Home > Personal, Social Media > It’s Doomed to Fail But I Like FourSquare Anyway

It’s Doomed to Fail But I Like FourSquare Anyway

Icon - Super MayorIn the very early 1990s America, my friend Eric and I revelled in the then-advanced technology of Laser Disc.  I’ve included a link to its Wikipedia entry as I’m guessing a few people will have no idea what Laser Discs are, having skipped that generation of technology entirely.

Eric and I stared, rapt, at the glorious picture delivered in delectable elegance on a magical disc.  It ditched all the horribleness of VHS – the dodgy picture, the interminable rewinding and the fragile tape – and bestowed crystal clear images, instant chapter skipping and full THX-like sound.

It was as if we had been wandering the desert of audio/ video hell and suddenly emerged into an Elysian paradise.

Like all who fall in love, we overlooked LD’s (obvious & glaring) faults:  the players were temperamental and noisy; even a normal-length film involved at least one disc change;  discs, once scratched, were reduced to reflective frisbees; and, most egregiously, the stars must have surely been in our eyes as we plunked down $30-50 for each title.

As it turned out, Eric and I couldn’t support the whole industry; consumer indifference to Laser Disc made the market ripe for DVD when it finally hit in the mid-1990s, and for good reason: DVD is a far superior offering for mass-market success.

It’s this experience with Laser Discs, however, which I’ve been reflecting on as I use and explore the web service FourSquare, a location-based social network, web site and, curiously, a game.

I Heart FourSquare

I’m a big fan; I use it daily, am the mayor of several local hangouts and generally talk about it to anyone who will listen.  You should use it.

FourSquareBut I’ve come to believe it’s an analog Laser Disc in a world on the precipice of going entirely digital.

I derive great pleasure from using FourSquare:

  • It’s fun and useful, very handy for communicating a specific message to a wide group of people
  • I feel connected to other people around me, both in my immediate vicinity – as in the case at my gym – or the wider city
  • It’s an easy way of getting tips and info about places, fast
  • Special offers from businesses have started to appear when I’m nearby, which clearly heralds the future potential of the service for retail brands
  • Text messages cost money; FourSquare offers to fire off texts I would be sending anyway for free

The ‘game’ part of it is almost irrelevant; I don’t really care about collecting points or winning.  Some people may like that aspect of it, not me. The location-based information is the big winner for me.

When I’m out, I only care about those places I’m at or are around me.  FourSquare instantly narrows the information available to me to specifically what I need and want.  I immediately have tips and suggestions for places I wouldn’t have considered but now, with this meta data, become interesting.

Here’s what I don’t like:

  • Stand-alone service/ app. Of course it’s a stand-alone service, but it makes for ‘just another app’ and – like it or not – means it’s yet *another* social network I belong to.  Yes, I know it’s connected to Twitter – great – but the connection is only one way.  So, I still have to go into FourSquare even before it updates my tweet stream.
  • Missing locations. When I first started using FourSquare, I was immediately impressed by the sheer volume of places magically popping up.  But after using it in anger for a few weeks, I very quickly realised there a big gaps in its database.  I’ve added a bunch of new locations, which is fine as I’m quite happy to do so (I’m a geek), but this is not something I think many people will do.  I believe this because you only find out a place is missing when you’re physically there, and entering strings of address and location details for an unfamiliar pub you’re visiting once is hardly entertaining kerb-side behaviour.
  • Manual. Every action is manual, there’s no options for automating anything.  I’m not suggesting it auto-broadcast every location you pass by as you travel from A to B, but there’s scope for a lot more intelligence.  Today, it can be a highly tedious experience updating your afternoon’s adventures.

I accept that the service is still new and will add features, which I look forward to.  I know greater numbers of users will help to fill in the location gaps.  But the inherent manual and stand-alone nature of it is the long-term killer.

I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning the nefarious potential for would-be stalkers and thieves; it’s a given that any broadcast media – from e-mail to Twitter to HeyWay – inherently possess certain risks to the user,  a responsible sensibility is required.

The Future is Here

I genuinely believe we’ll be using this kind of service routinely in a few years time; but only when it gets absorbed into a more widely used service, such as Facebook, which will have the established human network to deliver truly seamless location-based tools.

FourSquare, like Laser Discs, is superior to what we’ve had, but its true importance is in laying the groundwork for future generations of users, helping people become comfortable with the idea of giving the world a running narrative of where you spend your time.

More importantly, for brands, FourSquare offers an elegant delivery mechanism for special messages/ deals for nearby customers.  It’s what the big boys will want to deliver, another reason to expect a larger service will seriously attempt to supplant FourSquare in the near future.

For now, I say party on with FourSquare, and feel free to add me as a friend.

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  1. 18 January, 2011 at 20:17

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