photo19 Instagram Expands the Definition of a Check In with the Help of FoursquareIf you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably heard the whispers.

“Yeah, Foursquare is growing like crazy, but their retention rate is lousy.”

“Facebook Places has already won.”

“Normals are never going to check in.”

So what do you do if you are Foursquare and want to broaden your user base beyond early adopters and make your service part of the everyday behavior of more users?  You fish where the fish are – invest in your APIs, and make it easy for other services to integrate your functionality.

This is exactly what Foursquare did, and the strategy seems to be paying huge dividends in the form of Instagram.

Let’s look at the numbers.

Instagram today announced that they had surpassed 1M users in just two months, and were processing photos at the rate of three per second.

At current Instagram usage rates, here is a table that shows how many check-ins (and photos) that Foursquare may be getting access to by virtue of being the local database of choice for the fast growing Instagram.

Picture 4 Instagram Expands the Definition of a Check In with the Help of Foursquare

* assumes 2592000 seconds in a month

These are not trivial numbers, folks.

And this is via one third party developer, that is two months old.  Where will Instagram, and by extension Foursquare, be in a year?

Clearly this is a nice win for Foursquare, and one that is likely moving the check-in dial far more than some of their big brand partnerships.

But what’s going on here is something much larger.  It’s the broadening of the definition of the check-in to include things like taking a photo or using your Safeway card.

There was a recent study by the Pew Research Center that found that only 4% of online Americans have ever checked into a location based service.  Here’s what my friend Eghosa Omoigui had to say about that:

“Wrong.  Only 4% of Americans know that they’re checking in.  100% of Americans check-in.  When they snap a photo.  Or use a credit card.  Or make a phone call….”

You get the picture.  By exposing their APIs, Foursquare has begun the work of mapping all sorts of activities to the check in gesture, in the process vastly broadening their insight into the real world behavior of consumers.

Any wonder they are hiring a data scientist?