Categories
Business Technology

FourSquare: Social Networking for the Social Drinker

A few weeks ago, I was in Austin, TX, for the South By Southwest Interactive conference. While there, through word of mouth, I heard about FourSquare.

FourSquare is a new service for smartphone users from the creators of Dodgeball, a startup purchased and then shelved by Google. FourSquare utilizes your phone’s GPS to “Check-in” to different places you go, see where your friends are, and allows you to “Shout” status updates to your friends. On the surface, it seems similar to other “location status” services such as Brightkite or Loopt. However, FourSquare goes a different route than its competitors; it emphasizes the social potential of location status by turning it into a game.

I was, at one point, a big proponent of Brightkite. While there were functions of the service that I did like, I’ve started to question more and more why I used it. “Who cares that I’ve checked-in to my apartment? Do I really want people to know where my apartment is? If I am going to restrict the visibility of my location—why am I even using this service, to begin with?” The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a handy way for someone to stalk me and not much more.

FourSquare takes a different approach. It focuses on bars, clubs, and restaurants rather than just arbitrary check-ins to every location. It intends to connect you to your friends in a nightlife setting.

Although I’ve been using it since SXSW, it wasn’t until this weekend on a trip visiting NYC, that I really saw the potential of FourSquare. The service awards your “check-ins” in a variety of ways. For each check-in, you earn points, and you get bonus points for doing things like hitting multiple locations in one night. You can also unlock badges (yes, like in Boy/Girl Scouts) for accomplishing an objective, similar to many video games. Lastly, by checking into a location on multiple occasions, you can become its “Mayor” if you’re there more often than someone else. Each city has it’s own set of badges and Mayors (currently, there are 12 supported US cities.)

My FourSquare activity tells an amusing story about my trip to NY. According to Foursquare: I got “Crunked” on Thursday night bar-hopping through Brooklyn, earned extra points meeting up with my friend Tom (who saw where I was via FourSquare and proposed we meet up), and went on a 4 day “Bender,” which culminated in me becoming the “Mayor” of the Coyote Ugly Saloon Saturday night (yikes.) Hopefully, you can see why I’m enjoying this.

Something else that I really enjoy is the ability to build to-do lists of things/places you want to visit and view local to-dos that other users have posted. This allows for someone to craft their own adventures and come up with creative experiences. The service also includes a weekly leader board that lets you see where you rank among users in your community.

The result is a service that feels like a giant mobile web scavenger hunt that encourages users to challenge each other and compete.

Though the service is not without its flaws: Many bars and restaurants don’t show up in the listings, and there are many quirks to the website and application itself. Its creators have acknowledged that the service is still very much in development, and honestly, it sometimes feels like a very public beta. They’ve reportedly set themselves a June 1st deadline to iron out the kinks and get it working the way they want. Even taking all that into consideration, the service is very functional and very impressive.

Some things I’d like to see in future revisions:

  • More visibility to user profiles and to-do lists: I’d really like to discover new people to connect to. Right now, there are very few ways to do this. I wish profiles listed a clearer stream of what I did, when I did it, and what rewards my actions earned me. In 6 months, I’d like to know which 4 bars I went to that unlocked the “Crunked” badge.
  • Less walls between cities. It’s strange that I need to switch a drop down to see different sets of information for different cities on the website. I want the ability to see everything at once and also see my local updates. The walls are weird. They discourage people from being friends cross-city. My friend Frank has an account, but I’ll likely never see what he’s up to unless I switch my location to where he is. Sure local users should be prioritized, but just because I can’t get to Washington to meet up with Frank tonight doesn’t mean I don’t care.
  • Badges also suffer due to these walls. I like the idea of having different goals in different cities, but it seems silly that I’ve now earned the “Newbie” badge a few times and that I have to go out 4 nights in a row again to earn the “Bender” badge in Chicago because the one I earned was in NYC. Perhaps there should be global badges and specialized local badges?

These are just my 2¢. I’m excited to continue using FourSquare and to see where the service goes in the future. It’s genuinely a lot of fun. I recommend checking it out via their website: playfoursquare.com. An iPhone application is available via the App Store, and a mobile-optimized version of the website available for Android and Blackberry users for now.

Categories
Business General Photography Technology

Quick Thoughts About AT&T DSL

For a long time, I have been a big fan of AT&T’s cell phone service. I have been with AT&T (then Cingular) since 2002 and have been extremely pleased.

However, I do not share the same opinion about AT&T’s DSL offerings.  Here in Chicago, my broadband options are more diverse than what I had in Brooklyn several years back (Verizon DSL or nothing). When I moved to Chicago, I had three options: Comcast, RCN, and AT&T. I loath Comcast. My opinion of that company could fuel a whole other entry by itself, so I quickly dismissed it. I had never heard of RCN, so I dismissed it as well, and that left me with good ol’ AT&T.

Since signing with AT&T, I’ve had random outages, suspected a few incidents of bandwidth throttling, and read a lot of stories about the company sharing customer information. But, in truth, I have not once have I needed to call customer support, so my opinion had been neutral thus far. However, last night, my internet dropped out without warning when I really needed it. Quickly a friend on Twitter confirmed that the outage was seemingly citywide. The outage was short but it was enough to screw up my plans and leave a sour taste in my mouth. Then I read something while updating my Flickr profile.  One sentence changed my opinion:

You have a Pro account, at no cost as long as you keep your AT&T Yahoo! service.

Okay, so Flickr Pro is only around $20 a year (and probably the best deal on the planet,) and it’s a small contribution when you boil it down. But that said… it was enough to make me smile, bring me back to the neutral ‘meh’ I was at before, and almost turn me into a promoter.

They found my weak spot. Photography is the key to my heart.

Categories
Business Technology

Robert Scoble is wrong about analog.

I’m going to go out on a limb and flat out disagree with Robert Scoble.

In his latest post, he cites an EngadgetHD article noting that we have only two years remaining before the government-mandated shut down of analog television. The completion of this switch will lead to a more efficient, higher quality, and (most of all) more media company friendly digital signals. Scoble uses his own father as an example as to why this shutdown won’t happen.

While he raises a good point, his argument is flawed. His point is that older people vote. And they vote in large numbers. Scoble argues that when they find out we’re going to take their analog TV from them, they will come out in droves to change the laws. I’ll go on the record and agree if there is anything that would – and could –stop this switch from happening, it is the elderly voting it down. But I’m also going on the record to say it won’t happen. The transition will occur without a hitch.

I think by the time the analog switch is flipped off, very few people will notice – especially the elderly who are, demographically, less in-tune with technology. 

The main reason for this is something I’m not sure Scoble caught:
The switch doesn’t require the average consumer to upgrade their set, only their signal.

It just means that pretty much every household that wants a cable connection will have to switch from an analog receiver to a digital receiver. They don’t need to buy an HDTV or anything of the like. 

My parent’s 15-year-old TV works fine with the digital box, and probably so will Scoble’s dad’s. Most people don’t understand the difference between analog and digital, nor do they care. They just know the cable company is offering them a better deal and more channels if they switch the box on top of their TV. Most people won’t even be aware it’ is happening or that they have digital service.

Here on Long Island, it feels like the transition is pretty much over already. Cablevision, the dominant provider in the area, has made it cheaper to switch to their iO digital cable service than to keep your existing analog one. Combine that with the cheap bundles of broadband with your digital signal, and it’s pretty much insane not to. And now, more companies are getting into the game. For example, Verizon has started to penetrate the once monopolistic grip of Cablevision with its FiOS service, and it doesn’t offer analog service at all.

I think Scoble raises a good point. If it were highly publicized, I think some people would come out against the transition. But I believe it would be almost entirely based on a misunderstanding.

Even if people did band together against it, if consumer rights groups got up in arms, I’d argue you wouldn’t hear about it too much. Not to sound cynical or like a conspiracy theorist, but the media companies aren’t exactly going to publicize it when they stand to benefit from the transition, and the people who would be up in arms aren’t exactly reading technology blogs daily either.

The transition will be barely noticed when it happens. The media companies have been working on this for a while, and when the day comes, most people won’t even know it happened.

Mark my words.