Solutions to Foursquare Venue Problems

I have been fixing Foursquare venue entries for three weeks now and I keep on seeing the same problems over and over again. Duplicate entries, wrong addresses, venues that are supposed to be different but not, and different formatting or the lack thereof.

Officially, there are no standard formatting for venue names other than using the establishment’s “official” name. For example, instead of Starbucks it must be Starbucks Coffee; instead of Kenny Rogers the correct name to use is Kenny Rogers Roasters. Additionally, there is no way in their current system to avoid the creation of duplicate entries and wrong addresses, most of these are coming from their mobile apps particularly the Foursquare iPhone app.

Follow up:

Adding new venues via the Foursquare iPhone app is very easy and unrestricted. Anyone with the app installed can simply add as many venues as s/he wants even leaving the address fields empty! This was my experience when I tested it and I’ve encountered plenty of these venue entries while cleaning up the venues in our locality. I really hope the Foursquare team fixes this problem.

Another thing that is good to mention, though trivial, is the confusion of Filipinos when entering something in the “State/Country” field via the Foursquare mobile apps. This field is simply named “State” when adding a new venue via mobile phones. Those who are not living in a Federal country considers “State” as “Region”, which has been the practice for who-knows-how-long already.

But once you visit the venue page (or add a new venue) via the Foursquare website itself (or should I say web interface), the field is named “State/Country”. Obviously, if you’re not living in a Federal country, you should put in your Country’s name. Can we blame Foursquare? Not really. As far as word meanings are concerned (and laws too), a State can be an independent State, as is the case with the Philippines, or a State within a State, as is the case with the United States of America.

The best solution I can suggest is to update all mobile apps and the mobile access interface to reflect “State/Country” instead of just “State”. This will help a big deal in keeping the addresses close to correctness as possible. I mean, one less field to fix ;) The other solution of course is to add a new field for “Country” but that will require a re-coding of the system, database changes, and countless of hours updating venues to take advantage of the “Country” field.

How about Duplicate Venues?

Ahh, the most annoying of all. I can think of plenty of reasons why there are many duplicate venues in the database, some of these are:

  • They do not use “search” – which is very common even in forums.
  • The mobile apps does not iterate enough to “search first before adding a new venue”.
  • The search algorithm is not powerful enough. And if my observation is correct, the search doesn’t consider the address at all.
  • The search shows too less or too much results, when combined with #3 above and the fact that the mobile screen estate is small, then users will indeed opt to just add a “new” albeit duplicate, venue.
  • The user is simply gaming the system (ie cheating for mayorship). And there are plenty of these type of Foursquare users.

You can add to the list if you want to. And even if we have identified these reasons, another problem arises – striking a balance between showing an “n number search results” vs. “mobile access screen estate”. I for one will want to get my check-in done with when using mobile phones! (But I won’t if I’m using a netbook or anything bigger.)

The issue of huge venues…

These are malls, school premises, condominiums, hotels, theme parks, and even locations where the residential and commercial/industrial overlaps. The solution here will require database and system changes but I believe it is worth the effort and it is the best solution.

The variables: Our huge venue is SM Mall of Asia. Our sub-venue: Chowking – Main Mall (SM Mall of Asia). Take note, there are two Chowking branches in SM MoA (we’ll talk about this on my next post read: Foursquare Venue Names Standardization). Considerations to make are: [1] Of course Mayorship; [2] points/scores; [3] multiple check-ins – huge venue+sub-venue.

To solve this, each Sub-Venue will have a new flag/field that attaches it to its respective Huge-Venue. If I check-in to Sub-Venue Chowking – Main Mall (SM Mall of Asia), the system automatically checks me in to Huge-Venue SM Mall of Asia as well. The system gives me points, rewards, or even badges acquired, and adds me up to the Mayoralty race for that Huge-Venue.

If for example I checked-in to Huge-Venue SM Mall of Asia myself (I don’t want to eat at Chowking yet), the system works as it is currently – gives me score and adds me up to the Mayoralty race. Later, when I check-in at Chowking – Main Mall (SM Mall of Asia), the system will give me score and add me up to the Mayoralty race of that Sub-Venue but not on the Huge-Venue. The system should be able to detect that I already checked-in at the Huge-Venue earlier.

The only time that a new check-in will be considered for Huge-Venue SM Mall of Asia is when I check-in at a venue that is not flagged as a Sub-Venue of it. This calls for a major editing of venues but I doubt it will be a problem since there are Super-User Level 2 and 3 users already who are volunteering for the clean-ups and fixing of the current venue database – yours truly is one of those volunteers.

Homes and Bathrooms

This is a problem, and I for one sometimes can not understand why one would check-in in a bathroom.

Funny eh? The question is, when does a venue become a “venue”? Where and when do we draw the line? In my view, if it is publicly accessible then it counts as a “venue”. Let’s use the bathroom for example. If it is inside your house then it is not publicly accessible and thus should not be in Foursquare!

But if it is a bathroom, say a sports or military complex where it is usually shared with everyone, then it can be entered as a “venue”. Although it isn’t “public public”, the fact remains that the people using that bathroom are mostly not related at all, it still falls under “public”.

I hear someone say, “Foursquare is for rewarding Mayors not telling the world you are taking a bath!” True. However, in this scenario, these people who share the same bathroom can reward the current Mayor for something. It is up to them, it is their community after all. As long as people can fight over the Mayorship of a venue by being literally there when checking-in, then it is a valid venue. Which is not possible at locations inside your own house, unless of course you let us enter your humble house.

For Home check-ins, I think it should be allowed just like the Bathroom scenario we just talked about – the line is drawn when it stops being publicly accessible. A good example is what we did here at Bangkal Village (Makati City). Mainly a residential area, we check-in at the barangay/village/subdivision level – Bangkal Village (Makati City). Any check-in lower than that should only be a non-residential location, good examples are 7-Eleven, Chowking, and Jollibee, to name a few. Same goes with condominiums and hotels, as well as dormitories.

Now tie this in with my Huge-Venue + Sub-Venue flag solution and no one will need to re-check-in back to their barangay/village/subdivision level venue. I believe this is a valid “Home” check-in as anyone can compete for the Mayoralty position at the barangay/village/subdivision level. If we Bangkal Foursquare users come together and create some reward, then we’ll have a complete Foursquare “Home” check-in experience and fun.

Parting words…

Of course these are not the only problems we will encounter but these are the ones that we can find a solution from the community or users themselves. I hope the Foursquare team have already considered these approaches and are already coding the next great version of Foursquare.

For me it isn’t “just a game” but a very useful location-based marketing tool as well. Philippine establishments can benefit greatly from Foursquare but so far I haven’t seen any tapping the system. If time permits, I am going to post some suggestions for some of the widely known stores like 7-Eleven, Jollibee, Chowking, Starbucks Coffee (Philippines) (in fact, Starbucks Coffee Philippines can ask their US counterpart for help, they’re using Foursquare already!!), and Ministop.

Next stop, standardizing venue names. I have a simple solution, you’ll love it for sure read it here: Foursquare Venue Names Standardization

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