Was Foursquare's Big Year Big Enough?

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Foursquare is pushing out a fun, data-loaded infographic that highlights its successes over the past year entitled "2010: Our Year of 3400% Growth." (See the full infographic at the bottom of this post; click on it to enlarge.) And bloggers are biting; dozens have already posted the data without analysis or commentary. Among the interesting bits: California users check in to gyms more often than users in any other state; the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C., was the year's biggest Foursquare event; and somewhere in Madison, Wisconsin, a girl named Wendy is the mayor of her local Wendy's. But is all of this meant to distract?

Foursquare is celebrating 3,400 percent growth over a one-year period that saw more than 381 million check ins. And that sounds impressive. But all of those check ins came from only six million users (the six millionth signed up just last week). Lets do the math here. At Le Web this past December, co-founder Dennis Crowley said that the average Foursquare user checks in to three or four places every day. Using Crowley's own numbers, that means all 381 million of those check ins could have been generated over a year by only 261,000 to 312,000 active, "average" users. Granted, it only took Foursquare about a month and a half, according to TechCrunch, to add its most recent million users. But what are those users doing after they sign up for the service? Not a whole lot, it turns out.

It'll be interesting to see if Foursquare can sustain this kind of growth over the next year with increasing competition from Facebook Places -- and figure out how to involve all of their users. Facebook won't release data about Places, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in early November that it was, only three months after launching, "the largest social networking location service in the world." In late October, Business Insider reported that about 30 million people had tried Places in its first two months, or five times the number of users Foursquare has after nearly two years.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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