Latitude vs Foursquare

Latitude Check In
A while back I wrote about using location-based social networking tools for business purposes.

In that post I cited Google Latitude as an example of Live Location Transmission (a tool that sends an approximate location of your phone to your friends) and Foursquare as an example of a check-in based tool (that requires users to manually inform the service that they have arrived at a particular location).

About a week ago, Google released a new Check-in feature for Latitude, which effectively turns Latitude into a hybrid of both kinds of services. I've spent about a week playing with Latitude check-ins, and I thought it might be useful to do a comparison between it and Foursquare. Probably the best way to do that is to highlight where the two services are different.

The most glaring difference between them is their catalogue of locations you can check into.

The Database

Add a new venue in Foursquare
When using Foursquare, if you want to check into a place, but you can't find the place you're sitting in the Foursquare system, you can create it yourself. It allows you to either enter the address manually, or pick up your coordinates from your smartphone's GPS, give it a name and then catagorise it (is in, it's a gym, or a restaurant, or an office building or what have you). Once you've added the place to Foursquare, other users can check into it too.

The advantage is that you're not limited by the existing contents of the database. The drawback is that it relies on humans to create the content... and humans make mistakes. You'll soon see that many places are mis-spelled, named incorrectly or in the wrong location. Only the person who originally created the place can change the listing, and if they don't know how to do that, then you sit with bad data in the system.

Latitude works differently, however. It draws its list of locations from the Google Places database. While Places is an enormous database, it's not complete, so you'll often find (especially in South Africa) that the place you're looking for isn't available.

While the data that's in the system tends to be well managed and curated for accuracy and that sort of thing, adding new places to the catalogue is kinda difficult. (In South Africa it seems impossible to add a place unless you're the owner of it)


Since Foursquare launched two years ago, they've made a constant effort to make their service available on as many different smartphone devices as possible. As it stands, I've yet to find a smartphone that isn't supported by Foursquare in some way or another. There's even a Chrome extension that lets you check in from your desktop. Foursquare also allows other application developers to connect to their service, so you can check in from other apps like TweetDeck.

Latitude check-ins, being a brand-new service, is still only available in one place: Google Maps for Android. I have little doubt that it'll be supported in future versions of the Google Maps for Mobile applications for other smartphones, and maybe even for the Latitude desktop view, but as of right now they're not yet available.


A popular feature of Foursquare has been the ability to re-post your check-ins into your other social-networking sites. By default, it allows you to immediately post into Twitter and Facebook. If you've set up your syndication properly, you can send your posts from there into other services like LinkedIn or Google Buzz.

Latitude also allows you to send out your check-in alerts, but so far only allows you to send them to Google Buzz. This has its advantages, as you can configure Buzz to have your Latitude check-ins only appear in certain people's feeds, but the down side is that not everybody uses Buzz yet. If you want your check-ins to appear in Facebook or Twitter, you have to use some kind of third-party syndication app to make it work - which is a bit of a pain.

Unique Features

Latitude and Foursquare each have some features that have no analogue in the other. Let's look at a few of the most notable ones:


  • The gaming component: In addition to being a social networking tool, Foursquare also has a built-in game. Each time you check in you earn points, and you compete against everyone else in your city in a weekly contest. You also earn badges for your activity, and if you check into a given location more than anyone else, you become the "Mayor".

    With the exception of a few establishments who offer discounts and specials to their mayor, the gaming side of Foursquare is basically just for fun.
  • Tips and To-Dos: When you check into a place, you have the option of leaving a tip. Something like "Try the bacon and salami pizza!" for example. When someone else sees your tip linked to a place, they can add it to their "ToDo" list, and a reminder will pop up when they check in reminding them to try the bacon and salami pizza
  • Check-in History: Foursquare keeps a complete history of all your check-ins, and even allow you to export that history in a couple of different formats. My favourite is the way you can import it into your Google Calendar as an overlay - I've found it useful in reconstructing my movements for things like timesheets. (Latitude does keep a history of your movements and gives you some fun visualisations, but as far as I can tell your check-ins aren't included in that yet, and you can't export it to anything)
  • Ratings: Latitude check-ins live in the same place in the Google Maps for Mobile application as Google Hotpot - a service for sharing ratings and reviews with the world at large, and your friends in particular.
  • Automated Check-ins: If you frequently visit a particular place (your favourite coffee-shop, or your office building, for example) you can set Latitude to check you in automatically when you're in range on that place. This saves you the annoyance of having to thumb through the app checking in manually, and also saves you in case you forget to do it yourself.
    (I haven't tested this bit thoroughly yet, and I'm curious about how sensitive it is. For example, would it check you in if you're just driving past a place? I'll keep playing with it and let you know)

Wrap Up

All in all I'd say that Foursquare is probably still in the lead between the two - it's a more mature service with a more established user-base. However, if Google manage to solve the few problems with Latitude (and I predict they will), it will likely win out over Foursquare as the leading location-based social networking tool of 2011.

I've personally pretty much stopped using Foursquare now. I haven't removed the app from my phone yet though... I may change my mind again in the future.


  1. I'm glad you done this cause I've wanted someone to do a comparison like this since the Latitude check feature was released.
    Right now I really like the concept of the Latitude check in system but unfortunately I have yet been able to check in because the places I've gone too are not in its database (including the airport). This is a pity as it's auto check in feature really appeals to me. I'm sticking with Foursquare for now, even with its issues like mis-spelled or duplicate locations.

  2. Thanks Tone! Glad you found it useful!