Over the weekend, Foursquare scored a major coup via a new partnership with American Eagle: they got their name and logo plastered all over Times Square. The first story I saw on the subject was on Mashable, where blogger Samuel Axon noted,

“It seems like just a short time ago that these location services were only used by a few hardcore web tech geeks. Now they’re so mainstream that they’re taking up a chunk of the New York skyline.”

Um. No.

Foursquare has just over three million users and you need a smartphone to use it. It is far, far from “mainstream”. And the article in Mashable feels like something I’ve been seeing a lot of lately – mistaking a brand using a niche and emerging web service (the “shiny object” in the title of this post) as a way of positioning themselves as cool and hep, for some sort of validation of something as “mainstream”.

From where I sit, Foursquare and other location-based applications will be mainstream when they have 500 million users globally. Even Twitter, with 87% of American consumers aware of it but only 7% using it, is not mainstream (see: Facebook, Google).

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13 Comments

  1. Craig Michaels

    What a load of bull, Maggie.

    You don’t just need a smartphone to use FS, you can use from the web too (though the service is obviously ideal for mobile use).

    And last I saw, three million users is more than “mainstream” newspapers and radio stations have.

    - Globe and Mail: 2.6 million readership: http://www.globelink.ca/newspaper/about/

    - The Edge 102: 507,550 listeners.

    Is this kind of “analysis” the reason Ford are getting tired of you being their Canadian arm?

  2. maggiefox Author

    Wow, Craig – touch a nerve, did we? Normally I would delete a comment that verges on the edge of insult, but I think it’s best to let your words stand, they say more about you than they do about SMG. Also, I think you might want to brush up on your math skills – Canada is about 10% the size of the U.S., so the equivalent, if, as you seem to claim, Foursquare is “mainstream”, would be a userbase of about 30 million in the U.S. alone. So, uh, yeah, Foursquare isn’t mainstream. As far as our clients “getting tired” of us – not that I’m aware of (and I have no idea what you mean about us being “Ford’s Canadian arm”). Anger management classes to your left.

  3. Hi Maggie — you’re right, Foursquare definitely isn’t mainstream — I think Forrester said only 4% of US citizens are using any kind of location-based network. I believe Sam meant “so” as a qualifier. When many of us began using the service, only other people in tech were in our network, and we only suspected it would get big. Now it’s plastered in Times Square and our network is full of people who don’t work in tech, which feels awfully mainstream by comparison.

  4. maggiefox Author

    Hey Lauren – thanks for the comment, and yes, you raise a good point: for those of us who began using the service at the beginning, it’s amazing to see it come so far so fast. However, I think one of the perils of living, eating and breathing this space is that we lose touch with what “mainstream” really is (and what it means when a service truly crosses that line, both for society and business). I certainly didn’t mean to single out Sam at all (I hope he doesn’t feel that way), but he really needed to add one word to that article, “seem”, and I would not have been inspired to write about this issue today.

  5. Chuck Harris

    Hi Maggie – I think you are spot on with this. Those of us who jump on the new technology and want to be cutting edge in the space are constantly waiting for it to hit what feels like mainstream, but with the consumer fear associated with location based networks it will take some time to get people to truly adopt. I was reading an article today where they talked about the adoption rates of these services being primarily targeted towards those born after 1981. It will be interesting to see if Facebook Places has the ability to get a larger percentage to engage with location, but I think it is still a ways off. Even just looking at my pool of friends, I am one of a few that uses FourSquare.

  6. maggiefox Author

    Hey Chuck – good to see you here! Sometimes we really lose touch with what “mainstream” means – I can remember just about a year or so ago everyone was saying that Foursquare was dead (remember that?) because adoption had slowed. In context, it had barely scratched the surface (such is the danger of us all drinking our own kool-aide a little too often, we lose touch with the bigger picture).

  7. Why 500 million users? Why not 501 million or 499 or any other number?

    Isn’t mainstream “the common current of thought of the majority” – this, in my opinion, makes Twitter mainstream (you said that 87% of Americans are using it).

    And what about internet? Is it mainstream? If you think about it, only 28.7% of the planet’s population is using it…

    Finally, are you talking about the United States only? As you probably know, in China, India, Brazil and Russia (which together probably have 10 times more people than the USA), Facebook is not mainstream.

  8. maggiefox Author

    @Gabriel – 87% of U.S. consumers are *aware* of Twitter, but only 7% are using it. IMHO, that does not make it a mainstream platform.

    I say “500 million” because that’s the number Facebook just hit (remember, this is new territory we’re charting as we go), and when we look at Internet use in North America, FB is definitely pervasive.

  9. miro slodki

    I thought the generally accepted definition of ‘main-stream’ is 10-20% market penetration…the lower the number…the greater the fragmentation

    I think the bigger point being made here isn’t so much the absolute size of a general audience as much as the share that channel has of one’s target audience and most importantly how that channel can be used to further one’s communication/marketing objectives

    FWIW

  10. I would have to agree that Foursquare isn’t quite “mainstream” not many people I know use foursquare, but the majority use facebook, which I consider mainstream, because it is in the majority.

  11. So far as I see it, the only true “mainstream” social media outlets right now are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Foursquare is limited and I doubt it will become mainstream except in urban centers.

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