When it first hit the scene in 2009, Foursquare was the next big thing in social media.
Instead of telling people you did something or went somewhere, now you could say where you were at that very moment, and if your friends were close by, they could meet you there. If you went to a place often enough, you could be its Mayor, or you could earn other badges or perks.
It was Location: The Game, and it was meant to be fun for users and beneficial for businesses too, because the more people used Foursquare and shared their location, the more they’d promote businesses, and that word of mouth would drive more customers.
But location-based gaming apps in general never really and truly caught on like they were supposed to. There was a major competitor — Gowalla — but it was purchased by Facebook in December 2011 and promptly killed. Facebook itself tried to get into the game with Places, but then had second thoughts and folded the ability to check-in and tag yourself at a place into the rest of the site. And SCVNGR barely even made it out of the gate (it has since moved into mobile payments with its LevelUp service).
There have even been other kinds of check-in apps — like GetGlue, which lets you check in to TV shows, movies, and music — but they haven’t had much traction either.
That’s basically left Foursquare as the only location-based check-in game in town. And yet, despite the perceived limited appeal of such apps, and lots of people who don’t feel safe revealing their whereabouts, three years later Foursquare still claims more than 20 million users, who have checked in more than 2 billion times (and counting).
That’s not too shabby.
So who are these people who still use Foursquare and check in all over the place? Well, I’m one of them — and have been for more than two years, as the app recently reminded me.
Friends often make fun of me for checking in so often, and ask me why I do. So I thought I’d answer them with this blog post, and share those reasons with you too.
Here are the 5 reasons I’m still using Foursquare:
1. It’s still fun.
This is the most important reason. The game mechanics of Foursquare make it enjoyable to go places and rack up points, badges, and Mayorships, no matter how worthless they all are. I have so far accumulated 56 badges, and I’m currently the Mayor of 10 different places — including my local supermarket, two clothing stores, and the takeout place I go to most Friday nights. Somehow, I’m even the Mayor of a bakery in New York.
There’s no benefit to being the Mayor at any of those places, but oh well. It always makes me smile when I become the Mayor somewhere, and I feel (in a very small way) deflated when I’m ousted.
Also fun is the idea of “marking your territory,” as my friend Loren described it recently. Checking in everywhere is like a way of saying “I was here,” especially if you travel a lot. And the more you check in, the more likely it is that you’ll discover random places that others have created that you can visit and check in to.
In addition, it’s a minor thrill to create your own place (as I have for my apartment and home office), or to know that you can go to, say, the airport and check in there, at the specific terminal, the TSA checkpoint, the gate, your seat, or multiple other places. Even, sometimes, “in the air.”
Checking in often will earn you more points, which is good if you’re like me and you “compete” with friends about who has the most. The points change daily (they’re for the last seven days), so I can be on top one day and drop a few levels the next. There are a couple folks in particular, and we often give each other a hard time about the standings.
It’s all just silly, meaningless fun.
2. Sometimes there are perks.
While checking in can be fun, simply being Mayor or getting a couple points is not enough of a perk to make using Foursquare totally worth it. One of my biggest gripes about Foursquare is that not enough businesses take advantage of the opportunity to reward their loyal customers.
But some businesses do, and they make checking in more worthwhile. At the Village Tavern, I’ve received a free appetizer when I’ve checked in. Old Navy recently told me I’d get $10 off a purchase of $50 or more (they’ve also offered free music downloads). Ben & Jerry’s has offered three scoops for $3, free waffle cones with the purchase of two scoops, and other perks.
And many smaller businesses are getting in on the act too. Thanks to a partnership with American Express, you can get deals such as a $5 credit when you spend $10 or more. (You’ve gotta have an AmEx card, though.) And thanks to integrations with Groupon, LivingSocial, and others, I’ve received discounts on meals at multiple restaurants.
For the record, it’s not just free stuff or money back that businesses have offered. In celebration of its 100th birthday, L.L.Bean made a donation to the National Park Foundation every time someone checked in at one of their stores.
(These discounts and special offers, by the way, are the reason why my mother started using Foursquare recently — though it’s worth noting that she only checks in at places that offer an incentive for doing so.)
3. I like to share.
For some odd reason, I like telling people where I am. That said, I tend to go to the same places over and over; anyone who is connected with me on Foursquare can see that. Because I use my own internal filter, I know no one needs or wants to see me check in to Finagle a Bagel every Saturday, Star Market multiple times a week, or worse, my “office” every day. That’s boring, and after all, oversharing your check-ins on Facebook is a definite no-no. So I keep all those check-ins contained to just the app.
(For the record, I don’t connect with everybody on Foursquare. Only people I legitimately know, or people I don’t mind sharing my location with.)
But when I go somewhere notable, or a place I’m particularly loyal to, I like broadcasting that beyond the app, on Facebook and/or Twitter. And I’ll broadcast what I’m eating there or buying or doing or seeing too. If I become Mayor, that’s automatically shared. And if I get a perk, that’s something I’ll share too.
4. The app has gotten better.
Over the years, Foursquare has improved its app, loosening up the language, brightening up the colors, making photo sharing easier and more prominent, encouraging commenting and the sharing of tips, and helping users discover places nearby that they may be interested in.
It’s just a better app now than it was, and even though there’s more to do, it’s still simple to use.
5. Force of habit.
Quite simply, I’m a creature of habit. After two years of using Foursquare, my checking in has become almost Pavlovian. I’m just used to being somewhere and getting out my phone to check in there, on Foursquare. (Which is why it’s been hard for me to start using other check-in apps.)
I wish it was more worthwhile to do so, but for now at least, I’m still enjoying the app, so I think I’ll continue to use it.
Of course …
There’s a whole other side to this discussion, and that’s why businesses should be using Foursquare. But that’s a blog post for another day.
Have you ever used Foursquare, or any other location-based check-in app? Why do you still use it, or why did you stop? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.