We’ve been doing a lot of speaking and workshops lately. At these events, people inevitably ask us “what’s the Next Big Thing?” I’m incredibly poor at predictions, but my best guess lately has been Foursquare. The buzz for this location-based social network among the early adopters mimics that of Twitter, Flickr and other tools.
Here’s a great Mashable article on what Foursquare is, and why it’s more compelling than the other location-based social networks such as BrightKite and Google Latitude:
Now we’re starting to see the app get adopted by more and more of our friends, finding traction in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, San Diego, and several other hyperlocal metro hubs. These breeding grounds of Foursquare activity are creating quite a frenzy, and we thought it appropriate to take a step back and survey the surrounding location-based social networking space as it applies to mobile apps, look forward to the future, and break down the beauty of Foursquare.
As the article points out, the killer feature of Foursquare is the gaming component. In Foursquare, you earn points every time you ‘check in’ to a particular location. The point system is slightly more complex than that, but that’s the basic gist. If you check in frequently at a particular location, you can become ‘the mayor’ of that location. What does that imply? Nothing really, it’s just classic useless online cred, as old as arcade games. But I suspect that it’ll be highly addictive.
Foursquare strikes me as one of the first practical tools to have a powerful and direct connection between the web and the real world. It blends the real-time nature of something like Twitter with the physicality of the real world. It takes Twitter’s question of “what am I doing right now?” , adds “where am I doing it?” and turns the whole process into a game.
I also like that Foursquare reflects the social swarming behaviour that text-happy teens exhibit. It feels like a logical extension of this behaviour.
A Game-Changer for Local Businesses?
We’ve been mentioning Foursquare in some recent workshops, and I’ve been showing this photo from San Francisco’s Marsh Cafe (click to embiggen):
Talk about an enticement to frequent visit this cafe, eh? I’m not sure what they are yet, but I can imagine that there will be all sorts of creative applications for real-world businesses. Consider, for example, a restaurant where each subsequent check-in in the same week gets you an additional 10% off? It feels like a game-changer for local businesses who haven’t necessarily seen the point of having a robust web presence.
What About the Creep Factor?
Normal Humans tend to get seriously creeped out by location-based social networks. It’s not a surprising response, but I remind them of the fears they’ve probably already overcome as they adopted blogs, Facebook, Twitter and so forth. They may find that, in six months, Foursquare feels totally ordinary to them. Or not–I’m incredibly bad at predicting the success of these things.
In any case (thanks mostly to Chris Briekss, I gather), Foursquare has arrived in Vancouver–the first Canadian city. I won’t be able to try it out in person until I return from my pan-Canadian voyage next week, but here’s my account.
I’m not sure how (or even if) I’m going to use Foursquare. However, I’m going to try to only ‘friend’ Foursquare users who I know and have met in real life (and probably people who I’ve come to know well online). Sharing my physical location with strangers, even only occasionally, feels like a bridge too far.
UPDATE: Here’s another symptom of Foursquare’s real-world connectedness: there won’t be the same compulsive friend-counting that occurs in Facebook or Twitter. What’s the upside of having 1000 Foursquare friends? That doesn’t scale very well if you’re just trying to get some work done at Starbucks.