Can 'Loser' App Foursquare Survive?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I get called "a loser" for a whole host of reasons.

Just check the comments section of an article where some random member of the LCD doesn't agree with me. I'm used to it. It's all good. I treat it like an endearment term.

Lately, close friends have used the term to describe my use of and/or fondness for the check-in app Foursquare.

I'm not sure what it is about Foursquare that I like so much. Because, when the dust settles, (A) it provides zero value for anybody along its food chain from user to "advertiser" and (B) others do the things Foursquare either doesn't do, can't do, doesn't do well, will not do or never thought of doing quite well.

Really, you are a loser -- hey, don't be offended, you're in good company -- if you use Foursquare even close to obsessively.

Let's be honest with one another: Foursquare fulfills this strange and egomaniacal emotional need we have to let people know we are out and about in cool places. I cherry pick the check-ins I post to Twitter and Facebook ( FB) with the reader in mind no doubt (Do I have a neat picture to go along with the post? Something interesting to say?), but, like so many Foursquare users, I fall into the trap of checking-in just for the sake of checking-in and only publicizing across other social networks check-ins I think my network will socially approve of.

How then does Foursquare -- an app for losers -- survive, let alone get bought out or go public -- successfully -- someday?

Starting with category B. Everything Foursquare does, doesn't, can't or will not do, another platform does better.

If you just want to be broadly social, which can easily include a "check-in," even if not via Foursquare, you go to Twitter or Facebook.

What's funny -- and I cannot be alone in this experience -- is that if it's a Foursquare check-in I want people to know about, I Tweet or Facebook it. If it's one that's less exciting or I'm not all proud of, I keep it isolated to my relatively tiny Foursquare network. I know most of the people who follow me on Foursquare probably aren't looking anyway.

Weak social engagement. Twitter, Facebook and even random others have it covered. Strike one.

If I want directions, I use Google ( GOOG) or Apple ( AAPL) Maps. That's a big deal for Foursquare even if the company doesn't realize it.

Foursquare needs to be more than a check-in app. It needs to be, like Pandora ( P), hyper-focused on discovery and personalization.

When I need to know my surroundings, I call up Google Maps when I want to type and I holler at Apple's Siri when I want to speak.

Consider the experience with Siri. I say, "Directions to an Italian Restaurant" and, within seconds, it spits out a list and directs me to tap the one I want directions too. At that point, I can say, "Play 'Scenes From an Italian Restaurant' " and it pulls up the Billy Joel classic in my iTunes library.

By the time I get to my destination, Foursquare, now an afterthought, never really had the chance to do anything for me. Strike two.

There's more to cover in category B, such as you go to Yelp ( YELP) for reviews and Open Table ( OPEN) for reservations. Foursquare owns none of this. None of it.

But, we only have time for A. And that will not take long.

I live in Santa Monica, part of the booming Southern California metropolis. It's next to impossible to find check-in deals at local businesses when I fire up Foursquare. I check in, get points, find out if I'm the "Mayor" and check out.

Am I just located in one of those odd geographic pockets where few check-in specials exist? Has Foursquare still not built out an advertising sales team large enough to saturate the nation's second largest market?

Whatever the answer, it's a problem. The future of mobile platforms such as Foursquare and Pandora is local. Foursquare needs to do better than "Promoted" businesses -- an obvious Twitter knock-off with far less appeal, hidden under the "Explore" tab of the only-slightly-intuitive Foursquare app.

Local. Local. Local. That's the point lots of people miss in conversations about businesses such as Pandora and Foursquare. These companies, like Twitter and Facebook, will compete for and secure national ad buys. However, local is a critically important battleground.

The only way you win local is to put hustling feet on the street. It's an expensive proposition. Pandora -- and terrestrial radio before it -- serves as a model on how to do it well, but the company has been building its infrastructure for years.

More important than its first-mover advantage, though, Pandora brings value to prospective clients. Personalized radio powered by a proprietary and wholly unique system. It not only targets users, it superserves them; it can sell the same proposition, inversely, to advertisers.

Foursquare simply is not there yet. Not even close. In an increasingly crowded mobile new/social media marketplace with aggressive and exciting new entrants, you no longer have the luxury of time.

More startups will succeed over the next one to five years than ever before, but many more will fail. As it stands, Foursquare could end up wallowing in the latter group.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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