The Foursquare application was founded by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai in 2008.  Crowley had experience in the telecommunications field co-founding the mobile service “Dodgeball” for his NYU graduate thesis project and eventually working with Google to turn Dodgeball into a service called “Google Latitude.”  Selvadurai was a senior software architect at Sony Music Entertainment.  This combination of application experience and software genius enabled them to create the first version of Foursquare in 2008.  It was not until late 2009 that the co-founders launched their final Foursquare application at South by Southwest: an annual music, film, and interactive conference in Austin, Texas.  Since then, Foursquare has gained popularity winning awards such as the 2011 Best Location Based Service and is now used by over 40 million people worldwide (Foursquare, 2013).

Foursquare is an updated location-based system that utilizes a “check in” platform. The app enables users to check-in at different businesses and leave comments, post pictures, or give recommendations for other users to see.  Businesses available for check-in range from restaurants and bars to movie theaters, museums, and retail stores.  When a Foursquare user checks in, it appears on a map within the Foursquare application.  Users in the area can view the comments, which increases interest in that specific location.  Businesses who use Foursquare as a promotional resource update their business listing description, hours of operation, contact information, and any other details that may be beneficial for potential customers

Once Foursquare is downloaded onto a mobile device, users create profiles by going through a series of steps that provide Foursquare with public information, a current location, and lists of friends.  When the profile is complete, users are shown all surrounding businesses, offered discounts for checking in, and receive recommendations based on other check ins from friends and other local Foursquare users.  On their profiles, users can see their location through the OpenStreetMap platform, which is similar to Google Maps.  It provides convenient real time and distance information about surrounding businesses (Foursquare, 2013). In a nutshell, foursquare allows users to view and rate local businesses, making the app a useful tool when exploring new areas or finding new hidden gems within one’s hometown.

In order to give its users an incentive to check in at locations, Foursquare has established a series of rewards and badges that rank users in a hierarchy that is based on consistent usage of the application.  It resembles a game-type structure where users earn points and “level up” through the stages of the game.  This entertaining method of promotion keeps users excited about checking in at spots to earn “milestone” rewards such as becoming the mayor, earning badges, earning points, or becoming a “superuser”.    Becoming the mayor of a location means that a user has consistently checked-in at a certain location more times than any other user in the past two months.  Badges are earned by collecting points and points are awarded for checking in at a new location, checking in at the same location multiple times, or expanding check-ins to new areas of interest.  The “superuser” award is unique to Foursquare in that winners are hand-selected by Foursquare staff because of some outstanding insight or feedback the user has communicated (Foursquare, 2013).

foursquare-badges-for-sxsw

^ South x Southwest Badges

Foursquare maintains its social network by allowing users to share information and web content that they would not otherwise have access to.  On a personal level, the application allows members of a local community to communicate insider information, learn new things, share interests, and even engage in friendly competition.  On a professional level, Foursquare allows businesses to broaden their networks, stimulate conversations about the products and services they offer, and gain customer feedback.

The benefits of using Foursquare are numerous. For people looking to meet others and build relationships in a new city or others who are simply seeking a unique night out with their friends or dating partners, Foursquare can help meet a specific set of needs. Under the idea of Katz’s Uses and Gratifications theory, the uses that people find most gratifying from using the app are enjoyment and obtaining information (Griffin, 2011). For individuals who are already in relationships, the app allows to keep the relationship exciting. Instead of going to the same restaurants or bars every week, they can look to see where places are offering deals, hosting trivia night, or serving fun and unusual drinks. For others who may be looking to meet friends in a new place, they can see which places appear to be hotspots based on the number of check-ins or the ages of the people leaving comments.

Additionally, Foursquare is a great example of Linus’s law because the more people who leave tips, the more helpful the app has the potential to be. Tips can range from recommendations about the best thing on the menu or secret drinks that only certain bartenders can make. Leaving tips can be beneficial for interpersonal relationships because if there is a person on Foursquare who leaves tips that you find particularly helpful or insightful, you can click on that tipper’s profile and history to see other tips they have left or lists they have created. This can foster interpersonal communication because a user may frequent the places that someone with great tips frequents and the two users may become acquaintances, or even friends. Furthermore, finding users on Foursquare with similar interests can act as a weak tie to open up the users eyes to a new world of attractions that they may have otherwise never known about.

While these weak ties are helpful and the app has many benefits, there is room for improvement. As current foursquare users, we feel that the app would be more successful if it harbored less competition among individual users, allowed users to communicate more personally, and if it had a clearer interface.

Foursquare provides no outlet for individuals on the site to plan to meet up at one of their favorite places. If anything, it fosters more competition between users than friendship. The competition stems from the feature of the app where users try to check in to places as frequently as possible to be awarded points and badges with the end goal of becoming “mayor.”  This can be seen as evidence of social determinism. Our society has an increased fascination with competition and materialistic motivation. The apps features were designed to channel this competitive drive and keep users interested and excited about using their Foursquare account because the more they use it, the better chance they have of “winning.” However, the downside is that the competition inhibits development of interpersonal relationships. People on the site will still help each other out with tips, but they will never be motivated to develop any more of a relationship with other users.

To combat this, we think the app could be improved by allowing for the formation of teams. A group of friends or even a random group of users could be assigned to work together to get as many check-ins as possible. That way, the app could keep its general theme of competition and excitement, but allow for better development of interpersonal relationships. Using teamwork and making the app more like a game of teams competing would greatly increase the popularity of the app. Also, it would set Foursquare apart because currently there is no other forms of social networking that possess a similar concept.

To further promote interpersonal communication, the app could also allow users to comment on each other’s tips and recommendations. Currently, users can leave tips or recommendations about a business, but no one can comment under the comment in defense or agreement with the tip. Allowing comments under tips would provide a more accurate picture of the business while also enabling users to communicate with one another.

The last recommendation for this app is to have a clearer interface. Upon researching this application, none of us had ever been users of the app. Our immediate reaction to the app was utter confusion and frustration because of the lack of clarity. Users may get on the Foursquare website and read pages under the “About” section to figure out how to begin using the app, which is helpful, but also time consuming. It would be much more helpful to have tutorials that show you around the app after one has downloaded it. That way, before ever getting started, users are familiar with the apps features and less inclined to become frustrated with the app and quit before ever getting to utilize its benefits.

While Foursquare is an app that has gained wide popularity and many awards, we feel that these simple recommendations would turn it into something everyone would want and love to use and would harbor more interpersonal communication.

References

Foursquare. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.Foursquare.com

Openstreetmap. (2013, September 24). Retrieved from http://wiki.osmfoundation.org/wiki/Main_Page

Griffin, E. (2011). Uses and gratifications theory. (8th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw Hill. Retrieved from http://www.afirstlook.com/edition_8/theory_resources/uses_and_gratifications

Google latitude. (2013). Retrieved from https://support.google.com/gmm/answer/3001634?p=maps_lat_faq

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