Friends, colleagues, and twitter followers hear me daily boast about the different mobile apps I use on a regular basis that I’m excited about. Mobile technologies and applications are growing at exponential rates making it easier to interact, shop, search, discover, play, research, read, and the list goes on and on. The number of companies and applications that have been born specifically targeting mobile usage is practically impossible to track. As connected as I am to digital media blogs and tech update streams, I’m still finding companies that have been operating for a year that are innovating in ways never seen before. The best of these applications look to change the way we interact with and navigate through the world we live in. Foursquare‘s mission is simple: to build software to make the world easier to use, and already over 10 million people have tried this mission out. Over 17 million merchant locations are also on the foursquare platform. Many users have preconceived notions of what foursquare is and isn’t – and with the continued aggressive developments and enhancements it’s almost a totally new and different application now than when you may have used it last. Since the launch at SXSW in 2009 I’ve seen an evolution of foursquare, and hope to simplify it here so you begin to leverage one of the best applications available today. It has changed the way I interact with the world and hope it helps you as well. I wish I had the time or the design skills to create a cool Infographic – maybe another time.
When foursquare initially launched, its functionalities were somewhat limited in comparison to today’s capabilities. It directed users to primarily ‘check-in’, which is to mark that you’ve entered a specific establishment, business, or location with the mobile app. With the integration of Facebook and Twitter, a user could publish that they were at this location or event to their social-graph. In my day, I’ve been accused of facebragging, which of course is the act of using social networking sites in order to show off or impress others with material items and/or fun activities. This can include status updates, comments, or most often, pictures. When I was at a concert, I would check-in. At the newest and hottest restaurant or club in town, check-in. Doing something mundane or boring, wouldn’t check-in! Because of the fact that I was an early adopter I didn’t have a choice but to wait for more friends to join so I could start using it for other intended uses. One of the common answers I hear when I ask people if they’re on foursquare is “No, I don’t like people to know where I’m at.” Fair enough. However that was sooooo 2009. Read on for how they’ve changed.
The next phase I soon started to see in the evolution was the aggressive but friendly competition caused by foursquare’s uniquely created game mechanics. The more you check-in, the more points, rewards, and badges you begin to accumulate. Check-in at a concert with 50+ people and you’ll be sporting a ‘Swarm‘ badge or check-in while you’re on a boat and you’ll unlock the ‘I’m on a Boat‘ badge. Foursquare‘s location based algorithms go to work by awarding check-in points based upon your activity. By switching it up and checking into a park or beach you can score more points then if you stroll into the same coffee shop each morning (unless of course you’re the mayor and that’s a whole other story). What’s quite incredible about this experience is that it does something to you psychologically. If you’re anything like me and you must win (or attempt to) at everything, then you find yourself exploring your city just so you can rack up more points than all of your friends that week. To encourage increased competition a weekly Leaderboard is created to show you where you stand in comparison to your friends. Checking into a location more than any other user will give you the coveted ‘Mayorship’. This means that you’re hands down the coolest person in that establishment at that given moment. Pretty sweet, huh? Find a trendy spot that is popular on foursquare, and you’ll see people fighting to check-in so that they can steal the mayorship away from each other. Let’s take the game mechanics out of the picture here for a second. For once you have an application that’s pushing customers back to a business, just so they can capture the ultimate invisible seal of approval. It sounds crazy, but try it – it’s addicting and fun. Nobody likes to lose – but even if you do at least you can say you traveled to a lot of fun places. Still not convinced on why you need foursquare? I’m sure if I can save you money that’ll do the trick.
This is the phase that I’m most passionate about. I could (and will) write a post just on this capability alone because of it’s magnitude on the way we interact with the world. If you’re not into the points or badge side of things – you will certainly be persuaded to move the foursquare app to the home screen of your iPhone or Android after you learn about this capability. Think for a minute about the intrinsic benefits one could have by being rewarded for going to a business and just promoting that they’re there. Foursquare added a new layer onto their platform that allows users to unlock specials and deals by doing just that. Despite your social status everyone loves a deal, especially when you can get a free cocktail or 10% off your total bill by just checking in. Who controls these specials is the actual business themselves, and you better believe foursquare gives them plenty of ways to encourage loyalty. Here are just a few that are available today:
- Check-In Special: unlocked with every check-in
- Newbie Special: unlocked on first check-in
- Mayor Special: unlocked for the mayor
- Loyalty Special: unlocked after 3-5 check-ins
- Special Offer: just because, really just unlocked at the business’s discretion
- Friends Specials: check-in with a friend and get a special
- Swarm Offers: if a certain amount are checked in – everyone gets a special
- and the list keeps growing and growing…
Okay, if you haven’t already downloaded the app by now, I’ll wait. Go ahead….download it. The recent launch of Radar is a feature that wouldn’t have been possible without the mobile developments recently achieved. Essentially the Radar feature acts as a tracking beacon; notifying you when you walk past a place with an offer, or asking you if you’d like to check-in a location based off your personal GPS signal. It takes all of the data foursquare knows about you like where your friend’s check-in overlaid by trends such as places you go and what time of day you go there to deliver to you suggestive places to visit. Imagine leaving work and several of your friends are meeting up for a happy hour. With Radar, it’ll ping you directly with this important information. Radar also maximizes something foursquare calls Lists. Imagine your local newspaper’s food editor hand selecting 10 of their favorite restaurants in your neighborhood or city. By following this list Radar will notify you when you’re close to any of those restaurants. Also, over 500 brands have already created their own ‘Lists’ that anyone can follow. From the History Channel listing historical places throughout the country to VHI pinging you when you’re near cool places with musical relevance this feature turns your phone into a smart predictable engine for exploration. It’s this feature alone that no other application has successfully created to date.
As history has taught us, it’s ever changing, evolving, innovating, growing, and developing; and so will foursquare. You don’t need to be super techie to understand or even use foursquare. It’s seriously one of the most user-friendly applications and does so much. The more you play with it and allow it to be a part of your daily life, you’ll see it’s more than just collecting badges, bragging about where you’ve been or where you’re going, or even a way to save a quick buck. This is a monumental shift in the way we interact with the world we live in. Their mission is simple; to build software to make the world easier to use. Download the app and use it for a few days and you be the judge of their mission statement. These 5 elements to the application are just a taste of things to come. Their team’s complete ignorance to everyday norms is what makes this one of the most innovative companies in recent history.
Steve Jobs once said that the best way to predict the future was to simply invent it. What I love about foursquare is how they are changing and enhancing the way people interact with the world they live in. Lastly, here’s foursquare’s latest videos explaining the application in a cool fashion. Enjoy!