Too square for Foursquare

An application for your cell phone that is part game, part city guide and part social network lets you show off your gaming skills without needing to give up your social life.

Foursquare app 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Foursquare app 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What springs to most people’s minds when they hear the term “social network” is, of course, Facebook. Facebook is considered one of the world’s largest social networks, and people always react with surprise if you admit to not being on it. Sadly, when it comes to smart phone compatibility, Facebook seems somewhat lacking. Though Facebook is great for sharing news updates and favorite bands, wouldn’t it be so much better if it would treat the smart phone as more than just another computer? What if it could really make use of use your ability to travel with it? After all, when you are walking down Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, you care much more about where your your friends might be hanging out than about their latest breakup. The app that answers this cry for a social-network-on-the-go is foursquare.
Foursquare, for those who haven’t heard of it, is an application for your cell phone that is part game, part city guide and part social network. Foursquare uses your location to interact with other people and your surroundings.
For example, if you are hungry, tapping “explore” and then “food” will show you places to eat nearby. The disappointing part of this feature is that it is powered by people using the app, so if you live anywhere other than central Tel Aviv, you might find yourself underwhelmed by the selection. You can add locations yourself by searching for them and then tapping “add,” but adding venues yourself won’t help you find the pizza joint you know is just around the corner but just can’t seem to locate.
The good news though, is that once you have added your favorite pizza joint, you can “check in” there and let your friends (or the world) know where you are (and where it is) so it will be easy for them to meet with you spontaneously if they happen to be in the area. You can also add a comment that any other user will see if he checks in or looks up the establishment. The “tip” feature is, in my opinion, the most useful one that foursquare has to offer; Sometimes it pays to know what not to order from the menu, whether the bathrooms are generally clean or when special discounts are available. For example, my local Café Ne’eman has a tip left by Nir, who promised a free coffee to anyone who shows the waitress his post. I haven’t tried it yet, but three people have already confirmed their steaming cups of free coffee. Not bad for a free app.
The “game” of foursquare is the same addicting “achievement”-based play that is becoming more and more common with applications that would otherwise be tedious to use. Users get points for various actions, such as checking in and meeting friends. there are also achievements that add a badge to your profile, such as “Swarm,” which rewards the user for checking in to a spot where 50 people or more are already checked in.
This lets you show off your gaming skills without needing to give up your social life. Like many similar apps, such as Waze, the points are completely worthless but the game aspect keeps users racking up points regardless.
Another part of the game is mayorships. A player becomes “mayor” of a location when he checks in more than any other user has in the past 60 days. Although mayorships don’t come with any associated benefit from foursquare itself, savvy business owners frequently reward mayors with discounted or free merchandise in an effort to boost sales and reward regular customers.
The game aspect of foursquare stands to be the most exciting part, so I was disappointed when I found that I was able to check in to locations far away from where I actually was. Even over 20 kilometers away, foursquare accepted my check-in and rewarded me points for it, completely negating the need to leave my house in order to be the mayor of anything in the greater Jerusalem area. (I would still have to claim my free coffee in person, though.)
Another problem that foursquare presents is that of privacy.
The average person doesn’t mind telling friends where he or she is at any given point, but foursquare allows anyone to look back on your history and know what your routine is like and the details of where you like to sit in a coffee shop. Besides being kind of invasive, this leaves the door open to stalkers and other unsavory people (such as that annoying ex you just can’t shake) who you might not want to know your whereabouts at any given time. This becomes even more of an issue if you begin to compulsively check in. I even found a user who added his bed in his house and checked into it regularly.
As long as you don’t take it too seriously, foursquare is a fun addition to your cell phone repertoire. Although the gaming aspect is a let-down even as it keeps you racking up more meaningless points and badges, it’s still a good way to meet up with random friends, share recommendations for your favorite places and get a discounted pastry or coffee.
For a free app, what’s not to like?