Foursquare: friendly competition, public stalking, and venue reviews all in the palm of your hand…
If you aren’t familiar with it, Foursquare is a social network where users accumulate points by “checking in” to places they travel to in their own lives. When someone “checks in,” they receive a certain amount of points, depending on the type of venue, the number of times they’ve checked in to the venue, if there are any of their friends there at the time, and other categories. Foursquare totals your weekly point values and displays them on a leader board with your friends, so you can see how much better or (worse!) you are doing compared to them. If you continue visiting a place and checking in, you can become “the mayor” of a venue, which gives you more points per check in. For example, I’m the mayor of the AKL hall (where I live), Davis Music Building (where I spend most of my day), the Caf, and a few other buildings on campus, not to mention my church, my home in Birmingham, and a few restaurants. However, if someone else were to start checking into one of those venues more frequently than me, they could claim Mayorship and I would lose points on my check ins for that venue.
Another fun aspect of Foursquare is the badge system (which we are all familiar with since we are using them on this blog!). For unlocking certain achievements, users can unlock badges to share with their friends. These achievements can be rewards from checking in a certain amount of times, checking into a specific type of venue, checking in at certain times of the day, and other criteria. The Ten Hundred Badge, (one that I proudly own!) is awarded for checking in at least 1,000 times, and the Hot Tamale Badge, (another one in my collection) is awarded for checking into a certain number of Mexican restaurants. This type of badge is very common, and has a special feature where it levels up as you check into more and more of the same types of venue, (my Hot Tamale Badge is level 3, that’s 10 different Mexican restaurants!). These badges carry no point values, but are simply a fun “side-mission” to the game.
The Hot Tamale Badge
On Foursquare venues, users can also leave “tips” for other users. These can be humors, informative, even critical bits of information that can help other users make decisions about which venues to visit. You can even post pictures to a venue to show people the fun (or not so fun) things about a particular venue. For example, if I’ve had a terrible experience waiting 30 minutes for my food at the McDonald’s on Main Street, I can post a tip and let other users know how slow the drive-thru is, even if there’s only one person in front of me…. On the other hand, if I just ordered a new dish at a local restaurant, I can leave a tip telling other people to try it, and even post a picture of my plate. Also, if there’s a restaurant I want to try, I might look it up on Foursquare to see if anyone has left any helpful tips before I go.
But regardless of how much fun I’m having claiming mayorships, earning badges, and posting tips, the fact still remains that I am constantly posting my exact location on the internet, and anyone I am friends with can see where I am at anytime if I’m checked into a venue. This seems to violate basic internet safety rules, I know, so why do I (and many other users) still do it? I think that a lot of it has to do with the security we have in our friends. I am comfortable posting my location on the internet, because I know that only my friends can see it, and I trust them enough not to come and stalk my every move then attack me when I least expect it. If someone does, however, start to get a little creepy, I can always de-friend them so they can’t see my locations anymore. Also, I think the competitive aspect of the game overpowers (or at least disguises) the potential risk of posting your location. In my quest to the top of the leader board, I’m going to check in wherever I go to get the most points, no matter who sees me.
Another issue that can cause concern is checking in while driving. Some people have created venues for major highways, like I-65 North and South, so people can accumulate points while driving. Just like texting and driving, this is incredibly dangerous, yet I myself have been guilty of doing it. Why? To get more points of course! But these points don’t really matter at all. I get no physical reward for being in first place, or earning a new badge, in fact, I could very well receive physical punishment in the form of my head going through my windshield…. But it’s fun….?
So my question for everyone: is Foursquare safe? Are the social benefits worth exposing yourself to the public and potentially endangering your life? I play, and have lots of fun, but I would like to hear your opinions too!