Monday, June 14, 2010

Foursquare - Familiarity, Frustration, Fun, & Future

This is a continuing entry in my series of user diaries as I begin using Foursquare for a research project.

It day was the first day since installing Foursquare that I was about town and could really check in at a few locations.

The day started off fine using Foursquare, but got increasingly problematic. I checked in at bus (what's the point, I don't know). I had to create a record for one of the venues I don't mind but it does take up some time. I was able to check in seamlessly at my next couple stops. I then went to a street festival there and again thought it would be fun to check into that event specifically, but I included the event details in my "shout".

I finally, figured out the difference between a shout and tip - it took me embarrassingly long to to get that. Shouts are attached just to your check-ins so only one's existing friends can see it, whereas tips are public and permanently attached to a venue.

I tried to check in at park and this is where I started a string of problems. First, a very similar venue came up on the list, but not the actual venue. So checked in the default venue. But the check in didn't work the app said. But when I checked my history, it had checked me in twice. I wanted to delete the duplicate entry but this functionality doesn't exist on the mobile app (it does on their website).

I decided to try the proper name for the venue and found out it did have an existing entry on Foursquare. But then why didn't it come up when I called up the venues in my vicinity? Only a couple venues were returned my first time, so there was space to show more. This has happened a few times. I subsequently learned there was yet another entry for that location. If these venues don't appear on users' screens, it not only makes it more difficult to use but also increases the likelihood of inaccurate check-ins.

I tried to check in to a restaurant and while it would appear in the list of nearby venues, I was not able to actually able to check into it. I don't think it was a network coverage issue, as I was able to call up other live data on the application. In the end, I had to check into the location after I was gone - and then it checked in as a generic location. Not sure the point of checking into this generic-type entries as they don't really seem to exist on the site beyond that individual check-in.

These check-ins did help me earn two new badges today. Rather exciting. And I got two new friends.

I noticed a friend was travelling abroad and checking in. I thought that would be fun and great way to share vacation highlights with friends in real-time. But I did wonder how pricing for such connectivity would go (guess if you connected to a free Internet wireless signal it would be fine, but roaming cell network would be expensive.)

The next day, I was also around town at a conference.

As usual I checked into the bus, but this feels pretty pointless. I keep such mundane check-ins private so as not to bug my friends with such useless information, but then my status is constantly listed as "off the grid". Wish there was a way to not broadcast one's check-ins, but also not be listed as off the grid.

As I was trying to check into the bus, I experienced another problem. I got a pop-up that said there were issues checking me in. Same problem as yesterday. I checked and sure enough not only had I indeed checked in but there were duplicate entries.

The bus check-in did earn me another badge - "Local" - for checking in over 3 times in a week at the same locale. Yeah tell me about it - my life is spent on these god-forsaken buses!

The conference was a dull, so was I dying for a diversion. I was seriously wishing I could check in somewhere so I could check out! I checked it every hour or so hoping for something. Did notice some friends posting their brunch destinations and got a new friend. But not significantly more exciting than the droning presenters.

During a break in the conference, I went outside for a walk to get fresh air. I turned on Foursquare and to my surprise it was filled with useful hyperlocal tips from strangers. Not sure how that came up, I must have accidentally hit the "tips" button. I'd hit tips before but never got anything. Checked out the tips and they were really useful. Seriously impressed!

On my way home, my en route check ins earn my another badge (will I eventually cap out on getting badges?). This did not offsets problems I had.

Somehow I got logged out (okay, maybe it is my klutzy fingers but I don't remember this). This wouldn't have been a big deal, except that it took a long time to check back in again. (This may due to my dubious Bell network coverage - but still, damn annoying.)

I then took the subway miles away from my past locales, yet Foursquare was still showing old venues. Even hitting "refresh" doesn't help nor does hitting the check-in button again as the same old locations would reload.

To make my bad worst, I check in at a location and see the specials nearby button. I almost never click it anymore as they inevitably are for Starbucks and only for their mayors. Even though I do frequent Starbucks I will never be there enough to be mayor, so I don't want to see these offer as they will forever be useless to me.

Miraculously Starbucks didn't appear, but it was from my local Business Improvement Area association (BIA). Their offer is a free newsletter to anyone that stops in. I'm glad to see the BIA trying to use new media, but this is no doubt the same newsletter they just delivered to the entire neighborhood. Leaving aside the newsletter's dubious quality, this is an abuse of the feature and my attention. Not only do such useless offers devalue the feature for all current and future advertisers, they devalue the entire service for all app users.

If I wasn't working on a project for this application, these problems would probably make me give up and and not open the app again for awhile or perhaps ever again. Still, the application is quite new and these issues might eventually be addressed so that future usage was more fun than frustrating.

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