Foursquare Might Finally Become More than a Game with Push Notification API

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This morning, word spread that Foursquare’s anticipated push notification API would be announced very soon. Co-founder Dennis Crowley confirmed the news via Twitter, adding, “If you are building on the 4SQ API this is a big deal.”

Betabeat reports:

Foursquare’s magical tool that will allow developers to build apps that can remind you to buy milk when you walk past the grocery store or notify you when a friend is in the area will be publicly released today, Betabeat has heard, just a few days ahead of Foursquare’s global hackathon.

Earlier in March, reports indicated that Foursquare was growing exceptionally fast, passing the 7.5-million user mark while turning down lucrative offers from the likes of Yahoo and Facebook. Yet despite the company’s explosive growth, many still saw Foursquare more a fringe tool than a service with real-world applications; as Mathew Ingram of Giga OM wrote earlier in January: “Despite those impressive numbers… the service still has some distance to go before it can claim to be mainstream.”

(MORE: President Obama Joins Foursquare)

“Gamefication” is one of those trendy buzzwords being thrown around to describe what Foursquare does: It creates an in-game rewards system (badges), with the occasional real-world voucher offered from local businesses you check into. (For example, one bar near my apartment offers free Pickleback shots for checking in–I can’t imagine why.)

For businesses, the immediate advantage of being on Foursquare is clear: It allows a business owner to estimate foot traffic in a new and measurable way that wasn’t previously possible.

But for actual Foursquare users? Other than a subjective “fun factor” and a few scattered drink specials, the value gained from trading in your location data has been less clear, as evidenced by studies that point out most mobile users still aren’t “checking in.” It’s one of the main reasons why it’s been difficult for Foursquare to gain mainstream traction the way social networks like Twitter have. People don’t understand it.

Which is why the addition of push notifications will be a monumental step for the service as it integrates into other mobile apps as a sharing stream: If a friend is at a coffee shop you happen to be near, you could message them instantly to meet up, or receive reminders to pick up dry cleaning as you pass by. The real-life applications open up a world of possibilities, and–more importantly–applications that the average consumer can understand the value of.

We already saw Facebook axe Places (and then bring it back, sort of), and competitors like Gowalla and Brightkite are quickly losing steam. Will Foursquare finally make it into the mainstream like its explosive arc suggests? Developers seem excited at the possibilities, though this much is clear: It’s about to become more than just a leaderboard.

MOREFoursquare Update Brings ‘Some Early-Access Love’ to Android

Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.