Now that Facebook and the rest of the social Web has succeeded in making the world more "open and connected" in the words of Social Internet King Mark Zuckerberg, the next phase of Internet will move beyond just connecting us to telling us what to do.
We see this evolution in today's overhaul of Foursquare's app. Known for its check-ins, which allow users to tell their friends where they are and vice-versa, Foursquare wants to move into recommendations. "People still think about us in terms of points and badges, which still works as a way to bring on new users," Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley told The New York Times' Jenna Wortham. "But the bigger point is to take the rich data we have about how people interact with their location and turn it into recommendations." Turning your "rich data" into something is a bigger point we're seeing everywhere, actually. The Internet already did the connecting part, now companies think it's time to take all those connections and make them useful to people in some way. And so far, it looks like that involves telling us what to think, read, do, and want.
In Foursquare's case, the nagging comes in the form of an "explore" tab. It works kind of like a social version of Yelp, explains The Next Web's Drew Olanoff. "The Explore tab has been revamped in the app to tell you where your friends are, where the best deals are and which places you might like going to. Our data is now being used to recommend new venues to check out and check into," Olanoff writes. "It’s not just going to use meta data to find dumpling joints, it’s going to take all of the data it has into account to find you the best place to go to." That sounds useful for someone who trusts her friends' recommendations. (Olanoff really likes it.) But, it just went from a one-stop, one-click app to something much more exhaustive—and exhausting.
We see this move from passive to active Internet all over the place these days. Take Facebook's Open Graph, for example. All those things pop in our news feeds nowadays -- social reader articles, Spotify songs, etc. -- are supposedly things we might want to see, read, or listen to. The Internet is longer about connecting us to things, it's about telling us what to do. And it knows what we might want to do because of all that information we've shared on these networks for the last few years.
Obviously, the motivation behind this move is money. Of course Foursquare and Facebook bill these moves as ways to enhance their services for users. "This is our first stab at what we think you’ll find interesting," Crowley told Wortham. But, as we've seen with Facebook's failed IPO, having a lot of users (and their data) will only get you so far as a company. Doing something with that data, however, is where these companies hope to find real value. "Foursquare had a hook that drew people in, but it needs to go beyond being a feature to being part of the fabric of the consumer experience," Ray Valdes, an analyst for Gartner told Wortham.
All the most successful apps and sites of Web 2.0 have a large and dedicated user base. In spite of that, many of these apps, including Foursquare, aren't profitable. Yet, they have convinced investors that their services have value in their rich user data. As we're now seeing, however, becoming profitable may mean taking our information and telling us how to live. Hope you're the type that likes being told what to do.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.