foursquare’s messy Places database slows adoption

This probably qualifies as so obvious as to deserve responses of “duh,” but a recent business trip really brought home to me one of foursquare’s biggest problems. The Places database makes my Outlook Contacts folder look like a model of organization. Its cluttered state makes the process of checking in to a new Place pretty tedious. I stayed at the Waldorf Hilton Hotel on Aldwych in London. Right now, there are at least three different entries for this hotel. There is The Waldorf HiltonHilton Waldorf hotel London and Waldorf Hotel. Figuring out which one to check into is particularly awkward on the Blackberry app because there is no way of knowing which of several duplicate entries might be the “right” one. You can’t tell that the first entry has been around the longest and has had the most number of unique visitors until you look them up on the main foursquare site, which you are probably not going to do on your phone. All told, three of the places around my hotel where I wanted to check in had duplicate entries. foursquare needs to improve this if they want their business to scale beyond geeks and early adopters, particularly given looming competition from Yelp and Facebook.

foursquareforumGiven how common the problem is, you would think that there was an easy way to propose merging duplicate entries. Being a lean, crowd-sourced startup, foursquare relies on “superusers” to do this work for them. Currently, the only way to report duplicates is to go to Foursquare’s Get Satisfaction forum and enter it into a duplicate merge request thread. I’m not very familiar with Get Satisfaction, but their bulletin board system doesn’t strike me as a good tool to manage this process. My first quibble is that you can’t log in using your foursquare credentials. Second, only the most recent fifteen entries in a thread are visible, so the odds are high that your merge request will get bumped down off the page before a superuser sees it. The coup de grâce? You have to figure out which thread to which you should post your duplicate merge request. That’s right, they have duplicate threads to report duplicate Places!

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