I’ve used Foursquare several times a day for over 2 months now. Social networks and other types of community have come and gone so often that when something new comes along, we can all be forgiven for being tired of it before even trying it. It would however be unforgivable for anyone working in online marketing to not try Foursquare out though.
Foursquare is a location-based social networking website, software for mobile devices, and game. Users “check-in” at venues using text messaging or a device specific application. They are then awarded points and sometimes “badges.” The service was created by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai; Crowley had previously founded the similar project Dodgeball, which Google bought in 2005 and shut down in 2009. As of early 2010, the website has about 450,000 members. (Wikipedia)
It’s hardly breaking news, the service has been around since 2009, but since January 2010 it has allowed international check-ins. Actually you can sign in from pretty much anywhere. The interesting thing for marketers and business owners alike is the fact that users can leave tips for other users about a place. If the customer service in a shop is below par and people visiting the area are being told before even entering the shop by people they don’t even know, a whole new level of complexity is available to us! I have left good and bad reviews in cafes and restaurants around Sydney and have also found myself avoiding places that strangers using Foursquare warned against. I’m not the only one it seems. The user base is growing. Businesses are starting to take advantage of this new “digital social behaviour” like Starbucks for example. Bing is getting in on the action and adding Foursquare to Bing maps. There’s also a Google maps mashup which is pretty cool.
In short: there’s a lot going on here and the possibilities are exciting.
On the other hand, there’s a few things that are not quite right just yet and part of me feels like ranting about it and the other part is just interested in the problems from a computing perspective. Foursquare sparks my imagination and I just want to apply it to lots of things but fundamental issues frustrate me.
For example (using the iphone app):
1) I go to the same station every day and it always reports back that it has no idea where I am, despite it being pretty famous. Whether I am above ground or underground, I always have to type it in to find it. Every day.
2) I ride the ferry to and from work every day. Obviously the ferry is in a different spot depending on whether I am boarding or alighting so because of this I forgive it for not finding the location. How can Foursquare deal with mobile locations like my ferry?
3) There’s a lot of duplicate data in there. I mean for “Circular Quay” for example there are many entries which all are at the same address. This is true for other locations too. This messes up the game aspect of Foursquare imho.
4) Sometimes I can’t add a location. It doesn’t tell me why, it just says I can’t.
5) Sometimes I haven’t received points for locations even though I checked in. I know because I have no points in the overall friend stats.
6) Some of the badges are a bit off kilter. For example I got the “Crunked” badge for being out on a school night, implying that I’m having a night on the tiles but actually I was out for dinner and a film and drank water. There’s a few complaints around badges as you will see here for example and also here. All in all it’s pretty inoffensive but if you want to really want to play the game it needs to be accurate enough I guess.
7) You can check in to places you are not currently located in. Well, what’s the point of that? This means that any game play is potentially ruined because the system itself is gamed. The service loses value. Look at how to cheat here and the “sarcastic use of Foursquare” here.
8 ) Security. Is it safe for the world to know (via Foursquare Twitter updates for example) where you are all day long? There’s the potential stalker issue but also it lets potential robbers know when your home is empty. Services like PleaseRobMe highlight this issue. Never check in at your home address for example and read this. The insurance company Legal & General are talking about raising insurance premiums for users of location-based services like Foursquare.
9) From a game perspective I feel it’s limited because well…it’s just not that fun. You secure some mayorships and then a few more and not a lot else seems to happen. I know that in some places there are benefits to being mayor and some are nicely presented in this article for example, but it’s not exactly riveting game play otherwise. Maybe if something like challenges and local knowledge questions were added in for the sake of playing the game it would be a bit more fun. But that leads us on to…
10) From a marketing and computing perspective this is a lot of geolocation data pinned to individuals that is being generated. Overlaying information using it is exciting. Additionally there a lot of interesting ways to leverage it for marketing purposes. Just for that to be worthwhile, we need people to start using the service and then to keep using this service. I’m not sure there’s enough incentive just now. Maybe that incentive comes from us though. If we can make it worthwhile through promotions and such things, then people might join up for that. In which case Foursquare (the company) need do nothing at all.
There are other things but all in all despite the issues I think that Foursquare has succeeded in changing (some) people’s online behaviour which is ridiculously hard to do. Hats off to that. In addition, they are also changing the way social media marketing works, for more on that check out Samir’s post. Foursquare are also addressing issues on Twitter so you can go there and report bugs and so forth should you want to. Whatever you do though, have a gander (if you haven’t yet) because I reckon it will get those brain cells standing to attention