Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the link-bait.
I worked alongside Dennis Crowley at area/code over the summer of 2007, so it’s been fun for me to watch the meteoric rise of Foursquare. From its debut at SXSW in early 2009, to its $20 million Series B round announced just last week, I’m incredibly happy for Dens and his growing Foursquare family.
(I also feel slightly vindicated for all those times my friends poked fun at me for “checking in” wherever we went last year. So there’s that.)
Foursquare is an incredibly fun service, improving dramatically over the experience offered by Dodgeball — Dennis’s former startup. But it’s also a service somewhat at odds with itself.
At its core, Foursquare is both a competitive location-based game, and a collaborative location-based communication service. That’s a little wordy, but here’s how it plays out in user stories:
Foursquare the Game:
As a player, I want to check in, and become the Mayor of, as many places as possible.
Foursquare the Service:
As a user, I want to let my friends know where I am, and find out where my friends are.
There’s obviously a great deal more to the service (the incredibly helpful Tips and To-Do’s, and the increasingly promising promotional deals and venue specials), but in both instances Foursquare is fundamentally about the relationship between the user, her social network, and the venues.
So here’s the rub: As a game, Foursquare is easily exploitable. Users can create venues (like their own apartments), check in to locations without even walking in the door, and capitalize on Mayorships in places in which they might have an unfair advantage (like a place of employment).
Foursquare could crack down more heavily on these “game exploits”, but those restrictions would work against the service.
At the end of the day, this makes Foursquare less a game, and more a game-like service. It’s an interesting and quickly-growing category, and Foursquare’s proudly paving the way for a more playful and game-like approach to social media. I just can’t wait to see what’s next.