Thoughts On My Three Months With Foursquare

I’ve been using Foursquare for about three months, and I’ve grown addicted. It nicely fills that gap when I’m out and about between checking my email and checking Twitter: a Foursquare sandwich. Below, some thoughts about mayorships, badges, checking in as a search action and about the service in general.

I Was The Mayor Of Stonehenge…

I’ll start with the whole mayor thing. It’s dumb, but it’s fun. I get a little rush if I become mayor of something. In fact, for a glorious 12 hours yesterday, I was even the mayor of Stonehenge. Hey, I used to live right next to the darn thing. For several years, I even lived in the house where the last guy who owned it before donating it — Sir Cecil Chubb — was born. I’ve written a guide, Tour Stonehenge The Right Way — Private Access, about visiting it. So I was a pretty chuffed that my trip back to Britain last week allowed me to check in and gain the mayorship.

Until Some Guy On A Couch In Canada Stole It From Me

Damn you, Ian R, for stealing it back. Even more impressive was that Ian managed to do that despite apparently being in Canada. I can tell he’s currently in Canada from his recent tweets. Through a little known teleportation device, he managed to jump across the Atlantic, regain his mayorship and then make it back to Canada.

That kind of sucks. I mean, I was actually at Stonehenge each time. I could see the darn thing when I checked in. Foursquare recently posted that it had new things to prevent “claiming mayorships from your couch.” I submit that there are still a few bugs in that verification process :)

Places Are Larger Than A Small GPS Coordinate

Oh well, no worries. I’m still mayor of other places that are more dear to me, like the Balboa Boardwalk. Of course, that was made difficult by the fact that the boardwalk is three miles long. Foursquare is really about being major of one specific pinpoint rather than a broader area. So want tips about the Balboa Boardwalk? If you’re at the south end, you probably won’t see the boardwalk even appear in Foursquare despite being on it. That’s because when I made it, I picked the north end for its Foursquare coordinates.

I’d like to see Foursquare better deal with issues like this, perhaps by allowing a line of coordinates — a route — etc. all become a Foursquare location.

When Foursquare Can’t Find A Business In Front Of You

Of course, the bigger challenge is that often, Foursquare never seems to find things actually near me at all. I can be standing in front of some particular business, fire up Foursquare on my iPhone and not see that business listed. But then if I search for it, voila! Then it appears. So tip to others — search. Search often.

Then again, when you search, you discover there are often multiple venues all with the same name. Clearly many people, not finding a business automatically, add that into the Foursquare database. Then you have to decide which is the “right” one to choose. Me, I generally go with the one that either has a mayor or other check-ins. Oh, avoid venues all written in lower-case. That’s a sure sign that an alternative has been added.

The Airports You Can’t Check In To

Also frustrating is the difficulty in finding a general location. Coming through LAX, I could find plenty of Foursquare locations for the Starbucks there, various gates, security but for checking in to LAX in general? I had to search. And this is always the case at any airport I go to. I want to check in to the airport in general, then into more specific areas.

Why Can’t The Apps Be The Same?

Back to adding venues, while I was in Britain, I used my Nexus One and a UK SIM card rather than my iPhone. That meant using the Foursquare Android app which feels suckier than the iPhone one in many ways — but then again, the Android app allowed me to add venues and categorize them properly, which the iPhone app doesn’t allow. Consistency, please!

Never Tell Me You’re The Mayor On Twitter

And back to mayorships, some advice I recently tweeted:

FYI, unless you’re the mayor of something super awesome & interesting, that’s never something I want to see tweeted :)

By default, if you’ve linked Foursquare to your Twitter account, it’s going to try and tweet things for you. Don’t be that person. Disable it. You can always selectively choose to tweet, should you want to. I think you should be selective. But that’s me.

I Want A Stinking Badges Badge (& Some Info About Them)

Onward to badges. I love them. I love getting them for reasons I don’t quite understand and in cases where I’m not expecting them. For instance, on my third visit to an Apple store, I earned the “Jobs” badge. Or after 10 movie theater checkins, I got a Zoetrope badge.

Foursquare doesn’t explain much about the badges. Apparently, you can help new places contribute to earning them if you tag them appropriately. While I like the mystery, it’s also perplexing. I mean, I just flew 6,000 miles away from home, had a number of checkins away from home, and yet that wasn’t far, far away enough to earn the Far Far Away badge?

Nope. That’s because, as I’ve learned, this badge is only available if you’re above 59th Street in New York City. Then again, you could also earn it in Austin by being 25 miles away form the convention center.

In the end, I think I’d like a nice page at Foursquare spelling out all the badges in more details (here’s an unofficial list; here’s another). Oh, and give each badge its own page. You know:

http://foursquare.com/badges/farfaraway

That sort of thing.

Followers, Not Friends, Please

Another frustration is dealing with friends. I have to agree with John Battelle’s recent post about his experiences with Foursquare that it’s hard to get what the friending is all about:

But here’s what I don’t understand about the service: What’s the value of a friend on Foursquare? On Twitter, I understand “followers” – they are folks who chose to read what you create. It’s sort of like a more personal and connected version of this site’s RSS feed. And I understand the same kind of connection on Facebook or Linked In – these are business, personal, and even “possible” friends – folks who I may one day meet and who may become colleagues or friends.

I agree. This isn’t clear. Or, it could be better — and a hell of a lot less work for someone on Foursquare.

On Twitter, if you want to see what I’m tweeting, I don’t have to approve that. You just go to my profile on Twitter (dannysullivan), follow me, and it’s done. Same thing with my Facebook fan page. Become a fan, you can keep up with what I’m sharing.

You can’t do that with Foursquare. Yes, you can see my Foursquare profile and learn what I’m the major of and the badges I’ve earned. But want to see where I’ve currently checked in at? You can’t do that unless I’ve friended you. And that’s a double-edge sword.

First, it seems like I’ve got a zillion requests, and I just don’t want to friend everyone. There are many people there I simply don’t know. At all. Not in the least. If I friend them, then when I scan my Foursquare stream of checkins, I’m generating a lot of noise.

Second, it’s a lot of work. I have to run down the list, try to figure out if I know someone in some way and maybe miss someone I do want to friend because there are so many requests. And clearing out the requests is hard, because you have to do each one individually.

In contrast, I’d happily let anyone who wants to follow me on Foursquare do so if that were an option. But it’s not, not that I can see in the privacy settings. So, fingers crossed, maybe that will come in the future. And if so, let’s hope Foursquare does it right and doesn’t by default make everyone’s history public. Make people deliberately choose to open up.

Alternatively, or in addition, give me a setting that if I’m following someone on Twitter, automatically accept their friend request on Foursquare.

Foursquare & Search

Now isn’t Foursquare just some big waste of time? Sure. So’s Twitter, right? Or so Twitter was to many people, until they found it driving traffic and sales. Similarly, I think Foursquare and similar checkin services will find their places.

Foursquare provides the ability to leave tips about places — I even had a friend tell me a tip I left turned out to be really useful to him. There are also merchants who apparently encourage checkins with rewards, though I’ve yet to encounter that.

So there’s discovery with checking in. Indeed, there’s search with checking in. Checking in is a search, even if you don’t enter a keyword — and search, as we know, is a valuable marketing medium.

Back to John Battelle, he had a nice post on this back in February that says it better:

Here’s why. To my mind, checking-in is simply another use case on the evolutionary path of search. As I said in the book, each search query is a declaration of intent – you are telling that search engine what you want, and hoping the engine will return a result that satisfies that declared intention.

Checking-in is a powerful new field in the database of intentions. It is a social declaration that “I am here” and, in a more nuanced way, “I am open to appropriate responses/conversations based on the fact that I am here.” Whereas search intent is clearly a request for a specific response, check-in intent is less specific – and hence more open.

FYI, the Location Services: The New Local Search? panel at my SMX Advanced conference in Seattle this June 8-9 will explore this notion more.

Dave McClure also had an interesting post this week on monetizing check-in services especially on the expectation that these services may become like virtual coupon offers. I can see that. Though I disagree that Foursquare only about to have 1 million users in a year of operation means it’s failing virally. My money is that it will grow more.

Finally, check out this video of Foursquare cofounder Dennis Crowley talking recently at the Where 2.0 conference on how Foursquare has grown over the past year. He covers things such as businesses doing special offers, the fun origin behind the service and the idea that Foursquare combines work and play for grown-ups.

That image above, by the way, is Dennis playing actual Foursquare at SXSW last month. Foursquare had real life foursquare games going. A number of SEOs including Chris Carroll, Nate Griffin, Timothy Nobles and myself had a special SEO showdown match. Dennis appeared during that and is really good at real foursquare.

Postscript: Just came across this post from Rae Hoffman, another reflection from someone recently using Foursquare, with lots of nice observations such as the need for check-outs, ranking tips, small business guidance and more.


Comments

  1. says

    Danny,

    If you check out Naveen http://foursquare.com/user/naveen, who created/founded 4sq, you’ll see it’s possible to follow. Not sure why they haven’t rolled it out site wide, but I bet in his case, he had a lot of people wanting to be friends. The exact use case you mention.

    On the 4sq is a failure bc it doesn’t have x amt of users yet, location-aware services are still nascent. It’s like e-commerce in the beginning, people were afraid of offering up their information. It’s the same with brightkite, gowalla, foursquare, loopt, buzzd, latitude, what have you. People haven’t yet found their personal use case for it. Not enough friends are there yet. They don’t understand they can get rewards. It will come in time, and I think that 4sq is destined to lead the pack.

    Lynne

  2. Ian R says

    Hello Danny,

    Nothing personal(P.S. I was on the bus, not a couch, on my way to work in Ottawa, when I became mayor). FourSquare did indeed fix their checkin process a couple of weeks ago. They fixed it a little too well in my opinion. I couldn’t check into places that I was no more than 10 meters from. It was telling me I wasn’t close enough, sometimes, even right at the front door.

    So this piqued my interest, how can I check in no matter what. Through some sniffing and some failed attempts, I was able to check in to locations near me once again with a simple script. So I asked myself, can I use this to virtually go somewhere? So I hit the UK, after an “8 hour flight”. I was able to check in and grab mayorship from a few UK places.

    Why am I doing this now? Not to be an ass, but to make a point of how pointless 4sq is when it can be gamed so easily. I figure if I do it enough, I can finally get them to fix their gaping holes.

    I’m sorry for taking Stonehenge back, but I have always wanted to visit that place, but sadly I can’t. So this is the next best thing.

  3. says

    I hope you make it out to Stonehenge some day, Ian — and thanks for your comment. Here’s to Foursquare making it possible for you to check in at those places right in front of you again!

  4. says

    Re: When Foursquare Can’t Find A Business In Front Of You

    I had this several times with my favourite local sandwich shop.
    Everytime I was inside the shop it never came up and I had to search.

    I eventually realised that maybe the address might be wrong so I checked on the foursquare website and it was wrong!
    I updated the address to the correct location and now it comes up every time.
    So, that’s my tip – if it doesn’t come up, check the address is correct on the foursquare website.

  5. says

    Re: Re: When Foursquare Can’t Find A Business In Front Of You

    I was just thinking Danny, I’ve had to always use search — none of my spots ever pop up. I’m on an Android phone by the way. What I’ve learned recently, I not only have to turn on GPS I also have to turn on finding my location by wireless. In fact it might even work with just the wireless, who knows. Haven’t tried that combo yet. But overall, it was getting annoying to me to keep refreshing, and refreshing, and it wouldn’t find my location.

  6. says

    Danny….So glad you posted about this as Foursquare’s geo recognition has been frustrating me as of late as well. For example, just returned from a lovely family getaway to Williams, AZ for the Grand Canyon Rails to the Rim (which I recommend for families BTW!), and all the while there, Foursquare kept recognizing my geo location as being back home in Southern California, thus not allowing me to “check-in” at any of the locations where I was physically located. Now that I am back in SoCal, with Foursquare’s new efforts to prevent remote check-ins, it seems that I have unfortunately lost my opportunity to include Williams and the Grand Canyon in my Foursquare history.

  7. says

    Assuming Foursquare does not sell to Yahoo and totally implode under their ownership this is a communication tool that I am certain will become much more refined as time goes on. The geo-location game is really just getting started and I can see a rather large industry forming. Maybe in the future there can be a reverse geo-targeting technology where the business sees what customers are close by and sends them coupons? or at least something to that effect would be interesting.

  8. says

    Hi Danny,

    I am a big fan of your site. You’ve always got great info. Anyway, I know that you are interested in Foursquare, so I thought you might like to check out the Foursquare app I’ve just built for Facebook and WordPress.

    “My Foursquare makes it easy to show off your badges, mayorships and checkins on Facebook, your blog or your website”.

    http://www.myfoursquare.net/

    If you want more info I can send you a detailed blurb and screenshots etc. Thanks, and keep the good info coming!

    Dave McKinney
    My Foursquare