I get the feeling that although Foursquare is bigger than ever, its utility has been steadily decreasing as well. The root of this problem is the source of its value: users.
Standard internet thinking goes something like this: the more users you have and the more active they are, the more valuable your service becomes. So you would think that users who participate frequently enough to hold down a handful of mayorships are the most valuable – and you’d be correct, to an extent. User participation always needs to be managed towards meaningful goals. Linux and Wikipedia are great examples of this; so is Twitter’s ecosystem and the apps and services developed around the platform.
Standard social media thinking goes something like this: at critical mass, good communities self-manage. This is actually false logic; again, Linux and Wikipedia are great examples of this. Foursquare’s user base is not.
There are two types of users with above-average importance in the FourSquare community – mayors and superusers. Mayors of course get their status from patronizing a location most often. Superusers come in three levels, criteria known only to Foursquare management, but they have the ability to impact user experience by managing information.
In other words, mayors come and go but superusers can change the game.
In fact, utility has been decreasing because too many people are trying to become mayor of too many things, creating a useless long tail of locations. Have you tried checking into an airport recently? The “official” record for neither Boston or Atlanta ever comes up in a list of options; people have just created too many sub-locations.
It appears that Foursquare needs to put a much larger number of Superusers in place and allow participation balance outlined in a theory like the 90-9-1 rule manifest. Apparently many users are willing to volunteer. Otherwise, the site risks becoming a victim of its own success.