Location is the current sexy subject on the web, check in has become the new tweet. So what is location and what's Foursquare all about.
Foursquare is by far the biggest location based service (there are others like Gowalla and Brightkite). Users 'check-in' to places and gain points on their travels. Foursquare is essentially a game which allows people to collect points the more they use it. So you arrive at a restaurant, gallery, office, you access Foursquare on your mobile and you check in to tell your Foursquare buddies where you are.
You collect points (to top a leaderboard) and badges (check out all the badges and their triggers here) on your travels and the ultimate goal is to become the major of a location, which you earn by checking in to the same place regularly.
Worldwide, Foursquare boasts over 1 million users although it's still fairly niche in the UK. But I've been asked about it a few times recently so I thought this back to basics post might help. The reasons marketeers are getting excited about location is that it can provide all sorts of information about loyal customers, when they come and how often and allows businesses to reward them if they choose to. This cross over of online gaming to earn real rewards is proving to be really big in the US. We're yet to see many 'rewards' in the UK but read on to find out more.
2. Why use it
It's a game and that appeals to people just for that reason.
Pick up tips. Users can leave short tips about places and it helps to get 'real' information about nearby places. Especially handy if you go to a new area and aren't sure about where to go.
Find your friends nearby. Foursquare is a really good way to meet up with people. You can see your friends check-ins on Foursquare to track down the best place to head to. Matt was telling me that at Where 2.0 it was really useful to see which bar people had gone to for a drink after the conference. And imagine not having to worry about telling your friends you've moved onto the next bar, they''ll be able to see from your check-ins and track you down without all those missed calls and text messages.
Get freebies and offers, in the US there are retailers and venues offering the mayor freebies and VIP treatment. You can gain 'badges' for specific activities. In the US you can gain a special barista badge if you visit five different Starbucks outlets.
In the UK I only know of two businesses offering Foursquare rewards. The FT offers day passes to people checking in at some business schools, you can find out more here. And Dominoes will give you a free side dish if you spend more than £10 and check-in on Foursquare. The mayor of every Dominos also gets a free pizza every week. I'm not really sure what happens if you have a pizza delivered though.
As Foursquare becomes more popular you should expect to see more of this type of promotion.
3. Why not use it
There are lots of people who don't like it. It can be set up to automatically post updates to Twitter and Facebook which feels like spam, especially when check-ins are frequent. Do we care that you've just checked into Leeds Train Station, then Starbucks, probably not unless we're there too. But users can turn off these auto-postings and probably should so as not to annoy all their twitter followers.
The database of locations in the UK isn't great yet. New locations are created by users so in areas without enough users the entry of new locations is slow.
The location information can be fragmented and wrong and there's no way to correct it, it's common to get duplicate entries of the same location too. Airports are a classic example. Try checking in at Heathrow T3, in fact you can check in at every airline desk, every shop, the left luggage desk and even every gate separately. Have a look at all the check in options at LHR T3. What's needed is some way to allow community moderation but that's not currently possible.
It is possible to check-in to places without being anywhere near the place so you could just pretend. Other location services don't allow this to happen. Not necessarily a reason not to use it but useful to know the criticisms that are levelled.
And finally a humorous but also quite serious criticism was highlighted by 'Please Rob Me'. By broadcasting your location you make it clear that you're not at home ... especially if you've registered your house on Foursquare like someone on my street has. More importantly 'Please Rob Me' highlights issues around privacy but this is a check in service not a tracking service. You choose to broadcast (or not) your location via your check-ins and actually Foursquare allows you check-in without sharing with your Foursquare friends if you don't want to share.
4. Try it
So you've got some positive's and negatives. If you're not sure, I'd recommend you try it out and see what you think for yourself. If you own a business where you want people to come to I'd recommend you definitely get onto Foursquare.com and look yourself up. The chances are your business is already on Foursquare so why not 'claim' your listing and offer your loyal customers a deal for coming back.
If you're thinking of using Foursquare but aren't sure how it could work in your business or area give us a call.