05/09/2013 09:06 BST | Updated 03/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Who Will Buy Foursquare? Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft?

At SXSW 2008, Foursquare was the star attraction. With a rapidly growing user base suggesting it was the first to crack the solomo enigma, it was on track to be a social giant. However a lack of product innovation has resulted in a steady decrease in users, and with only $2m revenue generated last year has led to some disgruntled shareholders.

Back in May Steve Rosenblatt was recruited to help solve their revenue woes [1], and last week the first commercially substantive amendments were publicised on their blog [2]. However the move to include Yelp-esque push recommendations [3] has been viewed as investor peacocking, looking for a company with clout to help secure their currently uncertain future.

Having drawn attention from Microsoft, Google and Yahoo!, each have differing benefits, drawbacks and caveats were any form of alliance or buyout to occur, but who will get their hands on Foursquare's valuable location data?

Microsoft : The Corporate Machine

Just a week after Foursquare have released their Windows 8 version of the app, reports have come forward that they're in "advanced" talks with Microsoft[4] - however this could easily have been said about any of the parties involved.

Furthering their investment into Windows OS, Microsoft has just announced that they are to purchase Nokia's mobile phone business for $7.2bn[5] - a pretty big move indeed. However whilst it'd be great to say Foursquare's likely integration into Bing will be more valuable due to their new depth of mobile offering, Nokia's 3% share of the smartphone market is unlikely to lift Bing's 18% search[6] share by any substantial margin.

From a technological perspective the inclusion of location based peer-to-peer recommendations is a great fit - and could well attract CEO Dennis Crowley - but with major business focuses elsewhere, it's questionable whether they will be able to really help the company grow and develop. Though there's the potential there, Foursquare could easily end up falling by the wayside, reduced to nothing more than a feature slide in a search powerpoint. Ever used Bing Tweet Maps? Didn't think so.

Google: The Ex with a Bad Break-Up

Having bought Dodgeball - Foursquare's first iteration - from Crowley back in 2005, by 2007 he and co-founder Alex Rainert had quit Google. Citing a lack of engineering resources and overall support, they found the whole process "incredibly frustrating"[7] . Throw in Google's decision to subsequently shut down the project in 2009 and its unlikely Mr Crowley will want to return any time soon.

That said it's potentially the best environment for the company. Google Maps is the go-to location service on both desktop and mobile, and already has a huge store of reviews that could be integrated and leveraged to build Foursquare's user base. Whilst this in itself may not be enough to heal the wounds of the past, their recent - possibly overpriced - purchase of traffic reporting community Waze for $1bn[8] shows a positive intent towards mobile location based services that it previously lacked, and may restore faith in the search giant.

Yahoo!: The Undecided Visionary

Yahoo! is possibly the most interesting one of the three. With a big focus on upping their mobile offering and making Yahoo! part of users' daily habits[9], there's definite potential for Foursquare. The issue is that beyond either using it from a data perspective - as is half expected of Tumblr - or as part of a larger scheme to branch away from Bing and returning to self-powering its web search, it's difficult to see exactly how it'll integrate the service. However, with Marissa Mayer having headed up Google's local offering[10], Yahoo! has a leader that truly understands local. Placing an almost opposite offering to Microsoft o the table, the wider range of possibilities and potential to help shape a rapidly growing company may be equally as attractive to a company lacking long term vision.


Being a decision that will end up securing the future or failure of Foursquare, each suitor's benefits, drawbacks and uncertainties will undoubtedly be being heavily scrutinised.

From looking at each prospective owner's chances, with the rejuvenated outlook towards solomo and the clout to back it up, I'd like to see it at Google. However it's unlikely that their recent investments are strong enough to overcome Crowley's years of unhappiness. Whilst Marissa undoubtedly has the knowledge and ability to manage Foursquare, having been dumped before by a company that ended up not knowing how to handle it, Yahoo! may lack the long term security they need. As such, Microsoft appears to have the right tools - if perhaps all of 2nd class quality- to utilise and integrate Foursquare, and it's suggested [gulp] that Microsoft will be the ones that end up as investment victors.


[1] "I think what we're most excited about is helping create new products and building new tools for our merchant partners to be able to reach new customers," said Mr. Rosenblatt


[3] In a nutshell the update will allow pushes notifications of friend/user recommendations that are proximate to a user's location. Whilst a natural progression for the service, Foursquare will need to be careful they don't cross the line of usefulness into annoyance.