As with so many things in this accelerated world, getting into foursquare was one of those moments that I don’t recall exactly where/when/how/why I got into it. It was probably the twitter updates from a friend along the lines of
“Joe D. has just become the Mayor of Bur Gerking (Maida Vale)”
which piqued my curiosity. I installed the app on my iPhone and left it for a few weeks before getting into the swing of things. Whatever the details, I’m glad I got into foursquare.
For those of you who haven’t heard of foursquare yet, it’s a location-based social networking application that encourages people to explore their town or city or other towns or cities for that matter. Initially launched on the iPhone (plus Android and soon Blackberry) the app allows you to geo-locate places nearby to your current location and then “check in” when you get there. You can locate a nearby pub, bar or restaurant and broadcast your presence there to your friends, on twitter or foursquare.
Furthermore, every time you check in to a venue you score points. By checking into and “discovering” new venues you get further points. Just visited 4 venues in a row? That’s another bonus. Checking-in after 3am on a school night? That’s more points and you unlock & earn “badges” too. It’s all good fun and by frequenting places you can become “Mayor” of a venue if you’re the most frequent visitor/loyal patron.
For nights out in big population centres, people with a big, active social network and for people who use twitter this combination of factors must be a big deal. But in Hampshire commuter towns like Farnborough (population approx 60,000) it’s been a bit quiet so far…
Back in early December there were just a handful of local venues in foursquare. These included the Princesmead shopping centre, the newly-built Sainsburys store and Alexandra Road. Now Princesmead I can understand being on there, it is a meeting place for Farnborough people at lunchtime with its food court, coffee and sandwich bars, but Sainsburys isn’t exactly a happening social venue and Alexandra Road is just, well, a road.
This lack of “venues” had put some people off, judging by their comments in the iTunes App Store. However, giving foursquare a 1-star rating and bemoaning the lack of places in their database is completely short-sighted. The whole point of foursquare is that you the user are welcome to add new places. As a member of CAMRA (the CAMpaign for Real Ale) and a lover of good pubs I’ve added my own favourite Farnborough public houses; The Crown & Cushion, The Old Courthouse and The Prince of Wales. But no other Farnborough pubs were listed so I added all the others too (despite some of them being pretty lousy and our favourite Tumbledown Dick being closed for nearly two whole years) and a few more in other nearby towns that I’ve visited over the last few weeks.
The whole point about this application is that people have the power to add new places for other users to discover and “early adopters” can set the bar. Being a web professional, I love fully-featured systems, so by adding as many venues as I know is bound to be beneficial to any new people who hop onto foursquare, particularly in my own area of expertise, my own neighbourhood of the last 28 years. It’s always good to give accurate information on new venues in foursquare so by researching and checking data in maps.google.co.uk for instance whilst sat at home prep’ing a night out, all the correct data can be added to venues (including accurate addresses, postcodes and telephone numbers). Otherwise you can simply add new venues from your iPhone.
So, what if you’re not a socialite, a big drinker or a party person? Well, that doesn’t matter because, as mentioned earlier, big shops were in the database. But, more importantly than that, you can add local shops, independent retailers and small businesses – my local Polish supermarket, selling kabanos and the like, is listed so that you can go grab some Polish groceries if you fancy a change. Our local Global Emporium, selling tie-dyed t-shirts, CDs and incense, is also in the foursquare database, as is the 2020 Photographic lab I use. So it’s all about making people aware of the smaller businesses, the places they might not otherwise know about. It’s up to the locals to populate the database with good, wholesome places to visit that might not be on the radar of casual visitors to your sleepy little town.
What’s more you can even add tips, such as letting people know that Kamko’s Polish mart sells Jamaican Dragon Stout! Or there’s the Aviators bar at The Hub in Farnborough – I must pop in there one day to ask about the ex-South African manager, apparently, the story’s a good laugh. Foursquare is about letting people know what to find and what a place’s speciality is and you can even add Museums and places of cultural & historic interest.
So yes, I think foursquare has a lot of potential, not only for connecting people but for connecting people and places too and for putting places on the map that you might not otherwise be aware of or what they do. It’s still early days for the application yet but I’ve seen it grow organically without having given them any feedback myself, but it has been developing in the direction I would have expected it to.
Further to that I actually thought that foursquare could be “the next big thing” and, whilst doing a little research on foursquare hacks for WordPress I stumbled across a piece on CNN by Pete Cashmore of Mashable entitled Next year’s Twitter? It’s Foursquare. Cashmore notes the common investment in twitter and foursquare and, despite being a little behind the curve against the likes of Loopt and Brightkite, its addictive “play” is a potential match winner.
Foursquare now really feels like twitter did before it got big. I think I hit twitter at the bottom of the curve just as it was taking off. That’s a shame really as, being an old school computer geek, talking ZX-81 and BBC Model B is such a nostalgic and wonderful hark-back in the history of computers. Saying you were there, an early adopter, when foursquare took off, will also be something I hope we can all one look back on with fond memories and tell our children how wonderful it was to be there at the time because location-based social networking services will be as ubiquitous as the mobile phone and what it has become in your pocket today.