In the social media world, Foursquare has been a hot topic of discussion lately, as well as something of a lightning rod. People seem to either totally love it or totally hate it, with little middle ground.
In case you’re not familiar with it, Foursquare is a location-based app that runs on smartphones like the iPhone, Droid, and Blackberry. Unlike some other location-based apps like Yelp that are primarily about reviews and finding specific kinds of businesses you might like based on where you’re at, Foursquare is more of a game (and I don’t mean this in a bad way). You can add friends to your list, and then when you visit businesses or locations, you “check in” and notify your Foursquare friends and/or Twitter & Facebook.
Connecting with friends is nothing new, but the Foursquare designers were pretty brilliant in that they made the whole app essentially a contest. Whoever checks in the most at a particular location becomes the recognized “mayor,” which, depending on the place, might give you some benefits. For example, some bars and restaurants give away free drinks or food to the mayor. This gives people a reason to compete to become the mayor of that spot.
You also get points for checking in, so you can compete with your friends to see who goes out the most and does the most exciting stuff, and you can also unlock some fun “badges” based on where you’ve checked in and how often. For example, I was pretty surprised and amused when I unlocked the “Bender” badge during a trip to Las Vegas recently for going out 4 nights in a row. There are lots of fun badges they’ve recently added, related to stuff like karaoke, what night you’re going out, if there are members of the opposite sex there, etc.
It’s this aspect of fun that I think really sets Foursquare apart from other location-based apps and gives it serious potential to go viral. Many previous apps have focused on usefulness and the connection-making aspect of locations, but honestly, think about how many people just engage with the Internet or their smartphone for pure, goofy fun. It’s like people using potentially meaningful connectors like Facebook or Twitter to play Farmville or spread celebrity gossip at the speed of the Interwebs.
Foursquare made a genius move by not ignoring people’s inherent competitiveness and desire to show off a little bit. I have to admit, I was pretty stoked when I became mayor of two pretty popular hangouts while in Vegas, especially since I don’t go out much at home! A little part of me will be disappointed when I get knocked off by a new mayor, even though I had to put almost no effort into getting that “position.”
This is another key benefit of Foursquare- it takes almost no effort. I love using Yelp to try to find restaurants, but I’ve written exactly 0 reviews on it in the couple of years I’ve been using it. I’m a total leech. However, with Foursquare I can spend literally 2 seconds checking in when I get to a restaurant, and still get all of the enjoyment out of it.
Their very short “tips” people can write about places are a cool perk, too, since they’re minimal effort for a decent return. I’ve liked reading my friends’ tips about places I check in, even though they’re usually just one sentence.
Worthwhile Business Tie-ins
As I mentioned earlier, one of the coolest opportunities with Foursquare, and one which is underused so far, is the ability for businesses to reward Foursquare users and mayors. By offering coupons to people who check in at their location, or special perks for the mayor, brick-and-mortar businesses have a great opportunity to build some buzz around their business and create some loyal customers on the cheap. They also get their business name and location posted on Twitter & Facebook if people broadcast when they check in there, which could give them a big boost if the user has influence amongst their friends.
If I owned a bar, restaurant, or coffee shop, you can bet I’d be all over Foursquare. This interplay between users and business, in a way that is welcomed by the users, represents a great opportunity for growth and adoption. It’s still possible that other location-based apps like Gowalla and Loopt could overtake Foursquare in this space, but they’ve laid a great groundwork for it to really take off in 2010. I know I’ll be playing.
PS- If you want to be my friend on Foursquare, feel free to add me.
Update: Just a couple of days after writing this, I saw this NY Times article about how Foursquare is partnering with the Bravo TV channel to allow Bravo’s show personalities to give their tips and to-dos, let Foursquare users unlock unique badges, get coupons, and more. Could this be the push that takes Foursquare into the mainstream?