Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How I Became Mayor of Noodles & Company

I like playing with new web concepts when I come across them. Sometimes they take off -- Blogger, Facebook. Sometimes they don't -- Movielens and Wikitravel Extra are two that come to mind.

I read an article about Foursquare and decided to give it a try. It's sort of...I don't know, a cross between Facebook and Waymarking? When you travel to actual locations (for example, bars and restaurants), you use your smartphone to "check in", and Foursquare will tell you which of your friends are nearby. Furthermore, you earn "points" for checking in, and you earn "badges" for certain types of check-ins. Also, if you're the person who checks in the most at a particular location, you are declared "mayor" of that location.

Fortunately, this impulse to try Foursquare coincided with our kitchen renovation, so I have lots of reasons to go out to get food and "check in".

So what are my impressions?

  • Advantage 1: It's social networking that involves getting off your butt and in front of the computer. Instead of sitting at home and posting Facebook updates, Foursquare actually encourages you to get out of the house and do things.
  • Disadvantage 1: Advantage 1 is completely negated, if, like me, none of your friends are on Foursquare.
  • Disadvantage 2: Even if they were, none of us are in the "Hey, let's head out on the town and see who we run into" phase of our lives. I could see this being pretty neat 15 years ago in grad school. But then again, none of us would probably have been able to afford smartphones.
  • Advantage 2: It's a game, but one that rewards you for getting out of the house. If I'm willing to sit at home and click away to earn virtual achievements in Farmville and Mafia Wars, why wouldn't I be willing to "check in" four days in a row to earn the "Bender" badge? (How far I fall from the target demographic is summarized by the message: "Bender That's 4+ nights in a row for you! Unlocked by Jon G. on Sun Jan 17, 2010 at 10:54 AM @ Bagel Place - College Park in College Park.")
  • Disadvantage 3: It's not a particularly well-developed game. As far as I tell, you can achieve three things in the game. First, you can get the aforementioned badges (apparently, there are some more specialized ones, such as "gym rat" for visiting gyms a lot). Second, you can become mayor. (The only place I've "checked in" more than once is Noodles & Co., hence my possession of the mayoralty there.) Finally, you get "points" every week. There's a leaderboard, which I seem only to access from the mobile web site. I am #1 among my friends (since nobody else uses foursquare), and not in the top #100 in the DC metro area. Yay?
  • Disadvantage 4: It's pretty easy to cheat. While I appreciate the fact that I can check in via the web from my 2007 vintage, non-location-aware smartphone, foursquare should probably eventually move towards something better locked down. Why would someone want to cheat at foursquare? I don't know, but sadly, every pointless web-based game I've ever seen has drawn some people who want to cheat for whatever reason.

In conclusion, the game is sort of interesting, but they probably need to spruce it up a little bit if it's going to have any staying power. The interaction of the virtual world and the real world is promising, but I'm not sure if they're poised to take advantage of it. Maybe someone else will do a better job and create something that's a better fit.

I'll probably keep "playing" at least until I earn the superuser badge -- that's 30 checkins in one month. At that point, I'll be able to point out duplicate listings -- it's kind of driving me crazy that one neighborhood restaurant appears four times. I'm not sure that's enough incentive to keep me sticking with it a month from now.

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