a few conversations and articles from this past week got me thinking about the early days of foursquare and some of the early ideas and projects that inspired me to start on this path.
rewind it back to 2004. i was working at sony, leading a small team that was working on building a music platform and an app store for mobile phones. as a part of my job, i got to travel quite a bit. i particularly spent a lot of time in asia. as one usually does, i would turn to my friends for recommendations for places to which i should go. over time, i started creating crude hacks so that i could keep lists of such things, either in raw form or somehow backed with geocodes and metadata. the latter was especially useful in asia where the languages made it very hard to find your way around and to find your way back to your favorite shops.
in 2006, inspired by one of my most favorite sites at the time, del.icio.us, i decided to start hacking on a “delicious for places”. in fact, the first pass at trying to invent something to remember places saw me trying to tag places and metadata on top of delicious. at the time, i really liked the idea of using delicious like a datastore that could be used to store all sorts of data and then queried based on tags. (think: memcache). then i morphed this system to its own backend and gave it a name: placefuse. (uhh, don’t ask. i was young and poor and the domain was available). and just like with delicious, you could tag all your favorite places. you could then query your history using tags – these would automatically create lists of places. and then, depending on which interface you were using – web or mobile or smartphone – these queries would automatically render the appropriate views (kml if you were coming from a maps app, xhtml if you were on mobile web, …). there were a couple of reserved tags, including one called “go”, which is sort of a precursor to the idea of a to-do list. if i hadn’t yet been to a place, i couldn’t tag it with one of the standard tags, so it would get marked “go” so it could be called upon when i felt like trying something new.
in 2007, i left sony with a big desire to start anew. i knew i wanted to start up something to solve this local discovery problem. and i knew i wanted to build it on mobile – it’s the platform with which i was most familiar, having worked on it since leaving college. in may of that year, i started working with some friends on their local startup (socialight) in an unassuming office in union square. while working on this project, i spent nights and weekends continuing to iterate on small projects and hacks on the side.
it was in this office space that i ended up meeting dennis. we started sharing our ideas and thinking and, after a while, collaborating on an idea that would bring all this together. these collaborations became foursquare. but that’s a story for another time.