Thursday, November 25, 2010

Foursquare meals a day ...

I’ve used Foursquare for over a week now and I’ve read several articles about why it’s going to be the next big thing but I have to confess that I still don’t get it. I can, however, see how it works for small groups of very social people who find a thrill in being able to know which club or restaurant their friends are hanging out at. It works equally well if you want to join or avoid them! I’m not one of these people.

There must be way more of these people that I had imagined since Foursquare now boasts over two million users. Impressive, yes - but feeble in comparison to facebook’s half a billion throng. Other than the one individual who introduced me to it and my sister-in-law’s sympathy ‘friending’, I don’t see any other friends, acquaintances or colleagues giving it a try. For someone with 702 LinkedIn connections, 156 facebook friends, a bunch of blog and Twitter followers – things don’t look too good for Foursquare in my cyber portfolio.

But in spite of Marc Andreessen’s backing, I still think the only viable Foursquare model is one that requires less activity to participate. I’m already at the mall, so why do I have to go on my phone, start up Foursquare, find the mall and check in? I should be able to preset the app on my phone to do certain ‘frictionless’ things based on my location – which it seems to know already. But that’s a very slippery slope to travel!

The incentive to participate is also weak. Who cares about a cheesy badge or two? If I’m going to let a business know that I’m in its vicinity, I want discounts! I want rewards! It’s why I take the time to always add my frequent flier number to my airline reservations – even if I know that it’s unlikely that I’ll ever meet even the minimum requirements for a flight reward. The least I will get is an offer for a magazine or two in return for Air Nippon wiping out those 3,956 miles that have been hanging out there for eons.

In the years to come, I believe that location-based services (LBS) will play a much more substantial role in our lives. I'm just not convinced that Foursquare and its imitators provide a clear path to the mainstream. We’re in the 1995 days of social networking, but there’s some light at the end of the tunnel - The Wall Street Journal and a few other newspapers have already added the Foursquare button to allow people, when reading a restaurant review or other cultural coverage on, to click a button to add the venue(s) mentioned in the article to a ‘Foursquare to-do list’, along with a tip written by a WSJ editor and a link back to the original article. This to-do list idea has got to have a place in the future of LBS.

So even though I’m not yet a true believer, I have no desire be a detractor and will continue to check in from time to time in the hope that someone will offer me the deal of the century.

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