Posted by: Mark | September 30, 2009

Foursquare: Love it or Hate it.


No, I’m not talking about that Foursquare. That is obviously loved by all. I used to teach at a school in Maryland where kids would quite passionately and obsessively play Foursquare at all hours of the day. The game is awesome.

I am instead talking about Foursquare the geeky iPhone social networking game. I first tried Foursquare back in March and April of 2009, soon after it launched. Yes, I’m proud to say that I was a relatively early adopter. If you need proof, here’s proof:


So what is it? Basically, whenever you are out doing something in your city (I think there’s 21 cities now registered) you “check-in,” and basically it broadcasts to your friends where you are. For example, last night I “checked in” at La Playa Taqueria while I was getting my usual order of carne asada Super Burrito with black beans.

When you check-in, you get Points. I don’t really like that, but I’ll get back to that. You also send a push notification to anyone else who is your friend, so that they get what looks like a text message sent to their iPhone and tells them where they are. This is kind of nice, as it allows you to get a sense of where your friends are…increased chance of bumping into someone. While at a big Festival like the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival this weekend, if someone updates that they are at the Arrow Stage at a given time, that’ll get sent to me immediately, rather than I having to go in, search through my Twitter stream, etc etc. In addition to this, whenever you check in you can get details on the location…for example, there’s a place to automatically get taken to the location’s Yelp reviews, you can check out tweets that were generated in its general vicinity and therefore may be (most likely not) about the place you are at. This is also kind of nice, as Foursquare serves as a one-stop for many different services.

There are some other nice features. For example, there’s a “To-Do” list. I don’t really understand that, but basically whenever you’re in a given location, you can search the public “to-do” list. That will look up any suggested things to do based on where you are. This is kind of cool. For example, if I’m standing at a certain corner downtown with some time on my hands, I could look up the public To-Do list, and find a bunch of nifty little favorite things that I could do that are pretty close to that corner, like antagonize a certain homeless person, find a funny road sign, or order just the right milkshake at just the right place. This I like.

There are definitely features I don’t like. First off, the Points system. Basically, this is a way to peer pressure you into being “social” and “outgoing” and “out in the world doing things.” Big freaking deal. Yeah, I need something telling me to go out and “be in the world” and not just chilling in my house. I like my house, I like chilling in it, and I’m not in high school anymore where people peer pressure you into conducting the type of social life that others want. I like the way I spend my time–surfing, skateboarding, biking, and enjoying time at my house with my wife. So yeah, I’m not particularly into that facet of it. Especially considering you can “check-in” and get points in really stupid places, like grocery stores. The game is supposed to be about engaging a social life. Since when is going to a grocery store a socially cool thing to do? Honestly, WTF. (Notice: I checked in at Costco early on in the game. I am ashamed. Very ashamed. Yet I will do so again.)

In addition to that, their location element is a bit buggy. When I first joined in March, their location was way off. One night I went to the Pizza Place on Noriega, and tried to “Check-In.” They located me as being at the Presidio Bowling Lane, which is a good 15 minute drive away. Not even close. So I had to type in my own address: pain in the butt for something that was broadcasting itself as very, very easy. Later that night, after seeing the Presidio Bowling Lane in Foursquare, we all went bowling in the Presidio. I went to check in there, and I kid you not: Foursquare located me as being at the Pizza Place on Noriega. That’s a huge WTF, and so I dropped the game. (I was also growing sick of the point mentioned above about the peer pressuring.) However, I now acknowledge that this is what comes with being an early adopter: you catch on early, but you get the very buggy version. I don’t know from firsthand experience, but apparently Twitter’s Fail Whale was very common for early adopters to that service. Since re-signing back up yesterday, I’m more impressed with the location apparatus.

There’s this one other complicated thing about it, and that is being the Mayor. Basically, if you check in at a given location regularly, in fact more regularly than anyone else, you become Mayor of the place. It’s supposed to make you feel cool to be the Mayor. I’m not the Mayor of anything, so I can’t verify whether or not it actually makes you feel cool. My friend Dom is the Mayor of South Ocean Beach, and since I basically take my dog there every day and it’s one of my go-to surf spots, I’m planning on taking Dom down, big time, and so I’ll get my first sense of what Mayorship feels like.

Beyond the supposed cool factor, Mayorship is where Foursquare actually can make some money, and this is what makes it interesting, and why I’m back checking the service out again. (That, and their icon is really nice looking, and to be honest, I like seeing it when I turn on my iPhone. Yes, I’m superficial and like things like look good. Why else would I still be holding onto my high school crush for Gwen Stefani?) Since Foursquare is obviously location specific, apparently businesses have taken to advertising exclusively through Foursquare, and provide promos and coupons just to people on Foursquare, and better coupons and discounts for the Mayors. Makes sense right? Being a Mayor is like being a Regular. If you’re the well-known Regular at some hip bar, the bar rewards just you with a pretty sweet special. If others are aware of that sweet special, they too want to be the most well-known Regular, so they frequent your bar more as well. Business makes more money because there’s an increase in Regulars all bucking for that some special. You dig? Of course, since I don’t drink, I couldn’t give a crap about a drink special unless we’re talking about being the Mayor of Polly-Ann Ice Cream, in which case a free milkshake for Mayorship would turn my whole life around. Unfortunately, however, I anticipate that the spots I actually visit with a fair degree of Regularity are nowhere close enough to be hip enough to advertise through Foursquare, but it’s a nice idea.

So I’m back and giving it a shot. It’s very easy to find which twitter friends are on foursquare, so it increases the chance of actually meeting in real life some of the people whose writing you enjoy. There are many of those for me, so I’m siked about that. I’m cautiously interested in re-engaging, which basically in my language means I’ll be checking in at every chance that I get. I imagine that this game will bring out my competitive side. So what. Just rest assured: I will NEVER update through Twitter that “I’m at Trader Joe’s (blah blah address) with a link to a map.” I hate that.



  1. Hey hey – thanks for the 2nd chance (and for all the feedback!)

    -d @ foursquare

    ps: You should ask Polly-Ann’s if they want to do a foursquare special! Every foursquare special so far has come from a user asking the manager / bartender / cashier 🙂

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