Cool Or Not Cool: FourSquare Divides The Web

January 19, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Social Media

I’ve spent the past three days with elevated blood pressure, shaking hands and having nightmares about my friends checking in and out of new locations and cluttering up my Twitter feed. People can’t stop talking about how FourSquare is changing the world and I’m afraid I might hurt myself. All of a sudden I’m like a resistant Twitterer in the year 2007.

I hate FourSquare and I’m not afraid to say it!

I know there’s been lots of Twitter debating and fighting this week, but I want to have a civil discussion, okay? First let me back up a bit.

I think location-based applications are going to be awesome. They present a HUGE opportunity for business, especially small businesses which, as you may know, are very near and dear to my heart. We’re finally at that point where mobile can become a real player and services like FourSquare play directly into that. They connect customers with the businesses they love, they spread word of mouth and they use technology in exciting new ways. This is all super great.

To acknowledge the awesome, Tony Adam wrote a post yesterday explaining why he’s such a huge fan and outlines just a few marketing and monetization opportunities on FourSquare. I’d encourage you to go check out Tony’s post because he touches on five important things FourSquare is doing right, including:

  1. Using Mayorships and Badges to build social capital
  2. A real revenue model for local advertising
  3. Leveraging ego
  4. Capturing local search results
  5. Emphasis on customer service

Everything Tony outlines is really important; however, that’s not really what I’m interested in when it comes to location-based apps. I want to talk about how they build communities on the Web. I want to know how they’re going to help a small business owner connect with his audience. And there’s plenty I like about FourSquare right now, for example:

  • It connects you with your digital evangelists, people who probably have a lot of clout in their circles
  • It’s a way to take the online, offline
  • Customers offer you constant exposure and word of mouth
  • Opens the door for new kinds of promotions to reward evangelists
  • Customer behavior is tracked, allowing habits to be identified and leveraged

From a business perspective, I get it. I see the power. However, from a user perspective, FourSquare makes me want to jam a pen straight through my eye. I hate it. Worse: I resent it.

Why do I hate FourSquare?

It asks the wrong question

FourSquare asks “where you are?”. I don’t care where you physically are, just like I didn’t care when Twitter asked me what I was doing. Those are the wrong question. The right questions  are what’s happening, what do you see, what are you experiencing, who are you with (which FourSquare offers) how do you feel, etc. These are the things that people are interested in. Social media is about sharing experiences and commonalities. Even if you’re at the Playboy Club an address tells me nothing. I want to know about the experience. Well, I probably don’t, but some people do.

Unfiltered noise

On Saturday FourSquare revealed it had more than one check-in a second. How many of those Web savvy folks do you think have their account hooked up to Twitter? I bet most of them. Do you have any idea what my Twitter account is starting to look like on an average Tuesday? It looks a little something like this:

Jen is at Joe’s Pizza on Broadway

Bob is at Joe’s Pizza on Broadway

Jen is at Joe’s Pizza with Bob and 3 others

Bob is at Starbucks on Main Street

Jen is at Starbucks on Main Street with Bob

And that happens about 57 times as Jen and Bob hop around town together, checking in at every location and earning points like crazy people. I now have an application that I’m not using ruining my Twitter experience and I have no way to stop it. Is this more an issue with users themselves and not FourSquare? Perhaps. But I can’t punch all of them individually. And since its FourSquare who allowed them to do that and FourSquare’s name that I now resent thanks to the barrage of tweets, they get to deal with the hate.

Location relevance fail

FourSquare is a location-based service, correct? So why doesn’t it only send your check-ins and updates to people within 30 miles of you? The only thing more annoying than watching Bob and Jen gallivant around town is knowing they’re not even in MY town. They’re in Seattle and I’m in Upstate, New York. This takes away any relevance those messages had for me. If FourSquare wanted to be useful it would restrict updates from people not located within 30 miles of you. Because 30 miles is probably the furthest someone is going to drive to meet up with you. FourSquare can either be a game where you watch people check into places you’ll never visit or it can grow up and become a tool. I’m really waiting for it to become the latter. And it should hurry up and do that before Yelp and Google Place Pages find a way to steal its thunder. [Though I’m secretly hoping Yelp’s new check-in service is going to knock FourSquare out of the water.]

Location-based marketing is only going to become more important and more influential. The challenge now is in keeping it useful by filtering the data to people within a certain region. Right now FourSquare fails in its ability to do that.  I have to think this is something Twitter is already toying around with somewhere. Setting up real neighborhoods and being selective with who gets to see what data also makes it more enticing for users. Because then it’s elite. And people begin to take pride in unlocking and owning their entire neighborhood and being the first to ID hot spots. Right now all we have is a mass of people checking into places we will never see or hear from again. There’s no relevance. And isn’t “relevance” what all these new apps are supposed to be about?

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