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I Just Became the Mayor of “Screw This”

April 8, 2010

Enough. Just…enough.

Over the past few months, I’ve made a good faith effort to use location services Foursquare and Gowalla. If you’re unfamiliar with these, the concept is pretty simple. When you go somewhere, you pull up the Foursquare or Gowalla app on your iPhone (or Android-powered phone or whatever) and “check-in”. From there, the two differ a little bit. Foursquare lets you win badges or become the “mayor” of a location if you check in more than anybody else. Gowalla lets you pick up silly little graphics for no real reason.

I’ll admit, I went in pretty skeptical of the entire concept. Not that that means all that much. I was skeptical of Twitter and Facebook once upon a time, too.

Thing is, Twitter and Facebook won me over. Foursquare and Gowalla never did.

And so today, I’m killing them both and deleting them from my phone.

As I do, I wanted to explore why location services fell so flat with me, and why I doubt they’ll ever really reach mass appeal, despite their almost masturbatory use at SXSW and similar events:

I’m not that interesting. Okay, in all honesty, I can see a case for checking in if you’re going somewhere new and exciting. Of course, between a rambunctious toddler, a pregnant wife, work, and all of life’s mundane responsibilities, I don’t go anywhere new and exciting all that often. And something about checking in at Pei Wei or Starbucks or the grocery store just feels lame and, well, presumptive. I mean, really, who cares if I’m stopping at Exxon to fill up on gas?

You’re not that interesting, either. Sorry, you’re not. Especially if you check in at every step along your daily routine. Going somewhere new and random, or somewhere particularly awesome, okay, maybe. But again, nobody cares that you’re grabbing the same coffee at the same Starbucks as you do every other morning. Well, not unless there’s a special ops team that’s trying to use your daily habits to work out the ideal ambush point. But then, unless your name is Jack Bauer, that’s probably not a concern. So…nobody cares.

It’ll never fly with teens or Tiger Woods. A service that lets you tell everybody exactly where you are all the time? Yeah, the teens will flock to that, alright. Thing is, though, do you really want everyone knowing where you are all the time? That “I’m going to be late to work because the dog vomited in the washing machine” story isn’t going to fly if you check in at Starbucks at 9:15 (or if you checked in at six different bars the night before…at which point it may be more likely that you vomited in the washing machine).

Mayorship = discounts = retarded. If you find yourself checking in somewhere often enough that you become mayor, chances are you’re a regular. And if you’d look up from your phone and build a repoire with the employees, chances are they’d probably pass the occasional discount your way without you having to whip out your stupid Foursquare.

It’s too limiting. The thing I like about Facebook and Twitter (and honestly, computers and the iPhone and cameras and a bunch of other stuff) is that they are what you make of them. They’re sort of like palettes, and you can add or take away, participate or not. I mean, as much as people hate it, look at Farmville. Who the hell could have seen that coming? Foursquare and Gowalla and the like don’t have that same sandbox feel. There’s basically this one thing you can do – check in – and then varying degrees of gimmicks around it. Once people get sick of checking in at the same places, what do they do next? Oh yeah, nothing.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2010 3:19 pm

    Hallelujah! Great post Matt. I could care less about the places people go every day unless, like you said, they’re actually exciting and interesting and I can live a bit vicariously. I guess that as social apps come and go we’ll figure out what we really want to be able to do in the process…


  2. April 8, 2010 3:26 pm

    Fuck. Yes.

  3. Tom Myer permalink
    April 8, 2010 3:34 pm

    I think it would be interesting to see if people start checking in to humorous, insulting, or absolutely mythical/legendary/fictional places — Area 51, Yo Mama’s House, El Dorado, Fountain of Youth. I don’t play these games and generally tune out those who do, so I don’t know if this has already started happening.

    Anyway, that’s the kind of thing that would make me giggle, but I’m twisted that way.

  4. April 8, 2010 3:52 pm

    I think this is especially funny since you’re about the only friend I have who uses Gowalla;)

    I like the idea of leaving tips, little virtual post-it notes telling people about discounts, specials and events. And frankly, I liked your posts about going to dinner with your wife, etc…it just made me smile to think of my old friend:) But, again , you’re about the only friend I had on there…I can imagine it would get old if you were notified of all the mundane things MANY people were doing throughout their days…

    I’ve liked Loopt since the affair I had with my hubby’s iPhone (pre mine). So much easier than “dude, where are you? How much longer until you get here?” “Ummm…not really sure where I am…there’s a tree…” Now they’ve added “Pulse” which let’s you do much of the same post-it/event stuff as Go/Square.

    I’ll keep them on my phone so I can post all the going-ons for the businesses I market…but no, not feeling the need to check in with my now zero friends on these apps…

    Good post, Matt!

  5. Tim McDougall permalink
    April 8, 2010 5:17 pm

    Liked the post. Just as you’ve been doing, I’ve been following Foursquare/Gowalla/etc. I’ve seen the agency pitches on why this is the next huge thing, how it’s going to be the next Facebook, Twitter, Digg, etc.

    And I haven’t bought in yet. And probably won’t ever. Facebook is a tool for self-expression and for building/maintaining connections. Sure, it can open the door to some annoying narcissistic behavior (you know who you are, Mr. “Just got done working out!” and Mrs. “Just had a bagel for breakfast!”), and it comes with a risk of privacy loss, but overall the benefits outweigh the downsides. The ratio gets a bit worse on Twitter, but if you’re willing to put the time into it, you probably still come out on top.

    Foursquare and the rest, though, seem all about the two things I don’t like about social media — they encourage trivial, narcissistic noise and they strip away privacy without seemingly adding much back in trade. If I’m your friend, I’m interested in what you’re thinking, what you find funny, and what you’re passionate about. I don’t want to know where you are at all times. To use your example, I don’t care that you just filled up at Exxon.

    However, I am going to keep watching the development of geo-centric social tools. Maybe Foursquare does turn out to be the next big thing. My sense is that it doesn’t, but I’ve been wrong before. And I do think someone is going to figure out how to make killer tools from the geo-location abilities that come with this wave of mobile devices. I just don’t think anybody has quite done it yet.

  6. April 9, 2010 1:01 pm

    Just read this article and it made me think of your post…

  7. July 12, 2010 11:46 pm

    Thanks for retweeting this post Matt. I sort of agree with you. By and large, I really don’t care too much where a person is at any given time, but just like any tech, it gets used for mundane, narcissistic or just plain stoopid things right out of the gate. To me, Go/Square are just more evidence of that pattern. I DO feel that Geolocation has a large and long life ahead of it beyond tracking a cheating spouse… just where its leading to is anyone’s guess though.

    Great post!


  8. Doogs permalink*
    July 13, 2010 7:42 am

    Thanks for the comment, Darin! FWIW, I agree. I think geolocation has a massive role to play going forward, I just don’t think that Gowalla and Foursquare are the vehicles by which it’ll hook into the mainstream. I can’t help but feel that location-based services are in the same place today that social networks were back in the early days of

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