1UP: The importance of platforms, and how we’re extending ours
Where We Are
foursquare has offered an API since really early on. We’re big believers in platforms: they let people build cool new applications easily without duplicating effort, and they allow data to pass back and forth, making all applications richer. When we released our API, we were curious to see what people would do with the foursquare data: checking in, check-in histories, venues, and now tips, photos, and to-dos.
The results were better than we could have ever imagined, with thousands of apps built on our API. We’ve been especially excited to see some of our favorite applications use it. Companies like Instagram, picplz, Foodspotting, eightbit.me, HootSuite, tweetdeck, Hashable, GroupMe and Venmo. For those people who are in Austin for SXSW, we even made a ‘Platformer’ badge which you can unlock by checking in with three of those awesome apps. It’s a great way to see the type of things that can be done when start-ups can build on the work of others.
Broadening our Venue APIs
One of the most popular parts of our API has been the ability for other apps to search for venues and get more information about them (like all the tips at a certain place). We’re especially proud of this because, when we first started foursquare, one of the big problems we had was creating a database of venues (we needed it so people could check in to them). Every existing venue database out there was super expensive to license, or not accurate and recent. Which is fair – it’s hard to go around and make a database of things in the real world: things change a lot, there’s no real automated way to do it, and the world is huge.
foursquare was really lucky, though. Our early users were super passionate, and, when they wanted to check in to places, they entered the name and address of the place they were at. Over the course of the last two years, you guys have entered more than fifteen million venues (and checked into them over a half billion times). And, the end result of all of that is that we have one of the largest ‘rights-free’ databases in the world, and it even includes random things that nobody else has, like food trucks and college classrooms.
Because no other start-up should be expected to build up a venue database like that, we’ve made it available through the main foursquare API for anyone to use. Today, through the foursquare Venue Project, we’re breaking out the Venues API, making it available at high rate limits (so even the most popular apps can use it without worrying about hitting a limit), with simple “userless” authentication, new endpoints, and with clear guidelines for use.
There a bunch of other great reasons to use our Venues API:
- There’s an API endpoint for trending, so you can see what’s popular in real time.
- Apps can use the API to tag photos (like Instagram), drinks (like Untappd), or any other data.
- You can also do things like build neighborhood photo or tip browsers to create local resources.
Building a Venue map
But this is just the start of making location as easy as possible to integrate. One huge part of the Venues Project, which we’ve now made some headway on, is building a comprehensive Venue Harmonization Map. Right now, there’s no Rosetta Stone for location, allowing you to link information about a real-world place from one database to any other. For instance, if you look up a restaurant in the foursquare API, we give you our ID number for that location. But if you were to look up the same restaurant in The New York Times or MenuPages , they’d have a different ID number in their database. The Venue Harmonization Map aims to solve that, by translating those numbers so that you only have to look up the ID once. So, for instance, if you know the URL of a restaurant on Thrillist, you can find that same restaurant in our database. And the other way works, too! (Here’s an example.) The goal of foursquare’s Venue Harmonization Map is to translate between these databases, making it easier to create mash-ups, link to pages on other sites, or add foursquare widgets like “Add to foursquare” to publisher sites.
This effort is very much a work-in-progress, and we hope to find a way to open this up much more broadly and to improve the quality of what we’re doing. But we had so many start-ups and publishers asking for this that we just decided to get it out there. Starting today, the foursquare venue APIs offer ways for finding and searching by third-party IDs and URLs from The New York Times, New York Magazine, Thrillist, and MenuPages. Give them a shot and send us feedback. This announcement is also our way of saying there’s so much more we want to do here, so expect a stream of developer and product-facing changes to our API in the near future. As always, keep your feedback and questions coming on our mailing list. And if you have venue IDs, we’d love to sync with you! Just drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, after a long week of launches, I hope this helps you understand our vision: to create a powerful platform for users of any application that helps share and find experiences in the real world and, also, to build a foundation for any location-based service to use the easiest and most comprehensive database of the real world in history. With over fifteen million venues, a generous API, and the start of harmonization, we’re working towards that goal. We can’t wait to see the next wave of start-ups whose vision is that much easier to reach because of this foundational work.