A painting of me


   19 October 2009, mid-morning

I’ve been using (playing?) Foursquare for a few days now. It’s a simple enough idea, and it’s well executed: users can use the site (or mobile application) to let their friends know where they are, and what they are up to. The idea is that your friends could discover you’re nearby and come meet up. Similarly, you could learn your friends are out and join them. You don’t need to publish all your check-ins, so you can use the site privately. You can also push your check-ins out on to twitter, so people who aren’t using Foursquare can still see where you are.

There are other applications and services that do this. (BrightKite is the first that comes to mind, and you can certainly put this information out there using Twitter.) What makes Foursquare interesting is that to encourage people to use the service by setting itself up like a game. You get points for: telling your friends where you are; going to multiple places in a night; going to new places; going to the same place several times; etc. You are also awarded boyscout-like badges for completing various tasks. Finally, if you go to the same place enough times, you will be declared the mayor of that place. These points and titles are more or less meaningless, but if you’ve spent any amount of time online you’ll know that people still love to collect meaningless things. (Karma on Reddit and Slashdot is the first thing that comes to mind.) Some people have labelled this sort of thing prescriptive social software. Foursquare is encouraging a certain sort of behaviour from its users.

The NYT recently ran an article on the service, which touches on some of the ways it encourages people to get out and see the city, meet up with friends, etc. It also looks at possible ways the service could make money. Businesses might want to encourage people fight for their mayorship since it encourages more people to visit them. Similarly, businesses might want to add badges to the game that encourage users to come visit them. There seem to be plenty of ways to monetize something like this.

As with most things on the Internet, the site is probably more useful when you know a bunch of people using it.



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