Foursquare keeps friends on same path
Social networking site allows users to share location, access special deals
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Calling someone a “gym rat” can either be a compliment or an indictment of their priorities. Either way, it’s an intangible. In the world of Foursquare, however, “gym rat” is a literal badge of honor people work hard to earn.
Foursquare is a way of staying in touch with friends, as well as a game and a marketing tool, and it’s all about location.
How to use Foursquare
Foursquare allows users to share their whereabouts with friends, access special deals from participating businesses and accumulate points and badges as they patronize locations. People can choose to link their Foursquare accounts to their Facebook and Twitter pages.
Foursquare is free to use, and there are several ways to check in on the location-based social media platform.
Foursquare offers applications for the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. There are applications for Windows Mobile, Palm Pre, Nokia Symbian and iPad devices as well that have been developed by third parties. The global-positioning system chips in smart phones enable Foursquare to determine users’ locations.
People also can check in on the mobile Foursquare website (http://m.foursqua...). Currently, this works from computers as well as cell phone Web browsers, though that could change in the future, said Foursquare public relations manager Erin Gleason.
Foursquare users in the United States can check in by texting a message such as “@ Esther Short Park” to 5055.
Some businesses offer specials for Foursquare users. To find participating businesses in a particular area, go to http://4squareoff...>
To learn more about Foursquare, go to http://www.foursq...>
Foursquare tracks users of its free, location-based social networking platform via the global-positioning system chips in their smart phones. Foursquare aficionados accumulate points by using their phones to check in on Foursquare from various places.
Enough points can translate into badges or even mayorships. Foursquare also allows people to track where their friends are and access specials from participating businesses.
Noland Hoshino was so happy to earn his Foursquare gym rat badge for visiting a fitness center 10 times in a month that he bought a physical badge to put on his real-world messenger bag.
He found the gym rat badge on http://www.nerdmeritbadges.com, a website that sells badges for Foursquare users as well as others wanting to tout various technological and intellectual achievements.
Hoshino also has on his bag the jet-setter badge (for checking in at five airports), the local badge (for being at the same place three times in a week) and the super mayor badge (for holding down 10 mayorships at once).
“It’s geeky,” laughed Hoshino, a 45-year-old Vancouver resident and co-owner and president of the social media consulting firm [B]cause Media.
But Hoshino is more than just a gym rat at the Hazel Dell LA Fitness where he works out. He’s currently “mayor” of the gym because he has checked in there more days over the past 60 days than any other Foursquare user. It’s good motivation to exercise because the mayorship is a transitory honor Hoshino works hard to defend.
“For someone to take it away from me, I’d be upset. I’d come here more often,” he said.
Foursquare isn’t the only location-based social network, but it’s the most popular, Hoshino said. The competition includes Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt, MyTown, Yelp, Whrrl and Plancast. There also are platforms such as CauseWorld that add a charitable-giving component.
Foursquare and other location-based social networks are a relatively new phenomenon. The New York City-headquartered Foursquare launched at the 2009 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. It currently has more than 1.7 million users checking in nearly 1 million times per day. It’s adding between 12,000 and 15,000 users a day.
This spring Foursquare users in cities around the world checked in all at once on April 16 in honor of Foursquare Day. Fans converged at Whiffies Fried Pies at Cartopia in Southeast Portland between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. for a “SuperSwarm” party. People who attended earned a special badge commemorating the occasion.
It’s nowhere near as ubiquitous as Facebook, which, six years after its founding, has more than 400 million active users, but Foursquare is gaining momentum.
Hoshino attended this year’s South by Southwest, and said that Foursquare was the topic on everyone’s mind.
“There wasn’t a single conversation that didn’t involve Foursquare,” he said.
The competitive aspect of Foursquare is a major part of its appeal, but it serves several additional purposes. For one, it allows people to see whether their friends are nearby and, if they choose, to meet up with them.
“I can connect with friends and see where they are, and I can choose to join them at the pub, or I can live vicariously,” said Greg Shine, a Foursquare user from Portland and chief ranger and historian for Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Shine, 42, added Fort Vancouver as a Foursquare location. He noticed people checking in at the Brigade Encampment and the grand opening of the Historic Village last weekend.
He also encouraged management at the nearby Grant House to add the restaurant to Foursquare. Grant House currently offers a free dessert to Foursquare users checking in there for the first time.
The promotion has been going on for the past couple of months, and several people have taken advantage of it, said Jessica DeRoest, event coordinator at The Grant House.
“If people are checking in at your restaurant and it’s going out to their friends, then it’s nice to thank them by giving them a little bonus,” she said.
The Grant House is one of a handful of local businesses with specials for Foursquare users. At Starbucks here and nationwide, for example, people who are mayor of a particular Starbucks can get $1 off a frappuccino at that location through Monday.
Foursquare’s business offerings are a big part of what attracted Hoshino to the network. As a social media consultant, he’s helped clients such as World Cup Coffee & Tea in Northwest Portland come up with special deals for Foursquare users. These specials can motivate people to frequent particular establishments, and when they do, their Foursquare friends hear about it. People also get alerts when they check in somewhere and a nearby location is offering a special.
If businesses in downtown Vancouver are able to harness the power of Foursquare, it could be a boon for the area, said Dene Grigar, associate professor and program director of digital technology and culture at Washington State University Vancouver.
Grigar, a 55-year-old Vancouver resident, has been experimenting with Foursquare since she got her iPhone in January. She takes advantage of the tips feature to leave suggestions for her Foursquare friends. She might encourage them to try Woody’s Tacos in downtown Vancouver or Sunday dinner at Lapellah, one of Chef Brad Root’s Vancouver restaurants. Foursquare also has a to-do function that allows people to leave notes to themselves about things to try and places to visit.
In addition to Foursquare’s potential benefits to local businesses and consumers, it’s also a fun game, Grigar said.
Grigar has enjoyed amassing mayorships at a number of locations, including City Hall.
“I should send (Vancouver Mayor) Tim Leavitt a note telling him about that,” she joked.
Grigar has fun competing against students for mayorship of WSUV locations. One such student, Aaron May, was her fiercest rival for the overall mayorship of campus. May recalled one week where the title kept being passed back and forth between the two of them before he usurped Grigar.
“That was entertaining,” said May, a senior majoring in digital technology and culture. He recently lost the title of WSUV mayor to a friend because he’s not taking summer classes.
May, a 25-year-old Vancouver resident, said he finds the process of accumulating points on Foursquare “addictive,” but that the platform is more than a game for him. He enjoys using Foursquare to explore new places and see which businesses are offering special deals nearby.
It’s also a good way to connect with friends at crowded events. May, Grigar and Hoshino all said they use Foursquare to meet up with friends at various galleries during First Friday Art Walk in downtown Vancouver. If people go to enough galleries (10, to be exact), they can score the Warhol badge on Foursquare.
In addition to meeting up with existing friends, Hoshino has actually met new friends through Foursquare. When he sees someone who’s mayor of a lot of places he goes, he sometimes sends that person a Foursquare friend request and strikes up a conversation. Sometimes those friendships in the virtual world even translate to the real world, he added.
There are several ways to connect with people through Foursquare. Depending on one’s user settings, check-ins can be communicated not just to Foursquare friends but also to Facebook friends and Twitter followers.
People also can use Foursquare’s “shout” function to send messages of 140 characters or less to their friends, either about a location where they’re checking in or just a general comment. Additionally, users can opt to receive “pings,” or notifications of friends’ check-ins.
Unless someone chooses to check in “off the grid,” meaning only to accumulate points and not to share that information with even Foursquare friends, then using the social network does come with some degree of risk.
Publicizing check-ins can put one’s person and property in jeopardy because it alerts others to where they are and the fact that their home is unattended, Grigar said. The website http://pleaserobme.com drove home this point by aggregating publicly shared check-ins to “rais(e) awareness about over-sharing.”
Because of the intimate nature of the information revealed by check-ins, many users are more particular about whom they accept as Foursquare friends than they are with other social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
As a matter of safety, Grigar has only about 40 Foursquare friends, compared to nearly 500 Facebook pals. She encourages people to be choosy about who they share check-in information with.
“It’s very personal stuff,” Grigar said.
Foursquare officials say that privacy is a top priority, which is why Foursquare allows people to choose whether they want to share check-in information with friends, and whether they want to publish their Foursquare activity to their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
“We take our users’ privacy very seriously, and we protect their information by making our sharing features opt-in,” said Foursquare public relations manager Erin Gleason.
That level of user control is one of the great things about Foursquare, Hoshino said.
“You make it your own,” he said.
Time will tell whether Foursquare is more than a passing fad. Hoshino, for one, thinks it has lasting power.
“I think geolocation is here to stay,” he said.
Mary Ann Albright: email@example.com, 360-735-4507.