Earn Badges, collect points, be the Mayor, read and leave tips, win prizes, see where your friends are… These are all a part of Geo-Social Networking. You access the system from a GPS enabled smart phone (iPhone, Blackberry, Droid… etc.) and it relies on Location Based Services (LBS) to identify exactly where you are. Foursquare is the latest social-networking “must-have”, where users “check in” to the places they visit. They attempt to gain more check-ins than other Foursquare users in order to earn badges, collect points and be dubbed “Mayor”. Your position dictates the local establishments in the area that are displayed on the places screen when you go to check-in. Don’t see the one you’re looking for? That’s OK, just add it. Leave a tip about the place, let everyone know where you are and maybe someone will stop in to say HI.
When you check-in to a Foursquare registered place, your name by default appears on their “Who’s Here” list. That means that anyone who views the information or checks in around the same time you do can see that you’re there.
OK, that being said; what if you don’t want to “broadcast” your location? What if you don’t want to be surprised by an Ex-wife/husband, Ex-girlfriend/boyfriend or a friend-of-a-friend that you just don’t want to run in to? You can do what is called “Off-the-Grid” check-in which simply means that you’ve checked in to maintain your points, earn badges, enter contests and the like, but you haven’t sent your location out to the public. Just visit the Foursquare Settings page and uncheck the box next to “Show me in the ‘Who’s here’ list. You could also choose to wait until you leave a place to check-in. This prevents viewers from knowing that you’re there and coming to see you.
Is it safe? As much fun as Foursquare can be to use, there are naturally some privacy questions. For instance, is it safe to tell everyone exactly where you are, all the time? If someone was monitoring your profile, how easily could they establish a pattern? Could they determine when your house was empty? If you’re using Foursquare all the time, the risk is there. Here’s the bottom line; the key to using Foursquare is “be smart about it”. Think about what you’re sharing before you post it. If you oversleep and are late to work because you were bar-hopping till 2am, just remember that your boss might be watching and notice that you checked into five bars last night. I’m just sayin’.
Foursquare has reached the 3 Million user mark and is growing rapidly. Facebook has just come out with their new app called “Places” to compete with Foursquare. These are similar in concept but still very different, with the edge going to Foursquare from a “fun” perspective. There are other LBS sites vying for recognition including Google Latitude, Brightkite and Gowalla but only time will tell who will garner the top spot.
Mobile computing is becoming prominent in the industry with mobile apps being released at a staggering pace. All you can do is try the available apps and determine for yourself which you prefer. Let the numbers speak for themselves. What the people want, the people get. That’s the social media business model. Have fun.
In my next post, we’ll look at the other side of this trend and see how businesses can leverage LBS apps to their advantage.