I read a great post a while ago from Jonathan Arehart on why he quit Foursquare and Gowalla. There’s privacy concerns, frustration with checkins, boredom with badges and more. Certainly, others are feeling the same. I haven’t used either since February, and I’m not into Facebook Places either.

Why Checkin? The Identity Issue

In talking to James Poulter and reading his exceptional work on The Recommendation Economy, we’ve come to understand that much of what we use Social Media for (and brands have thrived through) is expression of identity. James goes into details about it here, but I think it does quickly translate into location based games like Foursquare and Gowalla:

  • By checking into a location I am expressing my identity. I am saying “I’m the type of person who goes here.” or “This is what I do.”
  • By becoming a mayor (and retaining it) I am saying “This is very important to me, a key part of my identity.”

And this is fine. But it’s a very slow way of expressing my identity and a very clumsy way compared to a quick tweet, like, update, etc. Speed is of the essence today, hence the popularity of the like button.

So then what would be the other reason to checkin? – as it certainly is useless for social networking itself…

Checkin for Financial Benefit

So Foursquare now have promotions where, based on your location, a nearby service provider can tell you about their 10% off for Foursquare users or 25% off for Mayors, or whatever promotion they have.

This for me is now the only reason why I would use Foursquare, given that it’s a slow way to express my identity. And the issue there is that if it’s Mayors that only get discount, I’d not interested unless I’m already a regular.

If Gowalla doesn’t do this, it’s dead (well, it almost is anyway, despite being better designed), and if Facebook places doesn’t, I can’t see it being a popular feature. Fatigue sets in quickly.

This for me is a precise reason why we must get to the bottom line with what we do and MATTER.

Your Leading Thoughts

  • What future do you see for Foursquare, etc?
  • Are you using them? If not, were you and then fatigue set in?
  • How can businesses other than restaurants and retailers get benefit out of these services?

Archived Comments

  • Anonymous

    After an initial playing phase, I typically use use Foursquare as a vehicle to tell significant people what I am doing when it is relevant. For example, it might be useful for people to know I am at the #LMC or somewhere else convenient to say hello. If it increases the likelihood of ‘chance encounters’ it is good. Particularly useful in somewhere like London where you might be a short distance away from someone having a coffee and would otherwise not know. However, it has yet to prove its use in that respect.

  • http://twitter.com/AlmostThem Matt Holmes

    Good article. I think for Gowalla there has to be a value exchange where people get something other than a (nicely designed) pin for checking in and giving Gowalla (and the venue) details of their whereabouts and visiting habits. I like that Gowalla has a different perspective, but for me Foursquare has got it spot on with it’s rewards and game mechanics. Once they get their recommendation engine finished that will really cement their position as top check-in service.

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson


    I haven’t used Foursquare. I do have some security concerns about it (and similar services). The community I serve is small and close knit so it’s easy to track each others location – we just communicate. ;)


  • http://twitter.com/fiftydigital Fifty Digital

    “Signal vs. noise” is the phrase that immediately comes to mind…

    The “I’m at X” messages that bombard my Twitter feed tell me nothing about that establishment. Is it any good? Who knows! Is it even relevant? Most of the time it isn’t. All it does is add to the noise – which is why I use the filters in TweetDeck to remove any check-in statuses.

    Then there’s the argument that “people can come and say hi if they know where I am”. I wonder if anyone’s researched how many users *actually* do that?? Perhaps for a social butterfly it might be different, but if I want to see someone I text/phone/email/DM them and arrange a time that’s mutually convenient. Pouncing on them in a cafe to find that they’re in the middle of a business meeting isn’t really my style! Seems to be one of those ideas that people have that sounds great ‘on paper’ but doesn’t really work in real life.

    The privacy issue is a big concern too, and seems connected in some ways to the recent Facebook privacy debate. Zuckerberg has made it quite clear that he thinks the age of privacy is over, and location services just seem to help in breaking down the barriers – barriers which I would personally prefer to keep in place ;-)

    At the end of the day it’s all about money isn’t it? Far from encouraging human interaction, it simply monetizes it. Well, I’m not fooled.

  • / Scott Gould

    Have you found it’s created any chance encounters yet?

  • http://twitter.com/shegeek Rhonda Rice

    Thanks for the post. I’ve seen this sentiment swirling around quite a bit lately. I agree that the real value in location-based services will come when brands and services grab hold of its marketing potential. Here’s an example, I could checkin to my hearts content in and around the many retailers at Mockingbird Station (Dallas). This may very well be part of my expression of identity and it may be of interest to my FS friends. I have personally used this for foodie recommendations since I’m living in unfamiliar territory outside the US these days. But when the retailer matches up with me through this LBS and offers some value, then we’ve got something. I received this yesterday “Any Foursquare users out there? Check in at the OFFICIAL Mockingbird Station venue: http://foursquare.com/venue/4506172. Foursquare specials + more are coming… HOLIDAYS 2010!” http://zh-cn.connect.facebook.com/posted.php?id=52660339426. Another example from retailer perspective. Let’s say that I know there is a low peak in my business hours and I’d like to drive that up a bit. Or maybe I want to fix in on a period during the holiday madness. Maybe I offer Foursquare checkin specials during that time. Just another possibility. But then as a consumer I know when and where. I might as a side beni know when my mates may also be around in the area.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Matt

    You’re very right – there needs to be a stronger value exchange. I like that a lot. At the moment I dont’ get much for the effort I put in.

    Gowalla now do this email that tells you what others are doing (as it’s more about discovery), but that is a fatal mistake in my books as only a few people like to discover new places. Most people are creatures of habit and want discount more!

    Thanks for contributing Matt, really appreciate it.


  • / Scott Gould

    LOL – “We just communicate” – totally. The network I have, I call them to find out where they are, or send out a tweet if I’m open to hanging out with people.

    Right on :-)


  • Claire

    I have started to use Foursquare, after months of having it on my phone and not bothering with it! I have never used Gowalla, and dont plan to use Facebook Places. Foursquare I think has a great model in the earning rewards/badges, but I think still has plenty of scope to grow its user base. This I think would be increased if it could work with brands to actually promote their partnership so people get to see real examples of how it works, and what they would get from the membership.

    I agree that the discounts should not be kept to Mayor status only, as this is miserly. As the use of these geo-location tools increases, I do think we will see more flash mob style use of destinations, so it will become more of a social tool. The tips facility is good so you get to see reviews and make a more informed decision. There is potential here in time for reviews posted on Foursquare to be valued highly and referred to like Tripadvisor, for example.

    Facebook places does need to start building in incentives as yes it will go stale. Friends of mine have already expressed “whats the point, Claire?” as they expect me to know the answer working in this sphere!

    I understand what you are saying about expression of identity, but it is very difficult to find any one platform that exists at the moment that allows anyone to do that. A combination of what suits you and your work/lifestyle (after trying and testing) is best. There will always be parts of ourselves that we like to keep private, and that is fine.

    I think with the likes of Facebook & Twitter, these platforms are meant to be mostly digital interaction, with some random face to face meetings e.g. tweetups, school reunions. Whereas Foursquare etc are actually encouraging us to step away from our laptops, use some shoe leather and actually go exploring and have face to face meetings frequently. At the moment these may be visits on your lonesome to coffee shops, but in time this should increase to more random meet ups, and even crowdsourcing by brands from their bank of loyal patrons. This is where I see brands, restaurants and retailers gaining further benefit, as they know this community have actually, tried, tested, tasted and experienced their offering.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Mate

    1. Noise – I agree very much. It is waaay over the top.

    2. I agree on the “people can say hi” point. It’s never brought anyone to meet up with me, hence I’m interested to see what Malcolm says below. The other issue is you might be in a cafe – BUT WHAT ON EARTH DO YOU LOOK LIKE? lol

    3. Privacy – not an issue for the younger generation, which is disturbing because Zuck is taking a whole generation in his hands and forming them.

    4. Monetization – I’m not sure how Gowalla does at all?


  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Rhonda

    For me, this would be the only reason why I use those services. They aren’t effective at finding friends or places, blah blah blah – people will use them to save money!

    Do you think Gowalla will crash if they don’t get a stronger value proposition?


  • http://twitter.com/calebdorey Mark Dorey

    Hi Scott, great post.

    I’ve been using Foursquare for a few months now and have struggled to see the attraction. In my opinion it lacks a real hook and more crucially the critical mass (certainly where I live in Leeds) to make it a useful application.

    I work for a University and am interested to see the further development of Facebook Places as I think there will be some potentially positive opportunities for us to further engage with our student body and enhance their experience.


  • Anonymous

    Not yet, but I do use it sparingly.

    I tend to think of it as a way of posting to the twitter stream rather than as a stand-alone application.

    Goes without saying that I find streams geo stuff without commentary just noise. Using Gravity on the phone, I can geotag my tweets if I wish anyway – but I rarely do that. Foursquare is more specific about the establishment, and does not depend on getting a good satellite fix if you use search.

  • http://twitter.com/fiftydigital Fifty Digital

    Interesting to see that Malcolm’s response was “not yet”… Pretty damning evidence.

    Regarding monetization, I know that Gowalla hasn’t gone the same way as Foursquare, but then they’re still substantially smaller. When they hit 2m users they might not be so community-minded? (All conjecture I know!)

  • / Scott Gould

    I just tweeted out if anyone has met people through it, and they all said NO.

    Like you say – just NOISE.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hi Mark

    Perhaps critical mass is the issue, but then I can’t see it hitting critical mass without a stronger value proposition. The question, “WHY CHECKIN” is not clearly defined.

    As for Facebook Places, I think FB probably have something up their sleeves!


  • http://twitter.com/shegeek Rhonda Rice

    That’s it exactly. Gowalla says ‘find inspiration to explore’. I started testing LBS and Check In with Google Maps with Latitude. Then Brightkite which has now moved to this group texting and lost its way (and me) in competition with Foursquare and Gowalla. We can now add to the competition Facebook Places and Ovi Maps with Check In (and Navigation which is value add). Each of these services has to ‘fit in” to my main hive, differentiate to stand apart (like Navigation) and bring maximum value (content that serves me)!

  • / Scott Gould

    LOL – sounds like a complex mess to me!

    This is my issue: there’s just not a clear enough “WHY” for why I’d do all this!


  • / Scott Gould

    Hi Claire

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts quite thoroughly – love your additions to the conversation.

    As I said above, I think that meeting people or expressing identity won’t be done well through these tools, mainly because they are clunky. Sure, flash mob style things might happen, but that isn’t an everyday occurrence, and thus I wonder about their revenue stream.

    For me, it has to be about immediate benefit, and that will probably be financial. And certainly, mayorships must change!


  • Anonymous

    I agree Scott that financial benefit will be the main one, but I still hope that a more social benefit will come from this platform. This may be through an increase in users or changes to the model, but there is great potential.

    For now I think Foursquare needs to make more businesses aware of their platform, and they have enough great case studies as encouragement.


  • http://twitter.com/VelChain Dave Lutz

    Scott, interesting post and discussion. I’m kind of on the fence on this, but the thing that really has my attention is a company called SCVNGR They’re similar to 4SQ or Gowalla except they are about doing treks, challenges and exploring. I see cool applications for their product for major meetings/events, attractions or business centers.

    There are obvious benefits to businesses participating 1) spreading word of mouth advertising 2) engagement with the brand 3) knowing who your best customers are.

    The key to success is making it worth the gamers effort. Did I complete a challenge? Was it fun? Am I winning the race? Did I win rewards that matter? Did I meet new people and interact more with those I care about?

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Dave

    I think niche services like this one might do better – especially as they aren’t trying to become mainstream in the same way Foursquare are.

    I like your gamer questions – and I suspect for most people, the effort is not worth the return.

  • http://gearboxmagazine.com Brian Driggs

    I installed it about a year ago. Gave it a try. Found it annoying and pointless. Removed it from my handy. Today, regardless of what the future might hold for Foursquare, I hope someone will create a utility which allows me to block any posts made to my feeds from 4S users.

    If there was one 4S update I’d love to see, it would be something like “I just unlocked the Wasting All My Friend’s Time Badge!” 99.999% of the updates pushed out to networks of non-4S users provide zero value.

    More to the point, if you show up to some event, “check in,” then engage in tweeting/texting with others about omgthesefriesaredelicious or rofflecopt0rzso-and-soisSOfunnay, it sounds to me more like you’ve checked-out than anything else.

  • / Scott Gould

    lol :-)

  • http://twitter.com/ClaireBoyles Claire Boyles

    4square create spam in my twitter stream, has very little interesting info & several times I’ve been caught following a link, thinking I’m going to see a picture of the person in the place, or at least the place that the person is in to arrive at 4square with nothing to see only a map- wooo hooo, or big swinging mickey as they say in Dublin.

    You’re right, it is about expression of identity, that’s for sure. and it’s competitive, a game, something to have fun with friends.
    4 square holds no appeal to me personally. I tell people where I am through twitter already… so it doesn’t add any functionality that I don’t already have.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Claire

    I agree. I asked a load of people earlier if they had met anyone through Foursquare and they said no.

  • http://twitter.com/ellisgraphics James Ellis

    I have never used FS or Gowalla, as I do not see any value to me or my followers. The main reason is that I see them as broadcast rather than interactive. IMHO, they are the direct mail of SM, the Farmville of Twitter.

  • / Scott Gould

    LOL – love that! Very quotable James :-)

  • http://twitter.com/ellisgraphics James Ellis

    Well, you are raising some very valid discussion points. For me, the whole issue revolves around the dreaded “ROI” I feel that most businesses (and some individuals) see SM only in monetary terms – “what can I get out of it”. For me, SM is essentially altruistic. I give, I engage, I make friends. These friends are people, not £ signs. My investment comes from the heart, not the pocket.

  • http://www.casadeblundell.com/jonathan jdblundell

    I used Foursquare for 5 or 6 months and earned mayorship status for nearly 20 locations. Granted they were mostly trivial locations like fast food restaurants and gas stations.
    I finally decided to take it off my phone when I realized the first thing I was doing anytime I went anywhere was to log my location… so I would broadcast my location to a lot of people who I didn’t have a true relationship – avoiding the real relationships that were staring me in the face.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Jonathan

    Thanks for the comment – will check the post out.

    I quit it for much the same reasons :-)


  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    This for me is the central point in all of Social Media at the moment. I know of very large businesses looking at Location, looking at Social Network presences. Sales led organisations value Revenue & Margin over all other metrics. Ultimately those two things pay wages, but they are the product of one of two things

    1) Great product
    2) Great sales

    A Great product sells itself. Great sales require bending over backwards for every new customer, and then a mess afterwards. For me we almost need to flip the relationship, with a focus on the product and how it is perceived.

    Location in my view is as a product, still in its infancy (see the segway there?). Marissa Mayer moving from head of search to head of location is an interesting move. Loyalty schemes aren’t what make us loyal to a brand, they’re a bonus for being loyal to the brand. Location needs to be useful. If I “check in” to a hotel using location, suddenly a check in is a TON more useful. It needs a killer app, that is useful and removes friction from every day life.

  • / Scott Gould

    Very nice segway sir!

    Perhaps location is the new search – but then there has to be far clearer benefit for this to happen.

    Thanks for pointing out Marissa Mayer