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foursquare Rolls Out Version 3.0, Introduces Recommendation Engine

Just days before South by Southwest, the foursquare team have rolled out a sweeping upgrade to the service which will have impact beyond the hallowed grounds of Austin — and which may help it scoop up new users from far and wide. Last night, foursquare 3.0 went live for iPhone and Android users, bringing with it an overhauled leaderboard, a suite of new rewards merchants can give their foursquare loyal, and, most significantly, a brand-new recommendation engine which will allow users to find cool restaurants, clubs, etc. nearby that are deemed relevant to their interests, based on their foursquare history and the history of their friends as processed by a proprietary algorithm. The appeal of this will be obvious to anyone who’s ever fumbled around with mobile Yelp looking for a nearby Chinese restaurant.

In a blog post heralding the changes, foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley further unpacks what this means:

You’ll see our first pass at this in foursquare 3.0′s new “Explore” tab. The idea is pretty simple: tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll help you find something nearby. The suggestions are based on a little bit of everything – the places you’ve been, the places your friends have visited, your loyalty to your favorite places, the categories and types of places you gravitate towards, what’s popular with other users, the day of the week, places with great tips, the time of day, and so on. We’ll even tell you why we think you should visit a certain place (e.g. popular with friends, similar to your favorite spots). You’ll find it’s helpful for general things like “food”, “coffee”, “nightlife” (we built in quick access to these searches) and you’ll be surprised by what you get when searching for really specific things, like “80s music,” “fireplaces,” “pancakes,” “bratwurst,” and “romantic.” The more random you get, the more interesting the results get (though be patient with this first release… sometimes we can’t find every random thing).

Now, with over half a billion data points, and with every additional check-in and every tip, foursquare gets a little smarter for you, your friends, and the rest of the community. We’re already finding this can be just as helpful for finding a brunch spot in your neighborhood as it can be for helping you navigate a new city for the first time.

Writing on his personal blog, foursquare investor and Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger underscores the significance of recommendations in foursquare 3.0: “As an investor it is incredibly gratifying to see a team being able to realize the vision that got them excited about building something in the first place. This is just the first version of recommendations and there will have to be lots of learning and tweaking. But it does complete the circle that Dennis had in mind from the beginning: check-ins generate data that can power recommendations which in turn provides an incentive for checking in.”

Though the recommendation engine will probably be the most talked-about feature of the new foursquare, it’s not all that has changed:  The old foursquare leaderboard has been replaced with a “sliding 7-day barometer of you and your friends.” And the gameification of foursquare has gotten yet another steroid injection: “Check-ins now trigger points for dozens of different types of actions – everything from discovering new places, trying new types of restaurants, visiting new cities, getting groups together, hanging out with old friends, and a few things you might not expect.”

As for the new vendor incentives, merchants will no longer be forced to choose between only rewarding Mayors on the one hand or rewarding every checker-in on the other: Mashable reports that “Check-in Specials, Friend Specials, Flash Specials (e.g. the first 10 people to show up after 5 p.m. get a free drink), Swarm Specials, Newbie Specials, Mayor Specials and Loyalty Specials” will be the seven types of specials available in 3.0.

foursquare 3.0 is an ambitious overhaul, taking on the likes of Yelp with the new recommendations system, Groupon with the more nuanced vendor deals, and even old foursquare with its overhaul of the leaderboard. It will get seriously stress-tested and bug-tested this weekend and coming week with SXSW, and as Crowley acknowledges in his post, a thing or two might break or be broken, but we’re excited to see if these changes can push foursquare over the edge from geek must-have to popular success.

(via foursquare blog)

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