Local-Mobile Discovery Increasingly on Consumers' "Radar"

The race is on to build critical mass around a "recommendation engine" for local search on mobile devices. A range of mobile apps such as Bizzy (owned by ReachLocal), Where (owned by eBay), Alfred (a new app from Clever Sense) and Foursquare, among others, are trying to create viable and fun alternatives to plain-vanilla mobile search. These apps leverage location, social data, favorites and past behavior to offer a broader and potentially more compelling experience than pure "local search."

Along those lines, Foursquare introduced a new notifications feature called "radar" yesterday. It builds upon Foursquare's previously introduced lists capability and it lets users know when they're nearby a business, place or activity on one of their lists.

Here's what Foursquare said yesterday about Radar on its blog:

Now, if you follow a list, like the 101 Best Dishes of 2011, foursquare will let you know when you’re next to one. Or you save that yoga studio to your To-Do List (because you really want to try it); we can remind you when you’re close. Or, better yet, if you’re driving home and three of your friends are getting together nearby, we’ll tell you so you can meet up. The app doesn’t even have to be open, it just works. We call it foursquare Radar, because it finds things nearby that you normally wouldn’t know about.

Radar is an opt-in feature that will send a nearby notification regardless of whether the app is open. ReachLocal's Bizzy has a similar capability with its "try lists," letting users know when they're near a place they previously selected as a "try." By contrast, Where and Alfred take a less "human" and more algorithmic approach to local discovery. 

Where.com created what it called a "place graph" to match physical places according to selected criteria, which then form the basis of later recommendations to users. Clever Sense's app Alfred essentially does the same thing. Its technology assigns or "maps" physical places to one another based on styles, characteristics and attributes in the same way that Pandora does for music.

All of these apps are broadly trying to accomplish the same type of thing: enabling users to discover places without having to search for them -- or remember them. These discovery apps won't entirely replace search however. And multiple categories of local apps will probably co-exist over time: search, review apps (e.g., Yelp) and apps falling into this other category (discovery).

Foursquare has evolved from a relatively narrow app built around game mechanics to a much more helpful tool that has many more use cases for consumers and increasingly for marketers. Indeed, with its 10 million-plus users, Foursquare increasingly is in the strongest position of the apps mentioned to fulfill the emerging role of local-mobile discovery platform.