Jul 27, 2009

FourSquare Is The New Something

FourSquare has been receiving much buzz as of late as the new, new thing. I’ve been using the app on and off since I discovered it as SXSW this fall, and while in it’s current state, it’s really designed for single, urban, upscale 20somethings, the premise it’s based on has some interesting potential.
At its most basic, FourSquare is a way to let your friends know where you are. You “check in” via the web or (more likely) an iPhone app, since the odds of whipping out your laptop anywhere other than work are slim. You can add a short comment about your location and you can “play the game”- gaining points by checking into more and more locations with the chance to become the mayor of a location if you are there more than other people using the app. (Hence, I am the mayor of the Millburn Town Pool, since no one else on FourSquare ever goes there.)
The app, as it currently stands, is a nice tool for social twentysomething singles in NY or LA who want to know what bars their friends are at, what restaurants they’re eating at and whatnot: as I noted two years ago in “Social Media Is Only Social If You’re Alone,” they’re at an age where social life is paramount and it really does matter which bar they go to or which restaurant is hip. For my 30 and 40something peers, most of whom are married with children, there’s not a whole lot to know. We’re home. We’re at work. We’re at Starbucks getting coffee. Not a whole lot of surprise there.
The game aspect is clever, but seems to be the sort of thing that would hold your interest for a month or two and then you’d get very bored with it.
It could, as Charlie O’Donnell notes in this blog post, be a boon for business owners, who can use the app for contests and the like, giving discounts to each month’s mayor and providing discounts for frequent guests. But that usage of course begs the question of “what’s in it for me?” – why would I care if one of my friends is the mayor of Joe’s Bar?
Discounts and coupons could provide a rationale: if I knew that I’d get some sort of steady flow of coupons for participating, I might want to play along, and the whereabouts of my various friends and acquaintances would just become background noise with benefits: if I noticed someone was at someplace I’d been curious about checking out, I could ask them about it.
Here again, though, the hassle vs. benefit ratio seems pretty high. Even a location-based version, where I could see where my friends had been recently or what they’d said about it, seems to be more hassle than it’s worth: if I want a cup of coffee or a decent turkey wrap, there are plenty of non-social services that can point me to one. And saving twenty-five cents on a cup of coffee probably isn’t worth making my companions wait as we all whip out our iPhones and check to see which Starbucks or Cosi our friends are currently the mayors of.
But back to the value of a FourSquare like application: I can see it having great value as an adjunct to Twitter or Facebook in a contest situation. There’s definitely a cohort of people who’d be willing to use their social graphs to plug a favorite store or restaurant in the hopes of winning a contest. And businesses can reward consumers who “check in” with things like exclusive content (e.g. streaming workout tracks for a gym) or discounts and coupons. The competition angle introduced by FourSquare can even come into play here as users compete for that month’s big prize.
Like all new technology, it’s the users who make these things what they are, and even that evolves over time. But location based social networking seems like it has a place in the pantheon. Where and how is what’ll be interesting.

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