What is Foursquare?

By: Dr Lynda Kelly, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 05 Jul 2010

A passing fad, yet another social networking site to annoy us or is there something to Foursquare?

Being an avid user and advocate of social media I was keen to try out Foursquare. Basically, Foursquare is a free downloadable application for smart phones/mobile internet devices where users sign up for an account and ‘check in’ at different places, such as museums, cafes, bars, restaurants and parks. In doing so users earn points and interact with other users by leaving tips for them to discover as well as take advantages of special deals. As Foursquare themselves say: “Foursquare on your phone gives you and your friends new ways of exploring your city. Earn points and unlock badges for discovering new things.”

How big is Foursquare, then? On 1 July 2010 there were over one million check-ins in a single day (via @foursquare on Twitter). The New York Times recently reported that: “Foursquare, the social networking service that allows users to broadcast their location to friends from a mobile phone, announced on Tuesday that it had raised $20 million from venture capitalists. Since it was introduced last March, Foursquare has amassed more than 1.8 million users and says it is adding new ones at the rate of roughly 10,000 a day.”

The Times also notes that “A big part of Foursquare’s appeal is that it turns location-sharing into a game that lets users compete for points, badges and “mayor” status at bars and restaurants. ... the rewards players received could be a valuable marketing tool for local businesses and advertisers. ... Since its introduction last year, Foursquare has established partnerships with more than 10,000 businesses, including Starbucks, Bravo TV, Zagat’s and The New York Times Company.”

When travelling in the States recently I was curious to see that two of my younger museum colleagues automatically ‘checked in’ wherever we went and, once there, looked around to see who had also checked in. Another one checked in at a restaurant and ended up with a free meal as a reward. The city of Chicago, and now Pennsylvania, are also using Foursquare as a tourism tool, allowing users to earn badges and access special deals not available to the broader public. Chicago have 'themed' their Foursquare offer under three "iconic Chicago themes": Chicago Blues, Chicago-style hot dogs, and Chicago film locations.

Museum Victoria also announced recently, via Twitter, that they will be offering some deals via Foursquare soon and seem to have a fairly active Foursquare presence already.

As we usually find with all this social media stuff, there are privacy concerns. Normally I’m not worried about this kind of problem, but as a user myself I have wondered about the privacy angle as it is really easy to see where someone actually is at any given moment (unless they’re telling fibs...). There was a recent article on Wired, White Hat Uses Foursquare Privacy Hole to Capture 875K Check-Ins, that showed some loopholes in the system. Since then, Foursquare responded with some security changes (but you’ll notice by the vitriolic comments on that blog post that some folks aren’t happy!).

So, is Foursquare the next big thing? Given the trends about rapid Smartphone uptake and location-based services becoming more prevalent and easy to access, there’s definitely something there worth following, at least for the short-term (or at least while I’m still mayor of my house, my train station, my local sporting field and my other local!).

Be keen to find out if anyone knows of any museums that are using Foursquare in innovative ways – or even in any ways at all?

(Acknowledgments to Russ and ChrisL for pointing me to some of these articles).


Lynda Kelly - 10.05 AM, 02 May 2011

How to Market on Foursquare - great post from Mashable.

Lynda Kelly - 9.02 AM, 11 February 2011

Interesting use of Foursquare to show when a venue is least busy: When should I visit?

Lynda Kelly - 9.02 AM, 08 February 2011

Here’s the latest on Foursquare - Over 380 Million Check-Ins: Foursquare’s 2010 By the Numbers via Read Write Web. In summary: “… 381,576,305 check-ins … from every country in the world, including North Korea. The event with the largest number of check-ins: the Rally to Restore Sanity, with 30,525 folks checking in and earning a special badge. And of course, last year featured the first check-in from space.” During 2010 Foursquare signed up their 6 millionth user.

According to them, check-ins are still “pretty banal”. I tend to agree, although location-based services are not going away so I’m keeping my eye on this trend. Also mayor-wars are fun and do brighten our sometimes dull days (and I beat Russ every time...)!

Lynda Kelly - 9.10 AM, 05 October 2010
Here's an interesting article (via SophieL) Badges? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges Location-Based Marketing Summit '10 — Day One. Don't know that I agree with the sentiment. I also think they shouldn't be too depressed about the lack of awareness of location-based services - who had heard of Twitter two years ago??
sparrowbee - 11.09 AM, 20 September 2010
The privacy issue is a valid concern for users. While perhaps once upon a time people who made noise about privacy concerns were disregarded as paranoid or fringe, these days times have changed so dramatically that ensuring your data isn't misused is almost a full-time occupation! The privacy hole in Foursquare has another dimension though (and one that might sound like a broken record from advocates like myself), that is the open source vs. proprietry discussion. When you use proprietry software, you are agreeing to place complete trust in the company and the programmers that their software does what they say it will do. Because the source code is not open, but secret and protected by proprietry laws and patents you have no way of testing their claims that it is secure or functions as advertised. In contrast, open-source software is exactly that - the source code is open so any bugs can be detected by anyone looking at the source code. Supporting proprietry software is a backwards move: it's expensive, inflexible, and ultimately unsustainable. Also a bit of info on white hat :)
Lynda Kelly - 3.07 PM, 29 July 2010

This article, How I became a Foursquare cyberstalker, is very interesting and raises some of the privacy issues I talk about above. I guess as the article concludes, you just need to be aware of what you're doing online and who can access that (oh, and Google yourself every now and then. It's not a vanity thing as you can be surpirsed at what comes up!).

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