Foursquare gathers 10 million users during its two-year life, updates mobile app

by Phil Hornshaw

Location-based social networking service Foursquare is snowballing in popularity, and according to figures released by the company today, it is now serving more than 10 million members.

In honor of the milestone, Foursquare has released a big and interesting interactive infographic on its website that runs down all kinds of statistics. For example, in August of 2009, only five months after starting the service, Foursquare had 100,000 (mostly U.S.) registered users, and growing to its current size in just under two years. The company picks out a lot of other interesting numbers: specifically, that 358 millions check-ins has occurred outside of the U.S., that there are 6,230 sake bars in Japan, and that most Foursquare users prefer Old Navy – or at least, they check-in when they go there.

A little background for the uninitiated: Foursquare is a location-based service that uses smartphones and other mobile devices to broadcast users’ locations to a network of friends. The Foursquare app uses those devices’ GPS capabilities to track where a user is, and when they visit a store, a restaurant, an event or some other location, they can “check-in” to that location. A check-in basically just logs that you’re at Starbucks or Denny’s or wherever it is you go, and if you choose, it sends that information to the Internet to be shared privately or publicly (or not at all). Users can also include a personal message, like a Facebook status update or a Twitter update, to go with the location.

Additionally, Foursquare acts a bit like a game as well, by rewarding users with accolades for doing certain things when out and about. Check-in to multiple locations in one evening, for example, and Foursquare rewards you with a virtual “badge” acknowledging your busy feet. Check-in to a location more than anyone else and you can become “mayor” of it, and some businesses actually offer discounts and rewards to frequent customers holding down mayorships. But only one Foursquare mayor is actually a mayor – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is also “mayor” of City Hall, according to Foursquare.

Who else wants a piece of the action?

Other services have attempted to copy the Foursquare model in the last two years, and that has resulted in something of a glut of location-based services. Some of these take check-ins in different directions, or try to make them more business-oriented. Going the other way is Facebook, which added Facebook Places last year to its mobile apps to allow users to broadcast their locations in basically the same way Foursquare does. Obviously, with 10 million users, there must be something to this location thing, and other companies and developers see the potential as well. In celebration of the milestone, Foursquare pushed an update to its mobile apps on June 20 that makes it faster and easier to check-in, as well as improving the user experience and simplifying the ability to find stores that offer deals for Foursquare users.

What’s most striking about Foursquare’s infographic is that it seems like the service could be a very interesting survey and research tool. Just the statistics Foursquare itself has generated for the infographic are weirdly interesting, showing user check-ins that come with described emotions and mapping them geographically or which stores users favor most with check-ins. With that many people now checking-in, Foursquare might actually have some kind of future not only as a social network, but as a social research tool.

At the very least, the service will hopefully continue to bring us interesting and offbeat statistics, and remind us that 78,387 mayors are ousted each day – so you better get to checking-in.