On January 10th, Google announced - via Google+, of course - that it would be shutting down its location-based activity sharing service, Schemer. It’s not surprising that many of our readers may be thinking, “What the heck is (was) Schemer?!” Well, let us provide a short history and why we think its existence, albeit short lived, may have actually been important.
Schemer’s tagline boldly states, “The beginning of everything worth doing” and its longer description reads:
Whether it’s exploring a new city, checking out a friend’s movie recommendations, or just finding new activities for your weekends, Schemer lets you discover new things to do, share schemes with friends, and make the most of your day.
Sound somewhat familiar? Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is... Foursquare.
Let’s take a look at Foursquare’s splash page taglines and “golden purpose” description:
Foursquare helps you find the perfect places to go with friends. Discover the best food, nightlife, and entertainment in your area.
Keep up and meet up with friends on-the-go. Happy exploring!
Foursquare helps you find the perfect places in [fill in blank with current city] to go with friends:
Join over 40 million people using our app to keep up and meet up with friends!
Whether you call them “tips” and “check-ins” or “schemes,” it sounds a lot like Google is shutting down a half-hearted attempt at a mobile (perhaps this is exactly where it failed as the app wasn’t much to brag about), location-based service that couldn’t quite compete with the giant that Foursquare has become in the socially driven, local search and discovery space.
What makes this even more interesting is that the precursor to Foursquare, a location-based social networking software provider for mobile devices dubbed Dodgeball, was actually acquired by Google in 2005 after being launched by New York University students Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert in 2000. Of course, both Crowley and Rainert went on to become the CEO and (now former) Head of Product at Foursquare.
Google’s acquisition of Dodgeball never materialized into any sort of app or service of note. In fact, after becoming increasingly frustrated with their Google experience, both Crowley and Rainert left Google in early 2007 and the Dodgeball service was eventually completely shut down just a short time later.
In February of 2009, Google launched its next stab at location-based services with Google Latitude, a “location-aware” feature of the ubiquitous Google Maps which allowed a mobile phone user to allow certain people to view their current location. However, not surprisingly this service never really took off with consumers either, and on July 10, 2013 Google announced its plans to sunset Latitude as well.
So, in a way, the Schemer shutdown represents Google’s third failed attempt to do something that Crowley and Rainert -- contrary to much doubt and criticism from the media and tech communities -- have been able to pull off pretty successfully with Foursquare.
That said, Foursquare is by no means in the clear as a darling success story. We wrote a lot about the company on the Where 2 Get It blog in 2013 (retargeting, local advertising, ad platform), including our three part Foursquare Ads series detailing their attempts to monetize using the massive amount of socially enhanced, location-based consumer data embedded in their 40 million tips and 5 billion check-ins.
In many ways they are facing a pretty interesting double-pronged problem brought on by the fact that they are not new. In face, in the tech/start-up world they are more like "middle aged" -- almost 5 years old. So, they are not only trying to execute a pretty hefty product shift (something they've done pretty successfully already; the local search features of the app are actually pretty amazing), but they are also facing a complete rebranding of sorts which could prove to be very difficult.
Lots of people have either:
- Heard of Foursquare (never used it) and know it simply as that "gamification thing where you check-in and get badges", or...
- Downloaded Foursquare at some point in the past 2-4 years and have since abandoned using it because they didn't care about the gamification aspects or not enough of their friends were using it -- or both.
As a result, Foursquare has the undesirable task of not only winning over new users, but attempting to win back old users who have already made up their mind that they don't need Foursquare.
Then again, to quote Crowley himself:
A fresh $35M in the bank, 6 diff $$ products all working well & passive recs *finally* working - 2014 is going to be HUGE for @Foursquare :)
— Dennis Crowley (@dens) December 19, 2013