Mobile Social Media Competes With Facebook For Photo-Snappin' Check-in Crowd

With a user base of less than 1 percent of Facebook, Foursquare hasn't really seemed like much of a competitor for the monolithic social network that is currently scaling past a half billion followers. However, in just surpassing 5 million users, the location-based social network has increased its base by ten-fold in just 9 months. Why? Because mobility is now a major factor in how folks want to access their social networks.

And while Facebook has rolled out Facebook Places to compete with the mobile social network, it hasn't been able to capture the game-like zeitgeist frenzy associated with Foursquare. Now, with the addition of some very "social networking" type of features, Foursquare looks to become a much more robust mobile social network as well.

Taking on some of the diary components of Facewbook, Foursquare is adding comments and photos to its check-in core foundation. As Ben Popper in his New York Observer report notes, "a night out that was once remembered with a Facebook photo might now be remembered throughout a Foursquare check-in, complete with images and opinions from friends."

"The trick for us," says Alex Rainert, Foursquare's head of product development, "Is how do you add richnessAlex RainertAlex Rainert that will improve the experience without making the service overwhelming for new users."

More concerned with addressing privacy at the gate versus Facebook's approach of dealing with it after the fact, comments on Foursquare are only shared with friends, even if a photo or tip is broadcast to Twitter or Facebook. "Everyone needs to take the conversation about privacy very seriously," says Rainert, "But especially for an app like ours that is tracking users location in the background."

Mark Zuckerberg in a recent 60 Minute interview with Lesley Stahl mentioned that out all the components on Facebook, the one liked best is the ability to upload photos. "People love photos," he noted. This holds true for location-based social networks like Foursquare as well. According to Popper, "photos are increasingly becoming the killer feature on smartphones."

To that end, Foursquare has struck working partnership deals with Instagram, Foodspotting and PicPlz to enhance their photo capabilities with additional "hot photo apps." Photos from Instagram pushed to Foursquare will now be for check-ins with photos (rather than just check-ins). Sightings on Foodspotting will be check-ins with your food photos. And PicPlz is the first service to allow check-in photos on both iPhone and Android.

And just in time for the holidays, Foursquare has adapted to Apple's technology to add its user-generated photos and comment capabilities to its iPad application as well.

Foursquare's latest features are also incorporated in users' history pages and blended into all the users' activities, similar to Facebook. At check-in however, Foursquare differing from Facebook will prompt users to add photos when they check-in to a Foursquare venue, similarly to how users were alerted and sent out "shouts" in the past.

According to their blog, Foursquare noted that there are additional features in the pipeline. These include sharing photos (to Flickr), an easier way to keep track of all the comments you’re getting, and a more useful place to store all your old photos (right now, it’s all on that history page).

With all of this activity, it is clear that Foursquare is not letting any grass grow under their geolocating feet. Not content to be just another location-based social network, it continues to push the envelope not only to maintain its "first mover" position with mobile social networks but also with the big boys like Facebook.

Does anyone see Zuckerberg extending an acquisition offer any time soon?  If so, I am sure "the number" will far exceed the 6 billion recently offered to Groupon by Google. 2011 will be an interesting year to see how the LBS field and social networking space begin to blend together!