Way back in 2004 I had a job sitting a computer in a recording studio. This was my first introduction to aimlessly surfing the internet. The previous assistant had bookmarked a few sites, one of them was Stereogum. This was back when the site was pretty much a solo operation by Scott Lapatine, before it became its current incarnation as a Spin magazine for the internet. Being one of the first MP3 blogs, I was able to fill my iPod with random indie rock from far away places like New York and Brooklyn. It was truly a magical time.
Through Stereogum’s blogroll I found a ton of other blogs that proved to be good time wasters as well. There was ThighsWideShut, Whatevs, Lindsayism, Ultragrrl, and Brian Battjer of I Keep A Diary. IKAD is Brian Battjer’s photo-diary of his life in New York City. Parties. Travel. Drinking with friends. More parties. I Keep A Diary was the first photoblog I had ever seen, and it inspired me to start my own short lived photo based blog. I was such a fan of his blog that I used the “donate” button and sent him $20 for his efforts. I read through his archives repeatedly and visited every link he posted. One of those was to his friend’s blog, Dennis Crowley’s Teendrama.
Teendrama was similar to I Keep A Diary, a photoblog chronicling Dennis Crowley’s escapades as a twenty-something living in New York City. Unlike IKAD, Teendrama spent more time on family and work. At the time, Dennis had made a phone app called Dodgeball, that over the years morphed into his recent creation, Foursquare. The concept of these apps is relatively simple – a check in system that lets your “friends” know where you are from the comfort of a cellphone text message. Through the blog posts from both Teendrama and I Keep A Diary, a scene was shown of a bunch of friends scattered across NYC bar hopping, going to parties, and generally being out and about seven days a week. It’s easy to see where Dodgeball and Foursquare sprang from.
For those that don’t know – Foursquare is a phone app. You go to a bar/restaurant/dog park, literally anywhere, and you find it on the app and hit “check in.” The app logs your location and your “friends” who also use Foursquare are able to see where you are and where you’ve been.
I use Foursquare. As a fan of Teendrama, every check-in feels like i’m helping out a friend. Like going to see your roommate’s cover band on Tuesday night.
I check-in everywhere, getting points and mayorships. I get asked a lot about Foursquare, what it is and why I use it. What it is, that’s easy. Why I use it? I don’t have a good answer for that. I usually point out that Billy Berk’s in San Jose gives you a free order of french fries if three people in your party check-in. In Chicago we got some free edamame from a sushi place, but those are the exceptions. 99.5% of the time you check in get absolutely nothing for your effort.
At Disneyland I check in at all of the rides, which is a good way to kill time while waiting in line but who cares if I’m mayor of Goofy’s Sky School? (I actually don’t hold that honor.) Those points you earn don’t get you anything. The mayorships are useless. The badges are there for fun, but don’t serve a purpose. But that’s the entire app’s problem – it’s fun but it doesn’t serve a purpose.
There are good things about it. I like opening the app and seeing that I’ve checked in to seven different airports in the last six months. When that feeling hits, the one that says, “You never do anything,” I can look at my Foursquare check ins and know that I’m actually quite active. But is that the point? A diary of locations visited? They’ve aligned themselves with American Express, so for sponsored locations if you check in and pay with your Am Ex you get something for it, what I don’t know. The perks are too vague, yet reading the Foursquare Twitter feed you’d think you were missing something. Doing it wrong.
What I could be doing wrong is living in a part of the country that just doesn’t care about what Foursquare offers. People go out, but they have no reason to “check in” to the places they go. If they want their friends to show up they’ll text them. If they want reviews of restaurants they’ll turn to Yelp. If they want to post a photo they’ll do it through Twitter, Flickr, or Tumblr. Their own blog. Someplace personal. What are you going to gain by checking in at the gas station?
I want to like Foursquare. Actually, I do like it, I just don’t get it. And I’ve tried. Hard. It took me awhile to find the purpose of Twitter but then I finally did. Hopefully I’ll stumble onto the great joy of Foursquare.
I’m rooting for Dennis Crowley. As a fan from his days with Teendrama I wish him nothing but success. I don’t think Foursquare as a social application has the ability to really accomplish anything close to what Facebook, Twitter, or even Yelp has done, but I’d like to believe he has another great idea that will do more than tell me when my friend goes to Pinkberry.