Saturday, May 21, 2011

Foursquare review

Foursquare is a geolocation social media service aimed at allowing users to broadcast their locations in the form of 'check-ins'. I have been an avid Foursquare user for almost a year now, and while my usage priorities has changed, I remain an avid user for completely different reasons to those when I first joined.

Let's get the basics out of the way. The service used to revolve around the competiton of mayorship.  If a user check in at a location more than anyone else within sixty days, they are awarded the 'mayorship' title. Marketers often uses Foursquare mayorship as an inceptive to get people to check in. For example Domino's Pizza rewards any current mayors of any of their stores with a free 'pizza' every Wednesdays. Some venues offers deals (called 'specials'), like 20% off food, simply by requiring the user to check-in, and users can use the mobile app to easily see if there are any specials nearby.

Points are awarded after checking in at venues. The amount of points given at each check-ins depends on a number of criteria - including whether that was the user's first at the venue, or whether the user was checking in with friends etc. The points are accumulated over a seven day period. Users can check where they are on the leader board. Suffice to say, most users do not bother with this.

Badge collecting meetups can be fun to make new friends
Foursquare check-ins can also earn users 'badges'. These badges are unlocked based on a number of prerequisite, and are dependent on tasks that the user has to do. Some are simple enough to activate, like the Local badge, which can be unlocked with three check-ins at the same venue. Others are a bit trickier - the Player Please badge for example can only be obtained by checking-in with three users from the opposite sex (they have to be your friends). Badges are also used by brands - check in at three Starbucks cafes to unlock that badge with the topless siren.

In any case, never mind about getting virtual badges - the most important service by Foursquare that I've ignored for too long but has come to appreciate are recommendations in the forms of tips. Users can leave positive or negative tips at venues - a boon to people like me who likes to explore but lazy to web research. And since v2.0 of the release, Foursquare has placed even more emphasis on the creation of to-do where it will remind users whenever there are to-do items nearby. Clever? I think so!

The things we did just to acquire badges...
I now mainly use Foursquare  to explore whichever areas I am in. This usually involve looking for restaurants and bars that are frequented by other users. The settings can be changed to include friends or everyone else. It also shows how many times my friends has checked into a particular venue - which is great, but only if you trust your friends - and I tend to! It is a great tool for travellers who never plans ahead (people like me!).

Foursquare also allows the user to know if their friends are nearby. Yes, it sounds like a stalker app but you can always choose not to check-in. This isn't an issue to me, as I am always up for an impromptu meetup with friends, and even people who I follow on twitter but haven't met yet - and in the past Foursquare has allowed me to do just that.
Stats of your check-ins can be accessed via the web client
A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch at a local pub (where I checked-in as usual). Near the end I saw check-in notification by a Foursquare friend who I have never met (but do talk to on twitter regularly). A couple of minutes later a tweet arrived by her mentioning the fact and suggested we should meet. And indeed we did! We hit it off and plans are now in place for a proper meet-up. Similarly a couple of days ago I was at a restaurant in Chinatown and somebody I know spotted me there but wasn't sure and so checked on Foursquare just to be sure!

Like Twitter, Foursquare (and other geo-location services like Gowalla) are not pointless services - if you know how to use them. Earning badges and other virtual points may be fun - after a while (in fact I've stopped chasing badges). Also, while Foursquare allows this, I would not suggest publishing your Foursquare check-ins to your other social media accounts - unless you have comments that you would have published on Twitter/Facebook anyway. Not everyone wants to know about your regular morning check-ins at railway stations.

Foursquare is best experienced with a smartphone while out and about. After all, what is more boring than sitting on a desk typing out a blog post telling you just how awesome Foursquare is? Wait, that would be about Gowalla. While marketers haven't been embracing Foursquare like they should, the ability to seek out friends and venues makes it a great service for people who loves exploring.

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