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Schoolyard Foursquare or an Elusive Treasure Hunt? Oh, What to do?

GPS Satellite

Ten years ago, on May 1, 2000, the ability to track one’s self was revolutionized when the government had the feature Selective Availability removed from the Global Positioning System (better known as GPS). This gave normal civilians the ability to use GPS more accurately to determine their position in relation to a specific destination.

With the Internet continually becoming more ingrained in our everyday lives, the use of GPS is again being revolutionized and changed. Today, GPS is used for many different things, including determining turn by turn directions, researching the exact longitudinal and latitudinal degrees an individual is currently standing at, to play games, for government purposes, and even for marketing purposes.

There are many issues that can be discussed concerning privacy, the use of GPS, and the Internet. But, I have two specific topics in mind to consider for my next “travel destination,” both being real time location-based services/games. I am hoping for your help in determining which destination I should choose! The two destinations up for consideration are Foursquare and Geocaching.

iPhone App

The objective of Foursquare is  to give the player a new way of exploring their city by “checking in” at different locations using text messages or a device specific application. Users are then awarded points and badges for logging their destinations. I can see many issues arising with this site concerning marketers and the users’ privacy. It would be interesting to explore and research just where all of the location information stored in this game goes to, as well as the possible future implications of it.

My favorite explanation of geocaching is: modern day pirate treasure hunting. The objective is to use a handheld GPS device to hide and seek containers (with “treasure” inside) anywhere around the world. There are a handful of geocaching social networking sites where people log caches (the containers) that they’ve found and clues to those that they’ve personally hidden. I haven’t heard of any geocachers complaining about privacy issues, as it is a tight-knit community where a lot of trust is involved. But, it would be interesting to experiment with the game and see if I find any such issues. If I were to explore this topic, I’d use www.geocaching.com as my social networking site of choice, as it is the self-named “Official Global Cache Hunt Site” and the largest geocaching site.

What are your thoughts? Which GPS-related social networking site/game should I explore for the next few weeks?

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7 Comments

  1. mushon 00:29, Feb 1st, 10

    Both can be cool. I don’t have any prefs except the fact I know less about Geocaching than about 4sq and I’d love to hear more. :)

  2. ElzbthMllr 08:57, Feb 1st, 10

    I think there’s a lot of good research you could tease out of Foursquare. In one of my other courses Dennis Crowley (an NYU alum out of Tisch ITP) came and talked to us and I have to say the most interesting thing he mentioned about Foursquare was that it’s an example of how technology can change behavior. He gave several examples, the overweight friend who lost 20 pounds because he began working out regularly to “check-in” to the gym and unlock the “gym-rat badge”, the friend who jumped out of bed at 2am to run down to the bar on his corner after he’d been ousted as “mayor”.

    My major concern about this game, which I asked him about, was two-fold, the first you’ve mentioned in your post: privacy. Who stores this data? What is it used for? I’m slightly cynical, and I just see the huge potential for advertisers, I mean the game is based on places you go with your friends to eat, drink, shop, etc. The second issue is maybe a bit more superficial, but I think that Foursquare, is well, superficial. I’m not saying I’m above it, or that things can’t be learned from its use. I used Foursquare for about 3 weeks (which isn’t an insanely long time I know!) because I was curious to see what it was all about it. I discontinued it, mainly to my concerns about privacy (interesting question, what happens to all my info after I’ve deleted my account?), and the fact that it hadn’t yet saturated the market of my friends yet, which if you use Foursquare, you know can defeat the purpose of using the tool. I do think there is a lot that can be said about technology changing behavior, but in my opinion, what can be learned from something like Fourquare is really the extent to which it is applicable perhaps in more social conscious issues, politics, engaging citizens in local issues, etc. I wish we’d see more tools like that being generated and becoming as popular as Foursquare.

    There are a couple of other elements about Foursquare that might be helpful to think about. How does this game tap into an innately competitive feeling in social networking? Clearly Foursquare is popular, and getting even more so, it’s been rolled out in dozens of cities, and that’s part of the fun of it. How does the game fit into the whole concept of vertical integration in social networking might be a good thing to explore. Think back to the On The Media Piece from last week, with Clive Thompson and Ethan Zuckerman about the dangers of creating self-references bubbles, because I think one of the dangers of Foursquare is that it can do that, ironically, even though it’s designed to do the opposite.

  3. Alexandra Cale 14:40, Feb 1st, 10

    I agree with Mushon – I would be interested in learning more about geocaching since this is the first time I’ve heard of it.

  4. Ryanverost@yahoo.com 16:47, Feb 1st, 10

    Go with Geocaching because no one has heard of it! I am trying to think of the people that are actively involved in something like this. What type of treasure are we talking about? What type of people have the time to do this? Where does this occur?

    The Foursquare topic seems interesting too, but it seems to displace any notion of privacy for individuals who are using it. I would think that people would use it to compete with one another or more as a popularity contest. In another way, it’s almost allowing the government or whoever for that matter to spy on people in the future and for people to think that it is cool (very weird). It’s almost like the government’s dream come true with voluntary surveillance. Anyways, I think the Geocaching topic is a little more intriguing.

    Good luck

  5. DanJee 22:32, Feb 1st, 10

    Count me as another person who is not familiar with Geocaching, but I think FourSquare is a pretty cool idea too. As a person who started using FourSquare only few weeks ago, I think it is a pretty interesting social phenomenon. One of their tokens describe my sentiment towards it very well: “Overshare”. I think it relates to how people want to overshare themselves now. In line with what we discussed last week in class and also with the Danah Boyd article, people want to become more public than ever. FourSquare lets people know when and where they are constantly to their friends. I would be interested in learning more about it.

  6. nadine 23:37, Feb 1st, 10

    Go treasure hunting!!! I think most people know FourSquare. Will you participate in the mystery game? But be careful…http://www.gpsthemovie.com/

  7. Jimena 12:53, Feb 2nd, 10

    I would definitely go with Geocaching as well.
    Besides the fact that I love treasure hunts and it was an game that my family used to play in the woods in Mexico when I was a kid– what interests me most is, as you said, that it is a “tight-knit community where a lot of trust is involved”.
    I thought the same thing as Ryan: What type of treasures are we talking about? As long as it’s all good-intentioned people that honor the rules and keep the game safe and happy, one can imagine simple but cool stuff being hidden. But how can an open, global game keep being a tight, trustworthy community? Hiding stuff can get pretty gory– and knowing that people will come to an exact spot that only you know about also has terror-movie possibilities, I guess.
    I’d like to see how far can an activity like this maintain a self-regulation that keeps pranksters, or just plain crooks, outside of it.

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