From my seat, it appeared that the social application Foursquare took the crown at this year’s South by Southwest. (Okay, so there isn’t really a King of SXSW, but if there were…) And other location based applications like Gowalla and Loopt weren’t far behind.
What is Foursquare?
Foursquare users sometimes even battle for mayorship. (As well they should – many venues have jumped on the Foursquare bandwagon and offer coupons, discounts and other specials to the mayor. I’ve seen everything from a free yogurt for the mayor to a free night at a hotel. Not bad for merely going someplace you would have gone anyway.) Even if you don’t manage to become a mayor, Foursquare also periodically gives you “badges.” You might get a badge like “Crunked” for hitting five joints in one night or “Superstar when you’ve checked in at 50 different venues in your Foursquare history. While badges aren’t redeemable for money or prestige, they are the psychological pellet that keeps many people checking in, and checking in, and checking in…
Foursquare at SXSW
Foursquare debuted at last year’s SXSW, and its popularity showed no signs of waning this year. Just to keep SXSW goers' interest, the application added 15 new badges that could only be earned at SXSW. Badges like Superswarm could only be earned when you checked in at venue where at least 250 other Foursquare players were also checked in. It’s a testament to Foursquare’s popularity that I earned that one on Day One when I was in the SXSW registration line waiting for my badge. (I also earned “Decathlon” for attending 10 sponsored parties, and “Panel Nerd” for hitting five panels. I missed out on the fun ones like the badge that could be earned for taking a ride in Austin’s famous Karaoke RV.)
So What’s the Point?
Many people don’t see the point in playing location based games like Foursquare. Foursquare even spawned the website and application Please Rob Me, which is designed to demonstrate that Foursquare is very public and an invitation to burglars to rob you while your Foursquare stream shows you out of the house.
This is a valid complaint and highlights the fact that you shouldn’t “friend” people you don’t know on Foursquare or add your Foursquare updates to a very public forum like Twitter or Facebook where less-than-good-intentioned acquaintances might hang out.
In my opinion, the point of Foursquare is the same as Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Which is, duh, being social. You won’t forget the first time you check into Foursquare, see another person checked in, and then share that secret little Foursquare nod. Sure it hasn’t happened to me yet, but I can see striking up a conversation with someone based on our mutual degree of Foursquare checked-in-ness. Plus, it’s a way for me to show my love for my favorite venues.
On the downside, yep, I suppose I could be robbed (though people routinely leave their houses for other things – like work), and I suppose a stalker would have a field day on Foursquare. That’s why it makes sense to only “friend” people you trust and definitely think of your privacy when posting your Foursquare whereabouts on very public forums.
As for Foursquare at SXSW, I’ve been left with a gaggle of new Foursquare friends in other cities and a handful of new badges to display with pride on my Foursquare page. A major accomplishment it ain’t, but fun? It’s at least about as fun than the original four square, and even the non-athletic can do it.