With the largest user base, Foursquare is the 800-pound gorilla of geotagging, or location-based social media options that allow you to interact with spaces and other users. But be cautioned that it is a competitive, clumsy and gregarious gorilla.
Chances are, among your friends, more of them are on Foursquare than Gowalla, Yelp or other geotagging service — an advantage in itself. Theoretically that means that establishments will have more tips (microreviews) — which means a better picture of whether its food, service and/or amenities are good and bad — but the sheer socializing aspect holds great appeal. “I’m hopeful for the day when a friend checks in and I really am right by where they are and I can go over there,” says Michael Climek, an MBA and marketing grad student at Baruch College. “That hasn’t happened yet, but I can dream.”
“Foursquare is best for one’s regular haunts, with more incentives for repeat visits,” explains Jon Boyd, online media manager for admissions at North Park University. “Social media has been fun and productive for me, but until these platforms, I was often frustrated by the unfulfilled desire to make the social connections SPATIAL as well.”
Some users like the gaming nature of Foursquare, where users can become mayor of a property, collect badges and score points. You become mayor as a most-frequent visitor within a time frame. Since the Foursquare interface is clunky, anyone who can figure out how to do anything deserves something. “It’s fun to check into a place to check to see if you’ve become the mayor … or find that someone else has beaten you to it,” says Jason Smith, “Morning Edition” host of Oswego NPR affiliate WRVO. “It isn’t clear what the points are for. I’ve earned 15 points this week so far. Foursquare doesn’t tell you what the points mean.”
But, as users push their mayorships and new badges to friends via social media, one could argue this noise drowns out the more important feature of showcasing and providing reviews for businesses and attractions. As Lori Packer, Web editor at the University of Rochester says, “I like reading other people’s ‘Tips and To Dos’ for various venues … But the whole ‘unlocked the Adventurer badge’ nonsense just feels like Farmville-esque social gaming spam to me.” Personally, when I see a tweet declaring “I just became the Mayor of the Duluth Wal-Mart” (or whatever) — the hi-tech equivalent of the 4-year-old who screams “look at meeeeeee!” — it’s hard not to feel a mix of annoyance and pity.
Georgy Cohen, managing editor of Web communications for Tufts University, rebuts that “the Foursquare backlash about it clogging up Twitter streams” is misplaced, as “it’s not Foursquare’s fault; it’s people’s fault for pushing all of their updates to Twitter.” As with Gowalla and Yelp, Foursquare users regulate some information they push to Twitter and Facebook, so “I feel Foursquare gets a lot of crap for what is really an (arguably poor) decision by the user,” Cohen says.
But the biggest real drawback to Foursquare is usability-based: As a geotagging service, its GPS locating ability is unreliable, and spots often are created instead via street address. Nearby location lists tend to be erratic and incomplete. The complicated creation system is especially a drawback for use on some college campuses, as my building has no street address; if my office were a place of interest, the closest I could place it would be the college’s main entrance.
The business and marketing potential of Foursquare remains muddy — current challenges to GPS-based location being a real drawback for many campuses — but users saw potential. As the services continue to grow and evolve, Boyd likes the opportunity to connect users geographically and perhaps develop tours on his urban campus. Climek notes NYC’s Cavatappo Wine Bar gives a free drink to whomever is mayor of it at the time. Cohen thinks it could be great for treasure-hunt style fundraisers, with potential to expand it “as Harvard has done, to encourage students to explore off-campus locations.”
Whatever its faults or flaws, Foursquare remains that 800-pound gorilla … and if you’re a marketer, you ignore it — and geotagging in general — at your own peril.
Stay tuned for Part III, Gowalla: A Kinder, Gentler Geotagging Service