Foursquare has not cornered the nascent location-based social service war, executives from Google, Facebook and Foursquare asserted at the TechCrunch Disrupt event in New York May 25.
TechCrunch Editor Michael Arrington asked Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering for Google, Chris Cox, vice president of product management for Facebook and Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, whether social check-in service Foursquare had won the location-based service battle.
“Are they the YouTube of location?” Arrington added, a nod to the Google-owned property’s unparalleled status in user-generated video.
Gundotra, whose company offers the Google Latitude friend-finding application and the Google Buzz for mobile social app, said there will be many players for location-based services.
“I think Foursquare has done some pretty amazing work, some examples of the kind of exciting things you can do with check-ins, but it’s extremely early,” Gundotra said. “I think you’re going to see lots of information in the next year from everybody and I think that’s good for consumers.
For example, Google last week launched its Latitude API to allow developers to write apps that leverage Google’s location database. The company hopes programmers write apps that let Latitude’s 3 million-plus users track home appliances, scan highway traffic and warn users of credit card fraud.
Gundotra promised there will be exciting enhancements to Latitude this year that “make it more popular.”
Google in February launched its Google Buzz for mobile application, which lets smartphone users post comments that get tagged based on where they are when they posted their Buzz. This is sort of like a check-in even if Google doesn’t call it that, as Arrington pointed out.
To be sure, Buzz has faced privacy hiccups, but its mobile app is the closest program Google has to competing with Foursquare, even if it doesn’t leverage check-ins. Over time, Google Latitude and Google Buzz will likely be integrated.
Arrington then put the question to Cox, who said location is not a space where there will be one winner with a bunch of losers. “It’s a piece of context that’s going to be a part of a lot of different experiences,” Cox added.
Facebook is reportedly offering location-based status updates for its users later this month. Facebook is said to be building an application with McDonald’s that lets users check in at one of the fast-food chain’s restaurants and have a featured product appear in the post.
Even Foursquare’s Crowley, who sold an early version of Foursquare in Dodgeball to the company and left after Google let it whither, denied there is a clear-cut winner in the location-based services market.
“I think we’re building great stuff,” Crowley said. “I don’t think we’re the winner. This is super early in the space. Look at two years ago, there wasn’t really anything interesting going on.”
He added that by adding reviews and ratings and game mechanics to Foursquare’s post check-in page, his company made the space more interesting. Foursquare gets more than 700,000 check-ins per day, with 35 percent of its 1 million users using the app daily.
Foursquare has partnered with the likes of PepsiCo, Starbucks, Bravo and MTV. Foursquare users who check in at Starbucks locations will earn the “Barista badge” after five check-ins.
The panelists provided politic answers. The truth behind the scenes is likely more cutthroat, with the companies scrambling to lure more users and more advertising partners willing to leverage location.
Moreover, Arrington neglected to press Gundotra on the bold statements he made against Apple at Google I/O last week, which was curious considering the attention he drew.