Saturday, July 24, 2010

Reasons to Check Into Foursquare

Yesterday, after about two months of using the mobile app Foursquare I became a Super Mayor. While this affords me a special badge, it does not entail any superpowers. I will use my meager powers I do have for good and discuss what I like about Foursquare (what I don't like will come next). While I can claim that my usage was driven by scientific curiosity for my research paper, I did find the application enjoyable and rewarding. The main benefits for me to using it are: novelty, communication, game, social connection, information seeking, and distraction.

Early on my usage was largely driven by novelty. I was curious to learn more about the application and eager to put it to use. It was a completely new experience to be able to demarcate and share my physical whereabouts virtually in real-time. Similarly, it was interesting to see at-a-glance via the application where friends were at a given moment.

So I played with the app by checking in all the time, including some pretty banal locations (buses, variety stores, fastfood). I checked out friends postings and their badges - until I started seeing patterns and their banal checkins.

I also enjoy announcing my physical location with commentary to friends on the application or occassionally to my Facebook network or on Twitter. It is fun to share with friends when one is at a cool new location or special event or has something new to say associated with a location. For example, I posted my checkin to 7-Eleven where I bought my daughter her first ever Slushie. Some friends chimed in that they share that appreciation for one of the rites of summer.

Foursquare is essentially structured as a game. Checkins earn points that allow one to "win" by amassing the highest weekly total (not that winning affords any special prizes or honours). Various types and numbers of checkins earn badges and mayorships that are prominently displayed on one's profiles. Even the tips on a location are framed as a goal that others should accomplish (ie. go there and do this). Foursquare allows people to collect such "to dos" and then mark them off. Most recent tips aren't written this way, however, and are more traditional mini-reviews (the ones that are coherent, that is).

These game elements might not be fully developed, but they do add a degree of fun and an urge to continuing using the app. Of these elements the badges are the best enticement. They are fun to collect and to share with one's friends (I set mine up to automatically stream into my Facebook feed). Some of the badges are comical (Crunked, Bender & School Night for frequent or late-night checkins) or bizarre (Photogenic for checking into locations with photo booths or "I'm on a Boat" for well, being on a boat m.f.).

The problem with the badges are that there aren't that many (particularly if you don't live in New York City that has a whole slew of local ones). So it is really easy within a few weeks to earn them all. A never-ending game only works when there is a continued object of play. There can't be too many badges or they become meaningless, but Foursquare better start creating at least one or two new ones every month to sustain interest in this integral element of their game.

Although, badges don't confer any rewards, mayorships are supposed to encourage vendors to reward their frequent, loyal customers although other than Starbucks this appears to have NEVER happened in Toronto. Still, I must admit to feeling competitive about earning a mayorship or two for locations. I guess it is official recognition that one is indeed a most frequent - and thus most expert - patron. I was delighted when I usurped someone to become the mayor of my faculty.

Social connection
As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy seeing friends locations with thoughts. As I, like many others, can get overwhelmingly busy to lose track of one's friends. Foursquare prevents friends from getting lost in time and space.

But Foursquare also helps me connect with strangers.

After supporting Ashton Kutcher's Twitter quest, he came up on the app's friend finder, so I added him. He eats out a lot, and habitually posts his location, which all comes up on my homepage. I've joked to others that I know where Ashton is at any given moment, and when called on this I've been able to back it up. It feels weird, but it is connecting to have such information about someone who's location and life are so foreign to me (now if Lucy Lawless just did this).

But I only got this sense with people I added as a friend in the app. A turning point appears to be when the earthquake hit Ontario. Someone created Earthquake as a location and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) as the location. It was fun to checkin (and earn a Super Swarm badge) to be part of a large number of people simultaneously saying, yeah I felt that too. Prior to this, all checkins that I noticed only relate to a permanent location and not to a event. Subsequently, I've noticed more events coming up as top checkin locales.

Although Foursquare offers the functionality to display other people recently checked into the same location as a user, it has rarely happened that anywhere I was had others checking in. The first time it did happen was at Canada Day. About 20 -30 people had gathered at marina to watch fireworks over the lake. When I checked in there, I saw about five other people had recently checked in. Seeing their names and profile pix made the crowd seem less anonymous and gave me a sense of shared connection.

I appreciate that Foursquare is tied to geography, so events can be so numerous and
ephemeral that they aren't ideal for the app. But ultimately it is meaningful to connect with others and an excited event often facilitates this better than concrete structures do.

Information seeking
On a few occasions, I wanted to find information about a specific location, like where a good place to eat is, any neighbourhood news, or anything cool to see in the area. Sometimes I'm looking with a specific goal in mind and other times I'm just curious to see what's there. The tips features of Foursquare has provided helpful information for this. It helped me find a good new restaurant that I'd never heard of or an emergency bathroom. So far the tips (when coherent) seem largely genuine, so I hop this continues.

During my regular transit commute or during the any number of forced waits and downtime of my day, I can really use a brief distraction. I don't always feel like grabbing my book, and it's nice to do something interactive. Foursquare is an ideal distraction - quick, interesting, communicative, and fun.

So I'm sure that even if my usage starts to decline, I'll still continue to check into Foursquare at least occassionally.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Foursquare - Answering My Own Usage Questions

I am conducting research on the mobile application foursquare (I still need participants). I have been conducting email interviews to better understand how and why people use Foursquare. As I have been chronicling my own usage as part of the research process, I thought I would include my own answers to some of my questions.

If you're interested in helping me out with these please let me know.

foursquare Q&A
1) Please list 4-5 words to encapsulate your impressions of your usage of foursquare?

Fun, novelty, distraction, potential.

2) Please describe your usage of foursquare.

I check in to most locations I go to. As I work from home, I only use it maybe 3-4 days a week. I check in off the grid a lot as I don't like the idea of bugging all my friends with endless pings from me.

3) What motivates you to check into a location?

I have to admit I am a bit motivated by the stupid badges and mayorships. The points and leader-board don't mean anything to me. In the long term as novelty wears thin for me (it's starting for me already) though I'm not sure what would motivate me beyond either deals from vendors or a more vibrant critical mass amongst my friends.

It was fun, however, when the earthquake happened to have so many people in the city checking into that and sharing that moment (not to mention getting the super swarm badge).

4) What, if any, information do you view/read via foursquare?
I find it interesting to see at a glance where people are and what their shouts are. It does make me feel more connected to them. But I am starting to get really bored of people checking into the same location every day.

Early on, I was really interested in what badges and mayorships they had. I have enjoyed tips when they actually exist for a location or venue - for example I now found out where a secret bathroom is at my local subway station is (invaluable knowledge!).

5) What is your experience of foursquare's "Tips" feature?

I write a few tips, but not that very many as I often don't have anything that useful to offer others. I would love it if when I went to venue my friends had been to and left a tip that this would come up prominently. This would be useful and fun! I also think it would be fun if I could leave tips or messages over the city for games like a scavenger hunt or history quest.

I hate when tips are useless ramblings, indecipherable comments to oneself or their friends, or statements of the obvious. Scrolling through too many of these devalues the entire feature. The mobile screen only has room to present about 4-5 tips without clicking through. Clicking through on my mobile is a pain as it takes so long for the next page to load, so getting on the first page is crucial for me. Eventually, there will be so much garbage or just tips not up my alley, that filter mechanisms will be necessary for me to use them at all.

Filters could help me only see tips I want, e.g. related to food, culture, history, politics, etc. That would be excellent! But not sure if users would have to designate this or if it could be done automatically.

6) Please discuss any factors, such as design or network coverage, that affect your usage.

I often cannot check into a location due to what seems like a Bell network coverage issue. It seems like they don't work about 1/5 of the times I attempt to check-in. Sometimes I will check in a little later while still in the vicinity - but this seems like cheating. Often though I'm not able to check in at all as a result of poor coverage. I also really hate it when I'm at a location and it doesn't come up on the list, particularly if I have been there before. It's annoying to have to do a search.

Overall, the interface is really quite easy to use. I do wonder if I'm using up a lot of my data plan data - hope my next bill isn't killer.

7) How do you see yourself using foursquare in the future?

I am not sure I will be using foursquare that often in a few months from now let alone much in the future. For one, I just don't have enough friends using it and also the pattern of checking into work and lunch restaurants starts to get really boring. I think it would be invaluable if exploring a new area or city though. I think there is a lot of potential for tips. For me, that is the only feature that would sustain my interest on a daily basis.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Delicious Numbers

I'm working on a mini-paper that examines my usage of the social bookmarking tool, Delicious. I've blogged before (Quality Ingredients Make Bookmarks Delicious) on my great love and admiration for Delicious. Beyond that, I haven't really put the microscope - or calculator - to my usage.

I assembled a few of my usage stats which I think reveals patterns to my behaviour. They may be of interest only to me, but I do think they qualify me as a power user.

My Delicious Stats:
  • Months of membership: 47
  • Bookmarks: 3475
  • Average bookmarks per month: 74
  • Tags: 698
  • Tags used only once: 95 (I like highly-specific tags, but clearly I need to prune)
  • Untagged bookmarks: 14 (some how I missed these as I always try to find some tag)
  • Tag Bundles: 16
  • Unbundled tags: 20 (haven't rounded up the scragglers for awhile)
  • Average number of tags in a bundle: 59 (range is from 7 to 281)
  • Users in my network: 20 (I don't network very much)
  • My fans: 8 (no one appreciates my genius)
  • #1 tag: "net news" with 637 bookmarks (I use it for my news feed here on the right)
  • #2 tag: "web accessibility", 208 (a research interest and subject of my MA thesis)
  • #3 tag: "Toronto", 204 (I love my city)
  • #4 tag: "web 2.0", 177 (even I'm sick of this term)
  • #5 tag: "Internet" 140

In the past six months:
  • Bookmarks: 421
  • Average bookmarks per month: 70
  • Range: 43 (February) to 121 (June - all the Foursquare research)
  • Average number of days I bookmarked per month: 13
  • Average number of bookmarks per month based on days I bookmarked: 5.2
  • Average number of bookmarks per month overall: 2.3

I did a historical cross-section of the past four Mays (no special reason for selecting May) that I've been a member:
  • Bookmarks for Mays: 219
  • Average bookmarks per May: 55
  • Range: 4 (2007) to 126 (2008)
  • Average number of days I bookmarked per May: 10
  • Average number of bookmarks per month based on days I bookmarked: 4.3
  • Average number of bookmarks per May day overall: 1.8

I wanted to figure out my use of tags per bookmark and how many other people were bookmarking resources I bookmarked. This was time-consuming to determine, so I selected one month, April 2010, that seemed to be average in that I had no special activities or projects that month:
  • Average number of tags used per resource: 2.09
  • Range of number of tags used: 1 to 5
  • Average number of people that bookmarked a resource I did: 83
  • Range of number of people bookmarking: 0 to 1990 (the latter for Shape Collage)
  • Number of times I was the only person ever to bookmark a resource: 26 (out of 70 for the month)
I also tried to examine my bookmarking for personal versus professional usage but it was too difficult to neatly classify many of them.

It appears that my usage really fluctuates depending on current projects I have or events. It does appear that I bookmark approximately once every three days and that when I do I tend to bookmark 5 items using 2 tags each. Apparently, I also bookmark a fair number of resources that no one else has found (or cares about).

And finally...
  • My bookmarks using "Delicious": 24
  • My bookmarks using "glenfarrelly": 68

Monday, July 05, 2010

E-Learning Modalities

I'm doing consulting work for an organization looking to expand their e-learning options. From my experience and readings about e-Learning, I believe it can take the following modalities, either in isolation or in combination.

The list is organized from the least to most interactive for students.

1) Access readings
Course instructors can post readings or links to readings on a public or secure (ie. log-in required) website. Readings can be in the form of webpages, PDFs, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, etc.

2) Listen/watch asynchronous audio or video
Instructors can post to a website (or iTunes) audio or video files for students . These files can be either of formal lectures or additional informational resources (like readings) or lectures. Audio or video files can be in the form of YouTube, podcasts, Real audio, Quicktime, Flash, etc.

3) Email or upload
Students can be given the functionality to participate online by being able to:
a) send instructor questions via email or a web form
b) upload assignments (e.g, Word Docs, PowerPoints, spreadsheets, videos, photographs, etc.)

4) Chat
Chat can be in the form of text-only (e.g. instant messaging) or audio (eg. Skype). Video chats are also possible (for example, via webcams) but not yet technically seamless. Chats can include or be lead by the instructor or be students-only (for example, team discussions). They may be structured or a free-flowing Q&A.

5) Listen/watch synchronous audio or video
This could be a webcast of a lecture, but can also be a collective viewing of a presentation (e.g. over SlideShare) with a simultaneous teleconference or chat. Students can be given the option to interact with both the teacher or the student via email questions, Twitter, chat rooms, etc.

6) Surveys and polls
In e-learning, these seem to be mostly used to gauge the pulse of students on course topics or administrative issues, but can also be used for decision-making.

7) Interactive quizzes or tests
Students can view questions on the screen and provide their answers online. Options include assessing or grading their answers automatically in real-time or by instructors. This can be in the form of webpages, Flash, etc.

8) Educational online games/experiences
There are a huge variety of educational games, but they normally are animated with sound and allow the student to interact and receive feedback from the game.

9) Online discussions
Also called message boards, threaded posts, and forums, discussions appear to be the mainstay of e-learning. The technology gives the functionality for someone to start a specific topic (i.e. conversation thread) and then others can reply in a specific online space for that discussion. There are various options for how to structure these, for example conversation topics can either be assigned or open, the entire class participates or they can be team-based, optional participation or required, instructor participates or students only.

10) Online collaboration
Students work collectively on course assignments. Assignments can be in the form of an essay, presentation, paper, etc. There are many tools to enable group collaboration online, including wikis, Google Docs, or simply email. Usually the instructor facilitates and answers questions but doesn't actively participate in the collaboration.

11) Virtual classrooms
A private virtual reality space (for example Second Life) can be built to resemble a traditional classroom or any desired venue. Students and instructors create avatars (online representations of themselves) and gather online simultaneously in the virtual space. The instructor can then lead a traditional-style lecture or Q&A session or enact an entirely new, multimedia event.