May 25, 2010

Siobhan Quinn Exits Blogger, Checks In at Foursquare

After seven years at Google, including the last two and a half as a product manager on the company's Blogger platform, Siobhan Quinn handed in her badge yesterday, and will start on June 7th as the first product manager at the fast-growing, location obsessed, Foursquare, in New York City, joining head of product Alex Rainert. Siobhan is the second of Blogger's three product managers to have recently made a move, following Rick Klau's move to manage Google Profiles last month. I talked with Siobhan today to find out her thoughts on Foursquare's potential, and how the company can transition from one beloved by "Silicon Valley nerds" to a more mainstream audience, delivering real value.

Siobhan initially joined Google in 2003 as part of the Google Accounts team before Accounts had launched, predating even the launch of GMail (in April of '04). She says she worked on the front-end to Accounts, the sign-in system, and new account flow, helping to connect accounts to many of Google's other properties, including Adwords, personalized search, Google Checkout and, of course, Blogger. But she admitted she hasn't written code in a few years, and has been working to push Blogger from its relatively slower pace of updates to one that has seen increased activity, including the recent launch of the Blogger Template Designer and last week's launch of new Webfonts, with a corresponding API.

"That's why I am excited to leave now," she said. "I made an impact on Blogger, and I've been at Google for 7 years. It is time to do something much different."

How different? Siobhan is leaving a company of 20,000 employees to one of just a hair over 20. Foursquare has gained a lion's share of attention in the tech blogosphere for its checkin application, but in reality, the team remains extremely small. And while many of us have blended our interest in Foursquare with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism, she makes a compelling case for the future of the product - as the platform morphs from one focused on badges and gaming to one more centered on reviews and tips from your social graph.

Siobhan postulates that Foursquare tips can become a lot more useful as more people use the service, and start to fill in the system's data, even with what I've always thought were the mundane check-ins as gas stations, fast food restaurants, office buildings, or parks.

"We can make tips a lot more useful," she said. "For example, if you are looking for a dentist in your town, and people in your social graph have reviewed a dentist near you and checked in three times this year, that's powerful for me. That's the dentist I would want to go to. Combining checkins and reviews and your social graph would be a powerful demand generation tool."

For many Foursquare users, the fun in using the application has come from gaining mayorships and accumulation of brightly colored badges. As I joked maybe Foursquare would be moving to offer vice mayorships, deputy mayorships and other titles, she agreed that "there need to be more opportunities for users to win", adding "the mayor should be able to set some laws. Maybe the mayor can design the drink special."

Beyond the recommendation and tip aspect from connected friends within the Foursquare social graph, businesses have many opportunities to leverage checkin activity that hasn't yet been tapped, she said. While Starbucks gained good visibility for offering $1 off Frappuccinos for the store's mayors nationwide, their efforts are the exception and not the rule today.

"If you're at Wendy's and you get three other people to check in with you, maybe you get a free meal," Siobhan suggested. "And then, maybe that makes the restaurant trend and become the hotspot to be. For users who are not in the geeky, trendy, Silicon Valley area, and are offered incentives to add reviews and checkins, they could be included to do that."

Her last role at Blogger centered around many people bringing their offline lives online, and sharing their stories. But Foursquare has the power to impact offline behavior, as friends seek out friends and experiment with new venues - practically a 180 degree turn.

"Foursquare is making people explore a little more and step outside their comfort zone," she said. "I like any product that makes people's lives more meaningful offline. It encourages you to explore and try new things away from your computer."

Siobhan doesn't have much time between now and her first day at Foursquare HQ - giving her just over a week to pack, sell her car and furniture, and head to New York with her dog in tow. Siobhan (according to her Foursquare profile) is mayor of ME Cabo in Cabo San Lucas, but hasn't claimed any Bay Area properties. Maybe New York will bring her more luck. Until she starts logging checkins on the East Coast, you can find her on Twitter at @siobhanquinn.

Meanwhile, Blogger remains in the hands of Chang Kim, who joined the team after Google acquired his company, TNC, in September of 2008.

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