Foursquare is the latest Big Thing in the social space, following in the footsteps of Friendster (RIP), Myspace (nearly RIP), Facebook (world’s third largest nation) and Twitter. If you’re not familiar with it, Foursquare is a mobile application that uses GPS to know where you are and allows you to “check in” at places you visit. Friends can learn from the application where you are and on the spur of the moment decide to pay you a visit. (Is it obvious that the application started with young people in New York?)
Like all these emergent social apps, people developed uses for Foursquare’s features; for example, as a log of where your travels take you over the course of a day/week/month. And the founders built in a competitive element. If you visit a place more than anyone else, you become Mayor! (Voila–a hook for sponsors. Become mayor of Starbucks = a free coffee. Note that great bartenders have been doing this for ages without the aid of GPS or the World Wide Web.)
I’ve been using Foursquare for the past couple of months, and have learned a lot about myself. One friend remarked, “I know you travel a lot, but you must really travel A LOT to become mayor of the airport!”
And the application is interesting. I wouldn’t say that it’s compelling (yet), and it’s utterly mysterious to many (you check in? what does that mean? why would I do that?). But the combination of mobility, location awareness and social apps will be the next big thing, I’d wager.
With all that, it’s time to get into my real dilemma: who should be my friends on this service?
With Facebook, it’s fairly straightforward. For me, that’s friends and family. If I don’t know you, or don’t like you, you are not my friend on Facebook (and I’m sure the reverse is true).
On LinkedIn, if we worked together, or met in a business context, or were introduced by an associate, you’re in. I will link to you. (People who advertise “I accept all invitations,” however, are banned from my network.)
On Twitter, it’s easy. If you have something interesting to say, I’ll follow you. If you follow me and aren’t a creepozoid or shilling something, I’ll follow you too.
On Foursquare, the friend decision is more difficult. At first glance, given the location aspect, I would want it to be more exclusive than Facebook (if I want to advertise my location to the general public, I can easily check the Twitter box during a Foursquare check-in). Yet the service’s users (despite the hype) are still pretty thinly spread, especially where I live. As a result, I’m inclined to friend local folks whom I don’t know very well, but who are also trying to figure out this Foursquare thing; fellow travelers, as it were.
But a bigger dilemma now is the unsolicited friend request. I’ve seen this message several times this week: “‘So and So’ wants to be your friend on Foursquare. Check out his profile:…”
Who is “So and So”? I don’t know, so I check out his profile. And, unfortunately, there’s not too much there either. A screen name, a list of check-ins, and that’s about it. No biography. No information, a la Facebook or LinkedIn, of how you might be connected to this person. Which lack of information, I suppose, makes the decision easier: No.
I don’t really know whom Foursquare expects you to be friends with. Certainly, their friend requests make it difficult to decide to have an expansive network. Or, alternately, they make it easy to have a small network. And perhaps that’s a good thing.
[I'd love to hear others' thoughts of Foursquare friends. Fire away in the comments. Thanks!]