Friday, March 2, 2012

Foursquare's New Recommendation Engine

In today’s world of mass internet use, information about users is worth more than ever. As scary and alarming as it may be, news of companies collecting user data to target ads and using social profiles to personalize search results is becoming the norm. While receiving targeted ads in return for Facebook posts and likes does not sound positive to most users, there are certainly benefits to be gained from web companies analyzing some data about you.
Take Foursquare, for example. This social service allows users to “check in” to places and publish that information to their social network. Users willingly share location information with their friends, and one can see a lot of potential in analyzing this data for useful purposes. In fact, Foursquare has recently announced that they are in the process of doing precisely that.
Their newly-updated Explore service intends to take users’ check-in data and provide personalized recommendations for places to go. The engine will use statistics such as the time of day, a user’s friends’ check-ins and likes, as well as the user’s history to choose places that it thinks the user will like. With over a billion check-ins providing plenty of data, this service has the potential to become a very powerful recommendation engine with accurate and useful suggestions.
While its implementation requires tracking users more than some would like, Explore is an undoubtedly useful feature and will benefit consumers a great deal. The CEO of Foursquare says he eventually wants to have recommendation dots on any virtual map, and with Foursquare’s social integration and growing popularity, this can be a reality sooner than we think.
As in the example of Explore, analyzing user data can add tremendous value to society. However, the unauthorized sharing of this data with third-party advertisers will justifiably spark heated opposition, and the challenge for companies like Foursquare is to properly address these privacy concerns. In the new age of Internet companies playing the role of Big Brother, the quest for balancing creepiness and features will continue to dominate news headlines. The real question is not whether these companies will gather information, but how evil they will want to be with it.

(1) CNET article
(2) Foursquare blog post about Explore

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