Today, Foursquare is launching its biggest move yet toward passive recommendations, offering to push relevant notifications to Android users without them needing to check in. The system works by monitoring their locations and occasionally sending recommendations for a place to eat lunch or a spot not to miss in a new city.
With the launch of this new background recommendation feature, Foursquare finally complete the “manufactured serendipity” goal Dennis Crowley first set back in 2010. The service couldn’t launch then due to the battery constraints of always-on GPS, but Foursquare engineers say they’ve tackled that problem — dropping battery life just .7% per hour — by factoring in a wider variety of signals from the phone.
The new system could let you know the best dish to try when it senses you’ve arrived at a new restaurant or a place one of your friends strongly recommends when you visit a new city or neighborhood. It’s smart enough that it won’t ping you with an ice cream recommendation while you’re on your daily walk to work.
Keeping every notification relevant is vital to avoid people turning them off altogether. One mis-timed or ill-informed recommendation could spell the end of notifications for a particular user. Foursquare thinks they’ve tackled that problem by knowing enough about their users, their habits and what they like to provide only the most relevant recommendations in this manner.
Foursquare is rolling the feature out to a “few thousand” Android users today, but hopes to bring it to all Android and iOS users later this fall. Much like the last major revision of the Foursquare app, they’re performing the “test and adjust” phase on Android where they can iterate quickly before a wider rollout.
To be clear, this isn’t about automatic check-ins. The idea here is to provide relevant recommendations based on the past check-ins of each user, their friends and the billions of check-ins from the general Foursquare community.
While check-ins are still important for maintaining the freshness of Foursquare’s data, this new feature moves the app from a pull experience — waiting on users to pull out the app and use it — to a push experience, where they can send relevant recommendations even when the user isn’t thinking of Foursquare at all. That’s when a service like Foursquare becomes the most useful.