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Foursquare, the hot location-based check-in startup, today announced on its blog that it will be releasing Foursquare 3.0 later today for Android and iPhone. The new version comes with several feature updates, but probably the most notable is the much-rumored recommendation engine.

We hinted to the recommendation engine back in September when co-founder and chief executive Dennis Crowley announced the possibility in front of Picnic, an annual three-day festival for sharing concepts in Amsterdam. The new feature is being called “Explore” and will utilize user’s past check-ins, along with other user’s check-ins and tips, to recommend places for a variety of categories, including food, coffee, nightlife, shops or A&E (arts and entertainment). Crowley also notes that things like time of day and week will affect recommendations.

Additional updates include a revamped leader board, which makes sense as it’s currently one of the ways Foursquare keeps users checking in to locations. Another popular way to encourage check ins is through Foursquare Specials, which now have been split up into seven different types: Swarm Specials, Friends Specials, Flash Specials, Newbie Specials, Check-in Specials, Loyalty Specials and Mayor Specials. As seen by the names, each special is associated with the type of check in by the user. For example, if it’s your first time at a coffee shop, a check in could land you a free drink with the “Newbie Special.”

For Blackberry owners, there will be an update that includes some 3.0 functionality later in the week.

It’s probably no coincidence that Foursquare is launching its new version less than a week before South by Southwest Interactive, the tech conference where it launched two years ago. Gowalla, a competing location-sharing app, has also announced new features in advance of the conference.

Foursquare, founded in 2009 and based in New York City, has raised more than $21 million in funding to date. It currently has more than 50 employees in its home town and an engineering office in San Francisco.

For more details into each new feature, check out the very long Foursquare blog post.

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