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A Skeptic’s Guide to Foursquare

October 11, 2009

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed several coworkers and Twitterers “checking in” from this location or becoming “Mayor” of that location.  Turns out it was this new social networking/location game thing, Foursquare.

My initial reaction was something along the lines of “that’s retarded”. But that was my initial reaction to Twitter, too, and I’ve since come around to the usefulness of communicating in 140-character tweets, so I figured hey, you know, keep an open mind.

As the months went on, though, I still couldn’t see the utility of Foursquare, apart from bragging about all the cool places you can go when you aren’t saddled with a toddler. In the Twitter feed, the Foursquare posts remained mildly interesting at best, and downright annoying at worst (no, I don’t care that you unlocked the “Adventurer” badge).

But hey, it’s free, it’s social, and it’s part of my job to be up on this stuff, so I figured I’d dip my toe in and try it out for myself. So I signed up for an account and downloaded the Foursquare app to my iPhone.

After several days using (or attempting to use) Foursquare, I can definitely see the possibilities, but I’m still sort of “meh” about the whole thing.

So, how does it work?

Simple. When you go somewhere, pull up Foursquare on your phone (they have apps for a few different smartphones). It’ll pull down a list of nearby locations, which, at least in my experience, will never include the location you’re actually at. So you enter your location, type a little message if you’re so inclined, and “check-in”. Doing so nets you a few points, which so far as I can tell don’t do much more than tell you who among your friends is most addicted to their phone. Check in at a location enough times, and you can become the “Mayor”, which, honestly, whoopee.

Now, on the iPhone app, there are two toggle switches. One to share your check-in with your friends on Foursquare, and the other to share it on Twitter. This toggle, then, is where all the inane posts come from, and I ask anyone using Foursquare or thinking about using Foursquare to keep Twitter in your back pocket for when you do something noteworthy.

Otherwise, well, that’s another inane post, and you’ve just upped your noise-to-signal ratio that much more.

Foursquare Advanced

In addition to checking in at different locations, you can also leave tips for others to read. Say you go eat somewhere. You can leave a recommendation to try the fish tacos, or the avocado margarita. That way, anybody else checking in from that location can read your tip and boom, instant recommendation.

You can also use Foursquare to discover nearby places you’ve never been to before, which I haven’t really had the chance to play around with yet, but it could make for a pretty cool little discovery engine.

Foursquare Suckitude

If there’s one major problem with Foursquare that makes me want to dump the whole thing, it’s the absolutely crappy location awareness. For example, I went to create a “place” for my neighborhood, entered the cross streets, and it somehow placed me outside of Knoxville.

What the hell?

First, Austin =/= Knoxville. Second, the app uses GPS to determine your location in the first place. Why can’t it do the same to, you know, verify your location?

I ran into another fun one this afternoon. Mrs. Doogs sent me to the H-E-B for some sorely needed grocery shopping (you know we’re out of food when I agree to go to a grocery store on a Sunday afternoon). I figured I’d check-in. Sure enough, the H-E-B didn’t show up, so I entered it. Despite the fact that it knew my exact location thanks to the magic of GPS, it placed me in an H-E-B halfway across the city. And since there’s no second step to say “hey, is this the right location?”, there was nothing I could do to correct it. So, according to Foursquare, I was frequenting the South Congress location this afternoon, not the one at 71 & Bee Caves.

Foursquare Potential

Now…despite my frustrations using Foursquare…I can see some pretty profound possibilities. This service has the potential to take social networking local. It could give businesses a chance to interact with loyal customers, and give people a way to leave place-specific recommendations. If I were a business, I’d make damn sure I added my store or stores to Foursquare so they’d show up in the list when people visit. And I’d interact with those who check-in, maybe even offer discounts to those who check-in while they’re there. Or make the “Mayor” tag something more than bragging rights by giving the holder a deeper discount for as long as they hold the title.

The thing is, the service seems very much in its infancy. It needs to seriously step up its location determination and verification procedures so users can check in accurately, or at least stop the train if something goes wrong.

With the kinks worked out, Foursquare could be pretty cool. Sadly, at the moment, I can’t help but regard it as more a curiosity than anything else.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2009 8:11 pm

    I agree. Frankly, I have a lot more problems with the site, but it’s requirement that I check myself in really is a pain. The site needs a LOT more work in order to be something I’d use regularly.


  1. Foursquare In The News |

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