I Don’t Care What You Say, Foursquare Rules

October 21st, 2009 9 Comments

foursquareI’ve been playing foursquare regularly for about a month now, and even though I was teased by several people (you know who you are) at OpenWorld last week, I’ll continue to play.

/me thumbs nose

If you’re not familiar, foursquare debuted at SXSW this Spring, and it’s currently the latest shiny object of the early adopter crowd. If you read here, you know I like shiny objects, and you know I also like studying game mechanics and reputation, especially as applied to non-traditional areas like work.

I also like to test drive new apps, so if I’m asked to comment on this or that latest shiny object, I can provide an informed opinion.

Anyway, there are a lot of aspects I like about foursquare.

It’s easy.
Foursquare is super easy to play. Just like any geo-location app, you tell it where you are, a.k.a. checkin, and you receive points (or not) depending on how frequently you’ve been at that particular venue. First time there? Get five points. After the first time, I’m not sure how points are awarded, but you get the idea.

Beyond the checkins, you’ll want to add some friends, like any social app. Foursquare can mine your Twitter, GMail and Facebook contacts to pull from your existing networks, which is nice. They use OAuth for Twitter and Facebook Connect, which you can also use to login to foursquare. Plus, you can search for people and invite people too.

All these are what I expect from an app today. OpenID support would be nice, but the team is only four people (like ours). So, I’m guessing they’re pretty swamped with other features. I can relate.

Once you add friends, you can play the game with them, see their checkins, what badges they earn, etc. Of course, there’s an obligatory Twitter integration for announcing your location and gloating about your accolades there.

Foursquare also has leaderboards, for your friends and for the city you’re currently playing in, so you can track your progress. Each week, they reset the scores, leveling the playing field.

You play a distinct game in each city you visit, assuming foursquare supports that city, which is an interesting wrinkle. When I landed in the Bay Area for OpenWorld, I started earning new badges, and I was able to play the game with the guys on our team and other people I know there.

Although I love geo-location and believe it has great potential, my main complaint has always been remembering to tell it where I am. This is why apps like Dopplr, Shizzow and Google Latitude have failed to keep my attention.

Foursquare adds a reason, to play the game. So, I’ve made it a habit to checkin when I’m out and about.

It’s engaging.
Once you start playing and make an effort to checkin, foursquare is quite engaging, e.g. Rich, Paul and Anthony hadn’t played much before I arrived in the Bay Area, but while I was there, they all played, making for friendly competition.

Similar to our use of Twitter at OpenWorld 2007, foursquare was the app of choice this year.

I doubt they’ll all continue to play, but they got a taste of the mechanics that make foursquare engaging.

Foursquare does a good job of mixing easy rewards with difficult ones to keep you playing. The game has several reward systems, badges, points, and mayorships (achieved by checking into a venue the most times in the last 60 days).

Plus, last week, they introduced superuser levels, which when attained, allow you to edit and control certain aspects of the game, e.g. as a Level 1 Superuser, I can close and edit venues. I used this newfound power on Thursday to close the OpenWorld venues when the great gig ended.

I’ve found the badges to be most motivating so far. Competing with friends and with the entire city is nice, but for some reason, the badges keep me playing. This is the same impetus behind Stack Overflow, bling shows status. Believe me, if I had the technical chops to contribute to Stack Overflow, I’d be there.

Maybe all this sounds silly, since, after all, there are no real rewards for playing, but think back to the mechanics of social networks and Twitter. Collecting friends is a hallmark game mechanic for any synchronous connection network, like Facebook or LinkedIn. Collecting followers has the same effect on Twitter. As silly as it may seem, these are legit game mechanics that engage people.

It’s pure, for now.
The developers of foursquare have built an open game that assumes everyone will play fairly. This is totally the right approach, i.e. apps should be designed to be open and the security added later.

Sure, you can game the system by checking in places where you’re not to get points or mayorships or by adding bogus venues, but there’s no real gain to doing so because the game is for fun, at least for now.

Foursquare uses crowdsourcing intelligently by creating incentives that encourage the users to make the game better, e.g. awarding points for new venues, promoting users to Superuser, asking for badge suggestions. Eventually, these highly engaged users will help police people gaming the system.  It’s a very smart approach.

At some point, they will need to publish the scoring algorithm I suspect. Having invested users will force more openness, but if I had to guess, I’d say the algorithm will be published and open for suggestions too.

It has lots of possibilities.
Foursquare was great fun at OpenWorld, and Rich and I chatted at length about its potential as a conference app. Because you can see all the people checked into a given venue, it’s one step better than Twitter, no need to announce where you are or poll for where your friends are.

Maybe Marius and Tim can noodle on this for next year.

Deal nearby? W00t!There are obvious IRL tie-ins too that have begun to surface. While in San Francisco, I saw my first foursquare special, at a nearby yogurt shop. Foursquare could easily virtualize the frequent visitor card, a pet peeve of mine. Mayor deals are also great ways to spur patronage.

With the impending release of geo-coded tweets, I have to assume that the Twitter integration foursquare already has will be extended. As with its entire service, Twitter seems to be content to let API developers build compelling features for them, e.g. groups. So, this will be an area where foursquare could show the value of geo-coded tweets.

Overall, I’m happy with the game and have only a couple enhancements.

I’d really like to see a worldwide leaderboard so I can compete with friends out of town and see the top scorers in the world. I suspect this is on the radar.

Also, a map of my checkins would be very interesting not only to me, but to merchants, e.g. my travel patterns would open up new ways to market to me. Yeah, I hate being pitched by advertising, but not so much if the pitch is targeted and valuable to me.

Anyway, this post is too long already, but I had a lot to say. I’m excited to use what I’ve seen in foursquare within the enterprise, assuming 1up gets some momentum.

What do you thing about all this? Find the comments.


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9 Responses to “I Don’t Care What You Say, Foursquare Rules”

  1. joel garry Says:

    I won't bother until it's on Law and Order. :-)

  2. Jake Says:

    I give up, what's the reference here? Or did you mean CSI, a la this old post from when Twitter had a cameo way back when: http://theappslab.com/2007/11/29/talk-the-talk/

  3. jpiwowar Says:

    I'm late to the party on foursquare, but I'm digging it so far. Bummed that I didn't get the chance to be the mayor of any of my favorite haunts in Pittsburgh before I left, but at least I managed to get the “Local” badge. I definitely see myself using foursquare instead of Yelp! as I explore my new environs, in part because of the gaming aspect.

    I also like the community policing/data cleanup aspect mentioned in the linked article about superusers: “this is your toy, please help to keep it clean!” Interesting point about travel patterns and targeted advertising, too; I'd certainly be more receptive to more narrow-cast advertising. Less spam, more bacn!

  4. Jake Says:

    When I was out there in PIT, I too was bummed they hadn't expanded yet, but I suppose you and I have more reason than most to return and claim mayorships :) I still have a few from SF, and I wonder how long they'll last.

    You mention the same point about Yelp that I forgot to cover. Foursquare manages to combine a social layer on top of reviews (To-Dos for now), which adds some cred. I don't really see them as competitive in reviews, since foursquare deals could taint a review, but I have used foursquare several times to find restaurants and bars near me. So, there is overlap, which will inevitably lead to competition or collaboration.

    How do you enjoy playing in Vancouver? I wonder how fun it is without a bunch of friends (assuming you don't have a bunch already); maybe it's a good way to run into people.

  5. joel garry Says:

    Did you click on the link? geocaching geeks on tv! (Maybe you need to set links to a different color so people notice them)

  6. Jake Says:

    Oops, I guess I should fix that. Checked it out just now. Foursquare != geocaching, at least not yet. You never know though, maybe IRL tie-ins lead to scavenger hunts, etc. Who knows.

    I must say it is good to see geeky pursuits (even if they're not mine) get mainstream coverage. +1

  7. jpiwowar Says:

    Right now, playing foursquare in Vancouver has mostly amounted to checking in to venues around my new neighborhood. Since furniture and kitchen gear are still boxed up and awaiting retrieval from Canada Customs, and jetlag has left me with very few neurons to rub together, we've been wandering around a lot. I think I missed the “Overshare” badge by 1 checkin yesterday. So for the time being, it's still fun to see how far I can run up my score, even without people I know to compete against. Most of the folks I already know out here are either too unplugged, busy, or skeptical to derive much value from the social web. Once I settle into some regular haunts, it'll be interesting to see if I find new people through foursquare.

    WRT Yelp v. foursquare, the sort of data foursquare is collecting could stack up well against Yelp's reviews. Maybe I just have a short attention span, but I don't see anything coming out of a longer-form review on Yelp that I couldn't get from a To-do or Tip on foursquare. Deals might skew things a little, but Yelp reviews can be gamed, and Yelp still uses that antiquated star-based rating system.

    Then there's of all the data mining that could be done w/ foursquare data, eg: hotness: number of first-time checkins at a venue/week, with allowances for how recently the venue was added to the database; popularity: repeat checkins/week (or maybe month), with some sort of fudge factor to filter employees; reach: distinct users checked in/week (or month). As you've alluded, marketers would eat this stuff up. And yeah, it could be gamed by merchants, but in these early stages I'd probably be inclined to visit a merchant that's hip enough to try to game foursquare. Heck, they'd probably have free wifi. ;-)

    +1 for the worldwide leaderboard, btw. At the very least, I'd like to be able to see what all my foursquare friends are up to, regardless of location. I'm just nebby that way.

    Sidebar: Is there a digerati-approved abbreviation for foursquare? Cuz if not, after this comment I'm feeling a need to add a snippet for it to TextExpander.

  8. Jake Says:

    Yeah, I find badges more engaging than playing against people I know. Maybe b/c many of them bounce around town all day (and night) long working and playing nomadically. I do think the ability to see who else is checked into a venue might lead to some new friends (or weird stalking episodes).

    Interesting usage point about Yelp, which I rarely use. I've not used the tips and to-dos on foursquare much yet, must try to do that.

    The data are a gold mine for everyone really. I wish the algorithm reflected loyalty better though; you're not rewarded for repeat visits beyond the mayorship; for certain venues, you may never be the mayor (e.g. checking in vs. an employee), but your loyalty should be rewarded. I'll bet that changes as they build out IRL deals.

    I dunno about an acronym, maybe fs? Have at it. If I had to guess, I'd say they have a few thousand regular players worldwide; it's still pretty small, but growing fast. I'm interested to see (although it's pretty tough) how many people continue to play after the newness is gone.

  9. Jake Says:

    Yeah, I find badges more engaging than playing against people I know. Maybe b/c many of them bounce around town all day (and night) long working and playing nomadically. I do think the ability to see who else is checked into a venue might lead to some new friends (or weird stalking episodes).

    Interesting usage point about Yelp, which I rarely use. I've not used the tips and to-dos on foursquare much yet, must try to do that.

    The data are a gold mine for everyone really. I wish the algorithm reflected loyalty better though; you're not rewarded for repeat visits beyond the mayorship; for certain venues, you may never be the mayor (e.g. checking in vs. an employee), but your loyalty should be rewarded. I'll bet that changes as they build out IRL deals.

    I dunno about an acronym, maybe fs? Have at it. If I had to guess, I'd say they have a few thousand regular players worldwide; it's still pretty small, but growing fast. I'm interested to see (although it's pretty tough) how many people continue to play after the newness is gone.

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