Despite Foursquare's Struggles, Chicago's Evzdrop Isn't Scared of the Check-in, or 'Drop'

Photograph by John Coletti

Foursquare has a lot of imitators, making the check-in ubiquitous—and even a little passé these days—across social networking apps. At first glance, Chicago startup Evzdrop looks like one of those clones. Instead of checking in at places, users “drop” their locations on the map, and as with Foursquare, you can take the temperature of all the bars, restaurants, clubs and, other venues in your area.

But then you start noticing some differences. There’s no option to find your friends and certainly no mechanism for following them. You can interact with anyone who “drops” into your location, but you’re most likely dealing with a complete stranger. If you ask a question or make a positive or critical comment, you’re just as likely to get a response from the venue’s owner as you are from one of its patrons. And once you’ve left a location, you’ll still be able to see all of the activity going on there, but you’ll find your ability to interact with the locale much more limited.

Evzdrop Chief Executive David Rush says he and fellow co-founder Eric Brown were inspired to start Evzdrop in 2012 because of the difficulty of sorting useful information about a bar, restaurant, or event from social networks.

“There’s a fire hose of information coming out of Facebook and Twitter,” Rush says. “Check-ins are more about showing where you are to friends, which is what Foursquare has become today. … We wanted to create an app that allows you to share a common interest in [a] place—one that lets you get the perspective of people who, along with you, are actually at an event.”

To that end, Evzdrop has created a kind of geofenced social network, allowing only people who are actually at a location to engage with one another and the business itself. Everyone else is just a voyeur. They can follow all the drop posts going at a location, but they can’t participate themselves except to comment on other people’s drops.

From my experiences fiddling with the app, many of the drops aren’t terribly useful—”Dude, this band rocks”—but as more people use the app, more useful information rises to the top through a “props” system that allows other people to vote on the most entertaining or informative posts.

The idea, Rush says, is to create not just a repository of immediate information—older drops disappear from the site—but a real-time discussion among all the people sharing the same space. That differentiates it from Yelp and other reviews sites, says Rush.

If Evzdrop can reach critical mass, it should be able to tell if the hamachi at the local sushi bar is particularly fresh or foul at any particular hour. Sports bar owners will be able to alert you to which games they’re showing in playoffs or respond to requests from customers to switch to a different game. Concert attendees can demand that a band play a particular song.

Of course, to get this kind of depth out of the service, Evzdrop really needs to scale. Right now it’s still a tiny operation. It has six employees and $500,000 in angel funding, and its Android and iPhone app has a miniscule 11,000 downloads. Expanding that base is going to be difficult, to say the least. Not only are numerous competing apps promoting their own take on the check-in; every major social network, review app, and location-based service—from Facebook to Yelp, to Google Latitude—have added check-in capabilities. The last thing most consumers want is to download and register an account with another check-in app.

Building a business around social location is also proving to be a difficult, even if you have 3.5 billion check-ins like Foursquare. New York’s check-in pioneer just raised another $41 million in financing, but it’s under intense pressure to prove it has a viable business model.

Rush says Evzdrop hopes to gain traction by targeting business owners and event planners, getting them to promote the app to their customers. Rush thinks the app would be particularly appealing to help track customer sentiment and complaints at such big events as concerts or benefits, where organizers can communicate with a lot of people en masse.

To that end, Evzdrop is making venue owners a key part of the network, rather than just peripheral participants. They don’t get to control their local social networks like, say, moderators on a discussion board. But they can communicate privately with their patrons, Evzdrop provides them with real-time data about the sentiment of their clientele. Rush says Evzdrop considers itself just as much a customer relations management (CRM) platform as it does a social networking app.

That business focus is also key to its business model. While any business owner can register her place with Evzdrop, gaining access to its customer communications tools, Evzdrop hopes to build a premium platform that would allow businesses to market promotions to their most frequent customers as well as give them more control over the interaction within the walls of their social networks.

Rush says one tool Evzdrop plans to implement is a way to flag negative sentiment, allowing a proprietor to intercept a critical drop before it goes live, thus giving them a chance to address the complaint immediately. Rush says Evzdrop would never allow businesses to censor posts—every drop would still go live—just create a kind of early warning system for negative feedback.

It seem Evzdrop is trying to walk a fine line. It’s admirable that Evzdrop is trying to develop its business model at the get-go, as opposed to Twitter and Foursquare, which built their social networks and then tried to figure out how to make money. But if patrons start perceiving Evzdrop as just a promotional pulpit for businesses, they won’t use it as a social network. And if Evzdrop can’t build up a social network, it doesn’t have a business.

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