Fast-growing network Foursquare is luring potential buyers

Here’s Dennis Crowley’s ideal way to end the day: At 6 p.m., his iPhone alerts him to the evening’s plans. It has already checked his friends’ calendars and knows who’s free tonight, so it suggests a restaurant they’ve all wanted to try. It notes when a table is available and informs him that three other friends are planning to hang out across the street so they can meet up later. And it all will happen—soon, he says—through Foursquare, the location-based mobile application and Web site Crowley co-founded with Naveen Selvadurai last year. “Every day, we tick off another couple of things that get us closer to being able to do that,” says Crowley, 33.

Harnessing GPS-enabled mobile technology to let users broadcast their location is not a new idea. A service called Loopt has been offering friend-locating apps, and Google’s Latitude feature on its maps can. Foursquare, a 20-person company that operates out of a crowded loft in New York’s East Village, adds a game-like twist. Its 1 million-plus users earn badges by “checking in” at certain bars, restaurants, and other venues by pressing a button on the app upon arrival. A user can earn a “mayor” icon from a bar if he or she has checked in more than anyone else during the previous 60 days. The business model is simple: Generate as big a user base as possible and sell national brands and local merchants on the possibilities of marketing to people as they congregate—ready to eat, shop, or spend.

The service has certainly gotten buzz. On Apr. 16 (that’s four times four—four squared), fans held “Foursquare” parties in more than 150 cities worldwide. The British soccer team Manchester City asked supporters to check-in en masse during the May 5 match at home against Tottenham Hotspur. More than 3,000 restaurants, bars, and other venues use Foursquare to attract customers with promotions.

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