Saturday, June 12, 2010

Discovering Foursquares' Perimeters

This is the second of my Foursquare user diary entries chronicling my initial usage of it for my research project.

I've been using Foursquare application for a few days now. I've gotten quite familiar with how to use the mobile application.

Adding a venue
Eager to check-in at more than one location as most of my days consist of working at home and picking my kid up from school, so I decide to see if my kid's school is there. I'm worried that using the mobile app will use all my data plan limits so I decide to do this on the website. It's not there, so I decide to add it.

Adding a venue was simple, they asked for the name, address, major cross streets, address, and phone (most of which are optional). I see they have a private venue option - "This is a private venue that should only be viewable to me and my friends. (coming soon! but feel free to mark as "private" until we go live with this)". This is a good idea as already some dorky neighbours have added their own house as a venue (what kind of "Specials nearby" will they ever offer? I don't want to know.)

Yearning to be 'your worship'
Wonder if creating a venue automatically will make one the mayor? Mayorship is supposedly meant to encourage vendors to offer these frequent visitors special deals (as Starbucks does) and earns a higher profile on this site. Not that I care about these things, but dammit I want a mayorship. I was corresponding with a professor friend on his earning the mayorship of his university - it sure is easier to attain than dean or chancellor and certainly less political!

No tips on tips
After a check-in at the school I decide to add my first tip. I wrote something banal about the enclosed playground being great for toddlers. I really wanted to say a spectrum of things that I greatly dislike about this school. It's not that I don't want to go on record with my criticism of this school, Foursquare just doesn't seem the venue for it. So already I'm censoring myself.

After writing the tip, I see a "To Dos" tab. I can't figure out the difference, as when one goes to add a "To Do" the resulting webpage is "Add a Tip".

I continued to check-in at my kid's school and after a few of them, I finally got my first mayorship!

Badge of honour
I also got my first two badges. Everyone gets an initial "Newbie" badge, which reminds me of getting Tom as a friend on MySpace. So omnipresent that it's meaningless. (Gee, I haven't heard from Tom lately, hope he's not mad.)

My other badge was earned on a day when I actually was about town (well, I went to class). My public transit commute and coffee pitstop allowed me to unlock my first real badge: "Crunked". It is an image of drunken person and is earned for having checked in at four or more locations in one evening.

This reminded me of a posting of a friend on Facebook that he had earned a "School Night" badge for checking in somewhere after 3am on a school night. It was 5:55am and he was en route to work. The crunked one also reveals that this application is targeted to a younger crowd. I noticed another friend earned a "Player Please!" badge for multiple check-ins with the opposite sex (not sure how one checks in with a person?). Clearly this is a special accomplishment for a certain type of person (player). All this makes me certain I'm way beyond their target audience.

I've also been earning some points with every check-in and when adding a venue. Getting the points seemed impressive, I figured it was for some sort of leaderboard (which they have but I haven't figured it out completely yet). Turns out the points are pointless (see FAQ item).

How long can novelty appeal last?
After using Foursquare for a few days, I can see that there is definitely a novelty factor driving my desire to try out new features, get more check-ins, etc.

But as I was trying to check into Blockbuster as I was returning videos, it struck me that the fun of this would quickly wear out. The location seemed to be their only one not listed and after only using Foursquare for few days I already did not feel inspired enough to add an entry for mundane Blockbuster. I felt similarly uninspired when checking into Shoppers on my way home to get groceries. Though it did feel good the other night to have a way to get back at Shoppers for repeatedly selling rancid bagels - as there really was no other way to do this before.

Feeling lonesome
One reason, why my interest is already waning is that critical mass is necessary. I need friends on it. I sent out over ten friend requests and only heard back from two :(

I have only one local friend (and one in Alberta). The application is set up to get updates on check-ins from locals. Even though my one local friend doesn't check in that much, she does post them to her network, so I get a pop-up on my mobile for her every check-ins. Might turn this feature off soon. Can't imagine how annoying it would be with 20 or more friends!

Finding the limits
I have been trying to figure out if there is a way to check in to events. For the upcoming Hypertext conference I'm going to, I thought it would be a great way to see who else is at the conference (but I guess Twitter will have to do). Foursquare appears to be structured around permanent physical locations.

Disambiguation has already emerged as a problem in my usage - in that Foursquare doesn't do it. I first found this out when I checked into my school, "iSchool". There was an entry already, so I wondered why I was the first person to actually check in there. I figured out that others were calling it "UofT - Faculty of Information". There are no prompts or checks to try to avoid users entering new venues for existing locations. And when a user checks in the order that Foursquare presents venues does not necessarily group venues with the exact same address together (as you'd think would be logical as the sort order seems to be based on the distance from your mobile device).

I am also thinking how uncomfortable I am publicly announcing my physical presence at a location - and leaving a written record of this. Seems like this application is a psycho stalker's playground!

Overall, however the application works quite well and reliably. It seems like it would be more fun if I was younger and had more of a life.

Your help needed
I need some help with my research. Please share any things you love or hate about Foursquare, problems you encountered, what you think it's strengths or future potential is, any thoughts or experiences.

I would also love to interview users via email (5-7 questions) or observe usage at a cafe (just for about 40 minutes in total - maybe a Starbucks so I can work towards getting the mayoral discount). Let me know if you'd like to know more about my research or my credentials. Here's my profile on my Faculty website.

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