/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.
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.
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.
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.