Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Foursquare takes it to another level

In January 2010, and January of this year, I wrote about foursquare, and how I was enjoying its "gamification" of my everyday travels. I was going to save another reflection on the topic until January 2012, but this week foursquare introduced a new game feature that I'd like to take time to consider -- badge levels.

In January, I said that the badges -- icons given as rewards for certain types of checkins -- were probably my favorite part. Unfortunately, after you play for a while, you collect most of the badges that you're going to see, and that part of the game stagnates. Occasionally, it provides for some fun -- when I was in London in September, I was desperately trying to connect to the ferry's wi-fi network to unlock the "I'm On a Boat" badge. But most of the badges fell into the categories of easy or too hard.

Foursquare has revamped that by introducing the concept of levels for what they are calling their 24 "expertise" badges. Now not only do you unlock the "Ski Bum" badge for going skiing a few times, but you have the potential to get up to 10th Level Ski Bum by hitting (I think) 45 different ski areas.

They combined this change with the introduction of a few new expertise badges and the standardization of rules for the old expertise badges. I think the way they are handling retroactive qualification is by recalculating levels for badges you already have, but waiting to award new badges until the next qualifying check-in.

For example, when they made the changes, I ended up as a 3rd Level Jetsetter, 1st Level Swimmies, 2nd Level Bookworm, and 1st Level Baker's Dozen. (OK, I'm going to have to work on terminology here.)

Today, however, when I checked in at California Tortilla, I was immediately promoted to 5th Level Hot Tamale -- as a result of checking in at 20 different "Mexican spots". I went back and looked, and I could only find 19. Seven of them are fast-food type places, so that seems a little funny, but I guess it counts. For the record, 11 are in Maryland, 7 in California and 1 in Delaware.

I guess this points to how the game portion of foursquare works better than the recommendation aspect. Supposedly the concept of levels was developed partially to signal whose tips you should take more seriously. But for all I know, the 10th Level Hot Tamale has been to 45 different Taco Bells, in which case I really don't want to take his advice.

The concept of badge levels is not original -- I've seen in on Untappd (aka foursquare for beer), but I think it'll promote more foursquare use, more exploration ("ooh, if I check into a new pizza place, I can level up") and most importantly, more fun.

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