I’m not sure what this will do to my standing amongst fellow social media-ites, but
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you’ve not had your Facebook or Twitter accounts fly-papered with friends’ announcements of where they are in Foursquare. Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that everyone reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about, and if not, there are lots of good pages explaining the idea behind Foursquare (not least Foursquare’s own)- and there’s also this rather good take on the commercial angle by Matt Rhodes at FreshNetworks.
You may gathered that I’m not a fan, that my iPhone will remain Foursquare app-less. And although I do slightly resent my precious iPhone screen inches being squatted by the various pizza parlours my friends are eating in tonight, that’s not the reason why. In any case, Jay Andrew Allen in The Zero Boss is much, much wittier (and ruder) than I can be about how riveting these locational updates are:
“But really, guys – I don’t care where you are. I mean, I care in a general way. You at home? Work? On a trip to the Bahamas? At a convention listening to a life-altering speaker? That’s great – let us know. That’s newsworthy among friends. But I don’t need latitude and longitude. I don’t give a shit that your hankering for day-old corn dogs has made you Mayor of the 7-11 at 91st and Roosevelt. I’m your friend, man – not your professional stalker”
It’s actually the ‘stalker’ bit which has my professional and personal hackles rising. Although Foursquare – unlike Gowalla – doesn’t yet actually require you to be precisely at the location where you are ‘checking in’, lots of naive people think nothing of posting their location whilst they are actually there (unlike canny celeb users of the service who reputedly only check in they when leaving to avoid being mobbed). And after all, that’s the way Foursquare was intended to be used – you let your network of Foursquare friends know where you are, in case they want to join you, don’t you?
The problem comes when you:
a) Accept Foursquare friends you don’t know (so telling a bunch of strangers where you are)
b) Link your Foursquare posts to Twitter and Facebook, and so tell the whole social media world where you are … and as importantly, where you aren’t.
Where you aren’t of course, is at home. The ramifications of this have been ably demonstrated by the provocative site pleaserobme.com, a “dressed up twitter search page” of publically-viewable ‘I’ve left home’ Foursquare check-in tweets.
Pleaserobme’s creators Forthehack warn:
“The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home. So here we are; on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home. It gets even worse if you have “friends” who want to colonize your house. That means they have to enter your address, to tell everyone where they are. Your address.. on the internet.. Now you know what to do when people reach for their phone as soon as they enter your home. That’s right, slap them across the face.”
“You might as well argue that you should never tell anyone that you have a job, because then people will know you are at work from 9-5 every day, and can use the white pages to find your home and rob you!”
Added to which, Pleaserobme’s assumption would be that either we all live alone or we only go out accompanied by all household members.
Rather more real is the fear that young people without much street-smart could be using the site and publicising their locations. Foursquare’s terms state (as do the main social networks) that you should be 13 yrs or over to use the site. Unlike the main social networks however, they make no attempt at all to enforce this. The Foursquare site doesn’t even ask your age when you register, or warn you that should be over 13 at point of registration. Instead, it requests to connect immediately to your Twitter and Facebook friends. And we all know how intimately the average teenager knows and trusts her Facebook friends, right?
“Imagine you are an average girl but you have that one guy that you just can’t stand and he shows up everywhere because he knows your exact locations from FS or Twitter (Stalker). In your lifetime you probably had that one jealous person that just couldn’t live without knowing where you are at the moment. Don’t worry FourSquare will feed that jealousy and questions that come after that “Where have you been? Who did you meet on 100th St at Starbucks?….”
Oh, and to add an extra ingredient into the mix, SquarePik has upped the anti on potential UGC mis-use by allowing users to ‘drop an image or video at a venue’. There are no flagging buttons on the site alongside the ‘tags’ where users leave suggestions of what to do at a venue, and so as far as I can see there is no easy way to report inappropriate content.
To be honest, I’ve been scratching my head why some otherwise perfectly nice, sane people are playing Foursquare. OK, you get to collect badges (seriously, this really does it for some) and if you’re Mayor one day, you may even get a free ticket from your local cinema. You can also find out which is the best salad to have and may well use it as a rendezvous aid. But I’m inclined to think that Ivor Tossell hits the nail on the head in his post for the Globe and Mail: it’s all about ego.
“Since FourSquare lets you choose when to locate yourself, you can be sure that users will put themselves on the map with an eye toward reinforcing their self-image. Would you rather your contacts perceive you as a club-goer or a homebody? Would you like to come off as a compulsive library-goer or food shopper? McDonald’s or Gary’s Falafel Palace? Sears or Mark’s Work Wearhouse?”
Hmmm. D’you know what? My friends – my real life, offline friends – know where and when I eat and shop. The rest? Well, to be honest, except the burglars, I think they just don’t care …
Update 08/03/10 A colleague pointed out this post on Techcrunch - it seems that (whilst I was still determinedly not playing it), Foursquare have added badges like ‘Douchbag’ (you are a frequenter of untrendy locations) and ‘Crunked’ (you’ve been to 4 or more bars in one night, so you’re probably drunk) to their virtual offerings. And, unsurprisingly, causing offence to some, especially those who have auto-tweets of their status set up.