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CIO - Foursquare, the popular location-based social networking service where users "check-in" to earn points, unlock badges and become "Mayors" of their most frequented establishments has undergone some significant changes in recent days.
The changes, made both behind the scenes and to the Foursquare.com desktop user interface, were meant mostly to help the company handle its rapidly growing user base--Foursquare currently has more than 2 million registered users and upwards of one million check-ins daily. Additionally, the changes were designed to alter the way Foursquare users find specific locations to "unlock" hidden badges and make it more difficult to determine those specific venues. And some are simply meant to crack down on folks who feel the need to check in all over the place without actually visiting venues, a.k.a., "cheaters."
I was curious about the new Foursquare tweaks, so I asked the company's PR Manager Erin Gleason for details. What follows are specifics from Gleason regarding the ongoing changes and their impact on "Foursquarers."
Ongoing Infrastructure Enhancements
Foursquare is growing by leaps and bounds, and if the $20 million in VC funding the company secured last month is any sign of what's to come, that growth will only continue. Of course, that's a good thing for the company and its users. But it also means scaling the service to keep up with demand.
So Foursquare has been doing some major infrastructure work. Gleason wouldn't get into specifics, but it's likely the company has been adding servers and expanding databases to ensure it can keep up with users' check-ins. (Foursquare recently hit a 100 million check-in milestone.) During the past month or so, the company has announced scheduled downtime multiple times via Twitter and other outlets, most recently last Sunday, July 25.
Unfortunately, the infrastructure changes were more extensive than just a few random nights' work, and as such, some valuable Foursquare features were disabled for weeks. Which leads to my next section.
Foursquare Tag Search Down But Not Out
Due to the ongoing back-end enhancements, Foursquare decided to disable its desktop-based Foursquare.com "tag search" feature a few weeks ago, but as of today, tag search is reactivated, according to Gleason. (Note: Though tag-search was disabled, users could still add tags and unlock badges.)
Until very recently, searching for venues tagged with specific words or phrase was one of the most effective ways to find, and hopefully unlock, specific badges. Back in May I wrote an in-depth tutorial on how to use tag search to locate hard-to-find badges, but due to some of the new changes, that advice is now somewhat off base.
You can still search for specific tags and types of venues on Foursquare.com. But the majority of tags that signify a badge can be unlocked at a venue are now hidden, Gleason says.
Foursquare Badges More Difficult to Find, Unlock
Foursquare is trying to make it harder to find and unlock badges.
"The majority of our badges are not tied to user-added tags, and many of the tags related to badge unlocks are now hidden," Gleason told me. "[W]e believe it's more fun for users to discover how to unlock badges by exploring new venues."