search for ‘Food’ places in the picture above) and find places based on where I have been previously and where my friends have been. It looks like I really should check out The Breakfast Club in Hoxton Square (my friends Sam and Blaise have been there) and I really should.

This will, for me, now be the single most useful feature of Foursquare. When I want to find somewhere to eat or drink, or somewhere to visit, Foursquare uses all its data, and all the data it knows about me to recommend somewhere it thinks I would like. This, in turn, will encourage me to check in more often (to improve the accuracy of these recommendations) and to review places it recommends.

2. Find deals and offers

Deals and offers have always been part of location marketing – both for Foursquare and for Facebook Places. The problem has been that finding these deals is difficult. You find them when you check in at a place and sometimes they are shown when you are nearby. They rewarded people after they had been to a venue rather than being used to attract people to go there in the first place.

A small but significant change in the new version of Foursquare is that I can now search for all deals and offers near me. This will include Mayor offers (as in the two closest to me in this screenshot) but also new Specials, including Friends offers and deals. This allows the specials feature to help drive consumer behaviour and visits, rather than just rewarding people.

Foursquare is growing up. These changes are significant as they change the game from one that captures what people have done to using information to help change consumer behaviour. This is where the real opportunity lies for location.

Original Post: http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog/2011/03/the-changes-that-show-foursquare-is-growing-up-with-4sq3/

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