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.