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Foursquare is remaking itself as a bot

Foursquare is remaking itself as a bot


But don't call it a chatbot

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We may be getting a new way to use Foursquare. The location-based recommendation company today announced Marsbot, an iOS app for the service that aims to provide tips for where to eat and drink in the moment. "Our goal: create a product that tells you where to eat or drink before you think to ask for it," the company said in a blog post. "It would deliver contextually aware, proactive recommendations for awesome food and nightlife spots via the simplest communications channel possible: text."

Screenshots of the app, which is only available via a waiting list, show a conversational interface. But Marsbot is not a chatbot, Foursquare insists. "With a chatbot, you ask specific questions and give specific prompts for what you need," the company said. "Our goal with Marsbot is to give you the answers before you even ask — €”just based on where you are and where you usually go." If that sounds a lot like the current version of Foursquare, that's because it is — Foursquare already sent tips via push notification when you visited a new town or neighborhood. That makes Marsbot a bit confusing — why mimic the form of a chatbot if you're not going to enable any conversation?

Why mimic a chatbot if you're not going to enable any conversation?

Still, Foursquare has good reason to experiment with bots. A large number of venture-backed startups are beginning to build conversational interfaces, and several of them put restaurant and nightlife recommendations front and center. Ozlo, Luka, and Mezi are among the companies positioning themselves to elbow Foursquare aside, should conversational interfaces prove to be more than a passing fad. And you can bet that Google's Allo will offer similar concierge services when it arrives this summer.

Foursquare is characterizing Marsbot as more of an experiment than a major new product initiative, a la Swarm. Given the way the world is moving, though, it's an experiment very much worth undertaking.