Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Foursquare Useless (for now)

Location-based services are very interesting, I find. And I see a big future for them. The fact that you can connect content to a location is intriguing. It's even more fascinating to realize that it's not just content linked to a location, but also the person sharing the content is linked to it.

I've been using Foursquare since the beginning, checking in regularly (now 1379 checkins). I changed my location sharing strategies several times: from sharing everything on Twitter to sharing nothing and everything in between. Looking at the numbers location-based services are growing, but they're still a niche. It's great to see businesses experimenting with these services. Starting now will give them an edge when things go mainstream.

But has it been useful to me? Has it made me more productive? Have I met more interesting people? Did I get interesting discounts? In short: No, it didn't. Let me explain.

  • It's great to get badges every now-and-then, to see where others are hanging out (although I hardly check the checkin feed, only when it pops up on Twitter). Getting a badge is fun and encouraging. But it's not enough to make a service useful to me. The same goes for the leaderboard.
  • Checking in to (unknown) places is fun as well. It feels like discovering something new. Checking in to the same place over-and-over is no fun. It would be better if that was automated.
  • The push notifications are kind of useful. It gives you some ambient awareness where your 'friends' are. Only once I met up with someone based on their Foursquare checkin. In another case my checkin led to a meeting later on during that day. ('Hey, you're in Amsterdam, shall we meet?') Wouldn't it be more useful to also be able to share where you plan to be during the day, making friend encounters more probable? Like TripIt or Forecast.
  • Not very many people use Foursquare. At least not in Holland and the places that I visit. (Some say there are 150.000 users in Holland. Others say 175.000 or just 20.000.) So, I found myself following people that I don't even know just to increase the likelihood I'd meet someone somewhere.
This doesn't imply Foursquare is useless in general. As I said, it has huge potential and some companies are successfully using  these services to promote their brand, services and products. We have all heard of the 'free coffee for mayors' and 'get a book for free after 10 checkins' offers. (I collected some examples here and here.) I just don't think it's useful now. This is clearly only the start. And I think that's the problem for these services as well. We've just started to understand what social media means for our lives and for business. Location-based services is a next wave to understand. It's just to early. At least in Holland it is.

So, what are your experiences with location-based services? Are they helpful? What sharing strategies do you apply? And is my perspective biased by the fact that I live in Holland? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, I'll keep using Foursquare, hoping for better times!
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