Wanted (Dead or Alive): ‘Check-outs’ on Foursquare

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Issued by: Brand Managers Worldwide

Reward: Respective Marketing Budgets

I received an anonymous call today from someone who claimed to be representing the newly formed BMWA (Brand Managers Worldwide Alliance).

He (well, I think it was a ‘he’) said his friends were a bit confused about Foursquare.

I immediately started to give him my explanation about it before he stopped me and said:

“Why doesn’t Foursquare ask you to check-out?”

I paused, and said; “Ummm, can I call you back?”

It was one of the most obvious questions I’ve ever been asked and yet I couldn’t answer it.

He followed up his call with an email – see the excerpt below:

Do you have any idea how powerful this data could be for me and my friends if we had both ‘check-in’ and ‘check-out times’?

We could then tell our bosses things like:

– average length of stay per customer
– whether or not certain promotions kept patrons in venues longer
– when the best times were to have more staff on duty

His list did tend to go on a fair bit but the point he made was a fair one:

Foursquare could potentially provide brands with the best customer behaviour research they’ve ever had.

So why aren’t they asking us to ‘check-out’?

– ‘checking-in’ is already a burden for the consumer (perhaps)
– the technology struggles enough to handle ‘check-ins’ as it is
– there is no immediate commercial incentive for this service (the aim is to drive consumers into venues with special deals, what they do after they ‘check-in’ isn’t a concern)

So, I called my anonymous friend back and said:

“Maybe we should pose this question to Foursquare?”

His response was; “Go on then.”

So, here I go…


  • The data would be pretty useless really. It would have to assume that check-in was immediate and check-out was timely too for it to have value. Most times I won’t check in until I am settled down somehow, other times I pre-check-in as I arrive so I can put the phone away.
    It also moves the service even more towards a commercial data-gathering service without really giving users any more ‘social benefits’ (it is one thing to say “Look how cool I am checking-in HERE”, quite another to let people know you only stayed 5 mins, or worse, were drinking all night until 4am)
    I see your point, but I don’t think it would work.

  • Reply February 2, 2010

    Adam Vincenzini

    Could a social benefit be that your friends know you’ve left a venue? That could come in handy perhaps…

  • Reply February 2, 2010

    Joanne Jacobs

    I’m not convinced that people would want to ‘check out’. It’s hard enough to check in. And they only check in where they want to be identified as ‘present’. They move to other media – twitter, facebook – as a way of indicating where they want to be identified. Foursquare is a kind of formal check in system. Actual presence is much looser, and le for privacy can be pseudo-maintained by failing to indicate when you have departed a venue. I suspect this might be valuable for business but less attractive for the user.

  • Reply February 3, 2010

    Michael Litman

    Checking out to me doesn’t represent any social value. It’s moving Foursquare in to being a social tool to a data capture tool. Granted, data is being captured currently but this is a much more direct move to harvesting the data for business good. Which isn’t what Foursquare is about. I think the minute they do something like this, people will move on to Gowalla or Yelp. I see Foursquare as just an additional avenue for what I call willy waving. It allows you to say hey look at me and how cool I am and how much I go out and all the great places I go, and hey, these are the people I do it with too! Cynical perhaps and although I love Foursquare, that’s exactly the reason why I see most people checking in. I find it hilarious when I see people I know and respect checking in to Burger King or LIDL.

    This would be a bad move.

  • Reply February 3, 2010

    Adam Vincenzini

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.
    I’m with you on the ‘social’ side of things, but with my ‘client’ hat on, I’m still not convinced to pull the trigger on a 4sq campaign yet – one of challenges is presenting a solid business case for adopting the technology – this post, albeit tongue-in-cheek – aims to highlight that fact.
    Perhaps some more robust data would get it over the line?
    Or perhaps we just have to wait until it has it’s ‘tipping point’.
    While it’s important to consider the ‘user’ every time, it doesn’t hurt to consider the other side either.
    Actually, as someone pointed out yesterday, reckless ‘checking in’ might also be curbed if you are required to check out.
    I’m not sold on it yet, but am praying it does what it potentially can do.

  • Reply February 3, 2010


    I’ve been thinking about this one, here’s my short version: -client hat or no client hat- it’s tough luck that brands would like this data. The check-out concept doesn’t work technically or logically and doesn’t reward the user. I imagine this is why they haven’t implemented it.

    On the positive side, this missing data is not the only case for brand/business adoption. Imaginative people should be able to present business cases to brands based on the service as it is. *They have an API* – I think third party development will take off before long and brands will start to see opportunities.

  • Reply February 3, 2010


    Hey Mikey – re your comment about willy waving… I have to thoroughly disagree with you. Foursquare is about finding new cool places to hang out, and I’ve used the app a number of times in areas I didn’t know very well to find new venues based on other users recommendations.

    I would never judge someone on where they go… who cares anyway?

    Foursquare has massive CRM value in the States where consumers get coupons directly sent to their phones.

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