To many people, Foursquare simply is the childhood game they played with their friends in the playground. For other, Foursquare is a way to stay connected with their friends and to learn more about the city they are in. Foursquare is a location based application that aims to make cities easier to use and more interesting to explore. Users check-in to venues using smartphone application, mobile web or text messaging. Their check-in location is shared with friends and each check-in awards the user points and sometimes “badges”. There are many types of badges and some badges require users to check-in to a venue a certain amount of time. Foursquare allows users to bookmark information about places that they want to visit, to read friend’s suggestions about the venue and also to see other user’s suggestions about nearby places . Businesses and brands utilize the Foursquare application to obtain, engage, and retain customers and audiences. Businesses owners are able to use the information and statistics provided by Foursquare to see who comes through their store and better target their marketing and advertising towards the right demographic.

According to Foursquare, as of February 2011, there are over 6.5 million Foursquare users worldwide. About 6.5 million Foursquare users are pulling out their cellphones when they reach a venue to check in and share it to their friends at any given moment. The idea that people are willing to share their location to the world at any given time raised huge privacy issue. However, Anthony DeRosa of Reuters points out the Foursquare is a closed network that allows you to only share location to people you want. Unlike Facebook Places, Facebook share you check in to the world and also allow your friends to check you into a location (a feature all Facebook users are opted into and have to manually opted out). From the survey response I received (from a rating of 5 as most concern about privacy aspect of foursquare to 1 as least concern), half of the people that filled out the survey replied 2, not very concern about the Foursquare privacy aspect.

Based on the responses from my Foursquare Survey, Foursquare users are using Foursquare to connect with their friends and find special deals. One respondent think Foursquare is good for “getting discounts, using it as a map, reading quick reviews and seeing where friends are.” Another respondent also think Foursquare is a good way “to discover new places, restaurants, stores, and others that you may not have known of previously.” Some does not like the idea of Foursquare because of this notion of over-sharing. When people check-in to places, they are giving out personal information. There are websites like Icanstalku.com and pleaserobme.com that look for location data people share on the world and post it on the website. If you go onto Foursquare.com you can see a live feed of people checking-in to places. Sharing where you are at any given moment is sharing a piece of very private information to strangers on the web. If there is someone stalking you, it can be very dangerous. That’s why both Icanstalku.com and pleaserobme.com are made to raise awareness about over-sharing. So why do people check in and share their location using Foursquare? Doing the extra work to pull out their mobile phone to check in to a venue or wherever they go.

Foursquare allows you to find your friends easier, discover new places in your city and finding special discounts, there is also a gaming aspect of Foursquare. Whenever users check in to a venue, they are points and badges (depending on the situation). Founder of Foursquare Dennis Crowley said at an interview with The New York Times, “Remember finding the boomerang and how much fun that was? There’s no reason life shouldn’t feel more like that sometime. There is an element of fun-ness with Foursquare. People rack up points and receive badges base on where they check in or how many time they have check in. Foursquare users often described the application as “fun” because the application has the gaming and competitive aspects. Gamification is used to describe application like Foursquare that rewards their users when they share their experiences. It is explained as the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications, particularly consumer oriented web and mobile sites. Foursquare users want to collect as many badges as they can. What badge a user acquires can represent the user’s identity on Foursquare, what event they attended or just random cool badge. I was really excited when I got a Starbucks Barista badge (user can get the “Barista Badge” by checking into five different Starbucks). It took me a while to adopt the habit of checking in to places that why it took me so long to receive by Barista Badge. After using Foursquare for over a year and observing its uses, I believe most Foursquare users check in to places because it is fun. Checking in to a venue allows you to earn points, see who is around you and learn about the place you are at.

Marketers use the gamification quality of Foursquare as a tool to engage with their customers. People that uses Foursquare may feel the need to check in to be a part of the Foursquare game. Active users does not feel that Foursquare will let stalked find them easier, they have great reasons as to why Foursquare is an useful tool on their phone. Instead of the childhood Foursquare game in which players are restricted to the four squares on the ground, Foursquare application has no boundary and users are constantly in the game, wherever they are. People are actively checking in to chase after some reward and in search of new opportunity. For all the people using a location based application, their reason to take out their mobile phone and check in to a place can be different. A person that travels a lot uses the application to simply keep track of where they have been so the application is used as a lazy diary. People can later look at their check-in history and be reminded of the experience they had at each place. The development of location based application has introduced a new social behavior. People feel the need to be constantly connected to people and leave a footprint of themselves on the World Wide Web. Businesses use these application to better understand their consumers and offer incentives to check in to their stores. Coupon cutters doesn’t need to look through pages of coupon ads and cut out the coupons, they simply head to the store, check-in, and see what specials and deals come to them. In 2010 Foursquare had a 3400% growth and as the user base grows, the application will be more developed and adapt new social behavior we acquire.

One Response to “What Is So Fun About Checking-In?”

  1. mdeseriis says:

    Jessica, thank you for this very clear travelogue on Foursquare. I like the way you address both the positive elements that attract people to Foursquare and the risks associated with privacy issues. I wish you could said a little more about gamification. In particular, the fact that behaviors that used to be simply associated with everyday life such as going to a cafe or a store are now tracked by a location-based application that rewards users with badges and allows them in some cases to access discounts. In particular, it would have been interesting to explore the competitive element built into mayoral races and other ways of collecting badges. This is an important component of Foursquare’s popularity. Saying that Foursquare is popular because it is “fun” does not say much if we do not try to understand *why* it is fun. Finally, as you know, the main requirement of this travelogue was for you to collect of primary data. I see you have distributed a survey but the link to the survey is disabled. Plus you need to state how many respondents took your survey, what is their age group, etc. This would allow the reader to have a better understanding of the demographics that is driving Foursquare’s growth.

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