Foursquare announced on their blog that the Superbowl had more checkins than any other venue since the service was launched. Throughout the 4 hours of the game, more than 200,000 people from 125 countries and all 50 states checked into the event.
200k checkins is a huge number, and sounds impressive. Is it as significant as it sounds? I’m not certain that it is. In the context of Foursquare, if the service existed in a bubble it would be a big milestone. During the game Twitter was generating 4,064 Tweets…per second! Still, there is much more going on here than raw numbers. I have a very specific memory of checking into the Driskill Hotel in Austin, during SxSw 2010. A few minutes later my Blackberry began flashing to let me know that along with 250 of my closest friends, I had unlocked the Super Swarm badge. At the time, I was digging it. The fact that 250 people were all in the same space, and were all using Foursquare to share their whereabouts was pretty cool, and a big novelty. The key lies with “being in the same place”, which is the main driving force behind Foursquare as a service. Applying that logic to the Superbowl, I should have been 10 times as impressed, when I saw I was in the good company of 200k other Foursquare users.
I wasn’t impressed. I was actually letdown. The Superbowl was the first test of a new Foursquare feature, the Promoted Venue. As a “Promoted Venue”, Superbowl Sunday appeared at the top of the checkin list when you opened the app. On the surface, this concept isn’t any different than promoted tweets on Twitter. You place a tweet, or in this case a venue to checkin to, in a high visibility spot as a form of advertising, and let twitchy click fingers do the rest. I was disappointed because as a “Promoted Venue” the Superbowl wasn’t tied to any geographic location.
Any person, regardless of where they were in the world, could check into the Superbowl. Foursquare, the location based social network, just removed the significance of your location. The main feature that differentiates Foursquare from most other social networking services is that Foursquare cares about where you are. In fact, every feature that makes Foursquare useful, fun and worth being a part of is directly tied to your physical location at that exact point in time. When they decided to relegate your location to a footnote, they made the network instantly obsolete. If you take away the importance of your physical location, Foursquare becomes a second rate MySpace, with silly badges.
I’ve enjoyed Foursquare since it rolled out. Why?
*I like being able to keep a record of the physical places I visit. It helps me remember restaurants, stores, parks and other places I’d like to visit again. I often think of it as a personal location diary.
*It helps me find what I need. If I’m in a neighborhood I’ve never visited, or don’t know too well and I’m hungry, I will pop open Foursquare. Being able to see a list of restaurants, stores, riding spots or anything else I need, based on my current location on the planet comes in handy a lot. The descriptions and tips, especially from users I know personally are usually very helpful.
*It’s an easy way to see what your friends are up to. Assuming you trust your friends opinions on bars,bookshops or anything else, it’s a fantastic way to get turned onto new places by seeing where they visit. Surprisingly, I’ve checked in somewhere and found that a friend is there, or close by, sparking an impromptu meet up. This happens a lot more than I ever thought it would (Right, @JoeMull ?).
All of the reasons that make Foursquare worthwhile to me, are 100% specifically tied to the fact that it’s a network based around location data.
“It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at” should be the Foursquare tag line.
When Foursquare decided to take away the location specific requirement for checking into the Superbowl, it did a disservice to its users. It made the app useless for the Superbowl. I saw this happen live. Every year my Mom throws a big Superbowl hoedown. I have a friend, who lives a few blocks away from her, that also decided to throw a Superbowl party this year. There is a lot of cross pollination between these two groups, and many of the people at both parties know each other. Instead of everyone checking into the party they were at, separately, by location, everyone checked into the “Promoted Venue” Superbowl event. Instead of friends checking in and realizing they were at parties a few blocks away, and having the opportunity to meet up, they were checked in with 200k strangers in a bizarro Neverland, non-existent geographic space. To me, this takes away the real useful utility of Foursquare and makes it just a game. It might be amusing to check into a “no-place” place like Phantom Zone, to say “What’s Up!” to General Zod, but that novelty will get old in a flash. I love games. I play them, talk about them and even create them. As a stand alone game, Foursquare just doesn’t cut it.
If Foursquare begins moving away from what it does best, providing a great way to geographically locate yourself in the physical and virtual world, it will become irrelevant very quickly.