First Impressions of Foursquare

Geolocation mobile app foursquare recently launched service into the Raleigh Durham metro (among several other cities) much to the delight of the local social media scene.  I’ve been trying it out on my iPhone and think it’s fun but not quite ready for prime time.  Like many other mobile users, I’ve been using Brightkite as my primary location-based mobile app.  Foursquare has some interesting and engaging features that Brightkite does not:

  • Badges - The more you check in, the more badges you can earn.  Think of them like the stickers people used to put on their suitcases when traveling around the world.
  • Become the Mayor – Check in the most times at a location and become the mayor.  You’ll get a cool crown icon and bragging rights about how much time you are spending somewhere.  Also, some venues (looks like mostly just in NY for now) are offering special deals/discounts for their foursquare mayor.
  • Push notifications – I like this feature a lot, but prepare to be bombarded if you have a lot of friends and/or your friends check in a lot (you can turn it on/off as needed),  like when @dgtlpapercuts and @waynesutton are fighting for the top spot on the leaderboard.
  • Leaderboard – You earn points every time you check in (bonus points for adding a new location and multiple check-ins per day), and whoever has the most points tops the leaderboard! A winner is you!
  • To-Do Lists – Really like that burrito you had for lunch?  Add a To-Do / Tip which is basically a note for other users about your experience/thoughts on a place, a la “OMG the burritos here as as big as your head!”  Looking for recommendations  on the area? Check the local To-Do / Tips for ideas.
  • Adding Locations – I have mixed feeling on this one, but it’s implemented in a positive way.  Foursquare allows users to enter locations into the foursquare database.  This means less work on behalf of foursquare as they can rely on users to populate their system.  Doing so can be tedious if you don’t have the address readily available, but you get bonus points for adding locations.  This also allows for the newest of the new locations to be added assuming foursquare users are hip to happening places.  The drawback is that foursquare is allowing users to populate their database, which, besides the bug mentioned later on, means duplicate locations, and false/erroneous locations.  I haven’t personally tried any SQL injection but I sure hope foursquare is using protection.

But, foursquare also comes with some annoyances:

  • Multiple Location Bug – As of this writing, there are a some issues with adding and choosing locations.   Location names are unique in a region, meaning that once “Starbucks” is entered with a particular address then if you check-in at a different “Starbucks”  (say in the neighboring town) the previously entered address is used.  Thankfully, there is a fix in the works for this which will allow locations to have the same name and users to choose which location they are at for places with the same name.
  • Splash Screen – I’d like to be able to choose a foursquare picture for my splash screen.  I don’t know about everyone else, but my default splash screen is the foursquare girl with the purse.  I’m a dude and I don’t own a purse.
  • Adding Friends from my iPhone – I have three choices for adding friends from my iPhone: scan my address book, lookup by phone number, or find twitter friends.   These are all nice but how about showing me people in my region or my friend’s friends?
  • Server Crash – This may have been a one time occurrence or a sign of growing popularity vs. capacity, but a few nights ago foursquare was throwing postgres database errors.  Cleared after a few hours and I’m hesitant to even mention it, but I hope a failsquare isn’t on the horizon.

In some ways, foursquare reminds me of Twitter-alternative Plurk in that Plurk and foursquare use public rewards for interaction (Plurk uses a Karma system while foursquare uses points/leaderboard, badges, and mayorship).  Peer pressure and competition are a powerful motivators.  However, they can also be deterrents if the rewards seem to unobtainable.

Maintaining karma in Plurk requires posting every day but not posting too many posts, gaining friends and fans, and sparking conversations in your posts.  This might not sounds to bad at the outset, but lets face it, most of us aren’t interesting on a daily basis sparking conversations and spawning new friends.  If we were, then everyone would be friends with everyone by now and we’d spend all our time talking about all the interesting things we each have ti say every day.  So, Plurk karma is too hard, and I think that this is a reason some people gave up on the site.  It’s certainly the main reason I quite using it despite some of the other cool features.

Foursquare’s rewards systems walk the dangerous line that Plurk’s Karma does, but instead of one large rewards system, it’s broken down into smaller objectives, more of a mini-game approach.  Once the novelty wears off, it will be interesting to see foursqaure’s rewards remain as motivators.  Overall, it’s a nice addition to location-based apps, but I can’t help but wonder if foursquare is to BrightKite as Plurk is to Twitter.

http://foursquare.com/