Foursquare existentialism

Posted on November 24, 2010

Eleven days ago there was a post on TechCrunch about Foursquare. It sort of meandered in its point, but it was basically saying that Foursquare needs to get its act together and figure out what its value position is. There’s also a part about how no one should try to compete with Facebook Places, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

I have to agree with their position on Foursquare. I signed up for it about a month ago and have been using it since – but in that time, I’ve also developed a bit of an existential problem with it. Every time I load the app on my phone, I ask myself, “But really, what’s the point?” – and I don’t really have an answer. So I check in whenever I go somewhere, and my friends can see it. Once in awhile I’ll get a badge for some achievement, and maybe once in a blue moon there will be a special deal at that location for Foursquare users. But beyond that, what else is there?

4sq badgeThe badges are part of the game theory behind the service, and are actually a clever way to keep people involved. I liken it to Achievements on XBox, and trophies on the PS3: to keep people coming back, devise a set of requirements based on using the service, and when they accomplish it, reward them with points or some intangible item. For some people, a desire to fully complete the game – in other words, to be a completionist – is what drives them, so they keep coming back until they’ve got all the achievements. I know I’ve spent a whole lot of time playing some video games for this purpose. With Foursquare, though, it’s not quite the same. Maybe it’s because it requires a great deal more effort than sitting on the couch, or maybe it’s just because the badges aren’t all that exciting.

I don’t really know where they’re going to go with it. Mayorships are interesting, in that in order to earn and maintain the position, you need to repeatedly check into the same place. Assuming people don’t cheat the system on that one, it could be leveraged into some form of marketing – and indeed, Foursquare has built tools for business owners to do so, such as offering discounts for people who check in and are mayors. But is that really all there is?

I can’t help but feel frustrated when using the service if I can’t find an enjoyable reason to participate. There aren’t enough business owners in my area that are using Foursquare to their advantage, so from my perspective it’s little more than a way of marking where I was on a given day. And the badges aren’t varied or interesting enough to keep my attention. And without any of that, what’s my real incentive to take my phone out and check in when I’m somewhere? Perhaps there isn’t one – not yet, at least. Hopefully they’ll come up with something soon, or they may risk becoming irrelevant.

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