Monday, July 19, 2010

Squaresville

I’m not old, but not that not-old either. I still retain a passing interest in any new manifestations of social media, but sometimes I have to wait for an article in the Daily Telegraph to explain them to me, which is why I’m now an expert on this Foursquare thingumajig that you young persons are getting so excited about, daddio.

And although I think I get it, I’m not really tempted to get into it. When I joined Twitter and Facebook, when I started blogging even, there was a certain leap-in-the-dark element to the whole thing. Quite clearly, a bare-bones description of the products couldn’t communicate why people found them so addictive, so useful, so much fun. You had to get involved to understand them. Fundamentally, they offered things I already liked doing (sharing thoughts and ideas and dreams and fears, getting to know those of others) but on a rather larger scale than was previously possible, with the opportunity to get new and unexpected voices involved in the conversation.

Foursquare, however, doesn’t appear to revolve around people’s thoughts, or even their words. Like one of those dire TV shows about buying houses, it’s all about location. When you tweet, you tell us where your head is at; when you check in on Foursquare, you tell us where the rest of you is, which frankly isn’t as interesting to me, unless I’ve arranged to meet you for lunch.

So to add a little pizazz to the banausic details of users’ daily peregrinations, Foursquare adds a gaming element to the whole thing. The more you check in, the more badges of honour you attain. If you’ve checked in at a specific location more than any other user, you become “Mayor” of it. There are elements of loyalty cards and frequent flyer programmes to all this, and it’s not unexpected that commercial partners, such as Starbucks, have got in on the act, offering privileges to those whose loyalty can be measured by GPS.

And none of this really appeals. I don’t care that you're in the Starbucks on Goodge Street; I might have a passing interest in the combination of happenstance, fatigue, thirst, hangover, boredom and inertia that brought you there; I’m far more likely to pay attention to what thoughts are popping between your synapses as you wait for your Deep-Fat Burberry Pendolino; all of which can be communicated to me by other means. Maybe I’m just being like the dinosaurs who claim to have no use for this newfangled internetty nonsense, because I’ve got real friends, thank you very much, and when I want to talk to them I can talk to them properly, face to face, and sometimes there are biscuits, nice ones too. But I think I’ve had enough experience of other social packages to understand the various components of Foursquare. What it seems to offer is a combination of the most annoying bits of 21st-century information technology. There’s the people who have no qualms about their every move being tracked and recorded, because “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide”; the persistent intrusion of advertising; the inane games, Farmville and their ilk, that pollute Facebook; the people who don’t understand that Twitter is not a monologue; and above all, the dreary monotone from three seats back, announcing: “I’m on the train.”

Unless someone can convince me otherwise...

PS: And the Telegraph can’t stop with the Foursquare lovin’. Hey, you guys, get a room.

13 comments:

Del said...

Agreed. The two things that i hear loudest from it are:

"I'm out being more sociable and fun than you, look, look!"

and

"I'm going to continually fill your Twitter/Facebook feed with what are essentially adverts, in order for me to get free stuff."

Neither of these things ingratiate me to the person doing it. It's like a pyramid scheme based on irritation. And I don't appreciate being at the bottom.

Rog said...

Only one person cares. Wayne.

Richard said...

Nothing would piss me off more than someone I was out with getting his or her phone out to tell a load of people they'd never met where they were. I sense the real possibility of an iPhone/beer juxtaposition.

blackwatertown said...

Thank you.
For saving me from even considering bothering with Foursquare.
Seriously - why would anyone be arsed with it?
Going back to the beginning though - "I’m not old, but not that not-old either." You've finally nailed the labelling of that tricky hard-to-describe period of life.

Charles Frith said...

Foursquare is so last year babies. Get a grip. Geo awareness is a massive contextual piece of data. There's a huge difference to taking a dump at the Savoy and the M25. Naturally it opens up a lot more contextual variables for new improved life offers but where it gets smart is for brand utility which is more about being useful than entertaining. Most of all I like how Tim smoothly maintains the illusion that this post was typed on a Remington while wearing mothballed tweeds when he's absolutely no slouch on early innovator geek creds.

So while you're all fanning yourself cool over this you do know that there's a growing body of people who microblog their credit purchases in the States. It's the next big thing baby.

Chris said...

Well, at least it might get people out and about. For the record, I am on the right hand seat of my battered old sofa (anyone care to sponsor a replacement?)

Dan Gennoe said...

I've been using it for a couple of weeks now and it's far more useful than I thought, not least because not only do you check in at places, you leave tips. On Saturday I was standing outside a restaurant reading the menu. I opened 4Sq, thanks to the geotagging it knew where I was and I immediately had a list of tips by previous diners telling me about their experience in the restaurant, ranging from, 'try the ribs' to 'avoid the noddle dishes' to just 'avoid'. The bad outweighed the good, so we went elsewhere.

I've also left tips - I got a really good cup of coffee from a small independent coffee shop next to Brighton Station yesterday, so I left a tip that the coffee was good and they have a display of the departure boards incase you're waiting for a train. Hopefully this will help others who maybe aren't familiar with the area and are looking for a decent cup of coffee while maybe convincing others to try this small independent rather than the starbucks across the road.

The other aspect is that it can help generate ideas for days out. I saw on Fsq the other day that someone I know had been to the gin bar at the serpentine bar and kitchen. I didn't know there was a gin bar there. I went on Sunday, it was great, so I checked in and left a tip.

Viewing it as another twitter or facebook seems to me to be missing the point. It's more of a living, constantly updating timeout guide to wherever you are right now. Better still, it's a timeout guide written and compiled by your friends, people with the same interests, tastes, lifestyle, point of view as you.

I'm a big fan of twitter, less so of facebook - which really is just people telling you 'Look, this is what I did today, and here's a picture of me doing it, with all my friends, and I didn't invite you. Fsq is a different type of thing. I didn't see the telegraph piece so I don't know what it said, but by the sound of it they highlighted all the things I haven't used it for (ohh, I unlocked a badge) and neglected all the things which have really impressed me with it.

Dan Gennoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Footman said...

Maybe, you're right, Del; it's my disinclination to going out and/or having a good time that's blinding me to the wonders of Foursquare. That and the fact that my phone's crap.

King, Rog?

I can think of a few people who'd get out their phones to tell you how good the place was, Richard, even if you were in the same place, three feet away, carrying two points and with a packet of cheese 'n' onion in your teeth.

I know BWT. It's the stage when you don't need a mobility scooter, but start to take an interest in how much they cost.

Charles, for someone who works in advertising, you're bloody good at un-selling things.

I know the feeling, Chris. Today I have had a short and deliciously unproductive encounter with a man from the Department of Immigration. Should I give marks according to how shiny his shoes were?

Damn you, Gennoe. You actually make it sound quite interesting now. Although it will almost certainly put the last remaining restaurant critics out of business.

Dan Gennoe said...

I know... now everyone really is a critic.

Del said...

Dan's balanced review does at least inform me of what the point of the app is (something the Telegraph piece doesn't). So I take back some of my criticism.

I'd almost be tempted to install it, if it weren't for the fact that some subhuman scum stole my uninsured iPhone a few months back.

Charles Frith said...

I'm hanging to the left just now. I wanted to share that.

Tim Footman said...

I’ve noticed that everyone who‘s commented on this is male. Is Foursquare an unusually blokeoid bit of software? Is it the name. Come on ladies, please offer us your fragrant, voluptuous opinions.