Yelpers are the worst. The only reason I ever popped open Yelp, once a month or so, was to remind myself of the awesome restaurants that I already knew about whenever I ventured to rarely travelled, exotic locales like midtown Manhattan — not to consult the tastebuds of the tasteless-but-entitled Yelping masses. But I stopped entirely a few months ago. Instead, I just started turning to Foursquare.
So, I've used Foursquare forever as a kind of personal history (restaurants are very important to me), or to see where my friends were at. And that's been great. But then Foursquare Explore relaunched. That's been amazing. Want to know what's awesome nearby? Foursquare will tell you with remarkable aptitude. It bases the recommendations on criteria far more relevant than the average messy Yelp search: where your friends have gone (especially if they go a lot); where people that tend to like the same kind of places you like have also gone; and then it adds in overall recommendations from the Foursquare userbase. (Or if you want to get super personal, follow user curated lists, made by your friends.) And it's been pretty spot on. If I need to know where to go, I go to Foursquare.
The Yelpification of Foursquare's been accelerating in other ways, too. First there were deals — in fact, I just saved $10 by using my AmEx card to buy a pound of brisket — but now there are menus and hours. Why am I going to open ScoutMob or Groupon or Yelp again? Foursquare isn't simply about where your friends are anymore, it's about where you should go. It's that whole promise of social networking improving search, but it actually works!
Foursquare becoming the Yelp-that-should've-been, though, is in some ways a tacit admission of a certain kind of failure. The thing in location that everybody's been trying to nail, and that everybody's failed to, is persistent, passive, real-time location. Simply where you are, at any given second, no checking in required. There's Google Latitude and Apple's Find My Friends and others, which constantly beam out where you are to followers. None of them are exactly ubiquitous. I don't know anybody still using them, anyway. (Foursquare Radar kind of works in the reverse — it constantly scans in the background to see if you wander near friends or places you should go, but it's still fundamentally based on the checkin model. If nobody checks in, nobody shows up.)
At SXSW this year, everybody's talking again about apps that are taking another crack at real-time location and connection--Highlight in particular seems to be on everybody's lips, and only partly because of how feverishly it sucks the energy marrow out of your phone's battery. It's because nobody's "won" the real-time location game. Yet, even in the apparent absence of a service worth flocking to, the underlying consensus seems to be that real-time will be the future of location services — it's just a matter of who cracks the nut first and posts it to the internet for everybody to see.
More and more, though, I don't think it'll be Foursquare. It's too much about places, rather than simply a confluence of time and space, even as it gets better and better at that next level thing: telling me the places I should go, not simply telling people the places I have gone. And you know what? That's just fine. Yelp sucks, I'm hungry, and I just want to grab a plate of barbecue. Tell me where to go.