FourSquare 1.0 is doomed, but it’s not because of Facebook Locations.

For the better part of 2010 I owned Nashua, NH- well at least on FourSquare.  I was not just an early adopter, but an advocate for the location based social ‘game.’  The concept of becoming the ‘Mayor’ of a business or location by ‘Checking-In’ the most appealed to me.  It was a challenge I could win at my most frequented restaurants, shops, and even at work.

As a FourSquare advocate I explained the purpose and benefits of telling your friends where you were:

“If you’re in a coffee shop and check in, a friend of yours might be in the area, see that you checked in and join you.”

Huzzah! It’s about time your online social network joined you in real life!  Or is it? (dramatic pause)  A friend of mine, Shea Sylvia, wrote a cautionary tale on her blog about a creepy guy who saw she had checked-in to a restaurant on FourSquare.  Mr Creep actually called the restaurant asking for her- (music from TV show Lost would fit nicely here) “Ahhh!

Okay, so FourSquare only allows your friends to see where you check-in.  Before we scold Shea for simply ‘friending’ to many creepy dudes on FourSquare, it’s important to note that you can also see who checks into locations without being their friend.

The other big controversy, this one with equal parts satire, was Rob Me Please.  The site is currently down, but their point was that people tend to ‘over-share.’  A robber could see that you’ve gone on vacation and steal your flat screen.  Technically this robber would have to know where you lived and all, but it’s not too hard to see how that could be found out.

Being a big tough guy with a relatively small flat screen, I wasn’t too concerned with the nay-sayers.  It was fun to be the Mayor of multiple locations in NH and even some highly competitive ones in Boston.

Some locations would even give you free drinks or discounts if you were the mayor.  That was the plan anyways.  Nashua certainly didn’t buy into this tech very quickly. Save for the local Starbucks (which was locked down by @KevinMic anyways), none of the 20+ locations I was the mayor of actually ever hooked me up.

Right about the same time the “Early Majority” group (from book Crossing the Chasm by Moore) of adopters started checking in around my home town, I began checking in less.  It was a slow process that had a flipping point when I stopped checking in where I work at EF Tours (@EFTours) in Cambridge.  The hotly contested building of over 850 people had about 5 regular FourSquare participants.  Maintaining your position as #1 requires consistent check-ins and frankly, is tedious.

One day I just stopped.  “Let someone else be the mayor today.

I kept thinking about a criticism my friend and tech thought-leader, Aaron White (@AaronWhite), had made about social start-up Aadvark.  The site allows  you to ask & answer questions utilizing your social network.  Aaron’s main point of contention was that there had to be a ‘reward’ for answering questions to keep the system going.  Whether it was money, points, business referrals, or ICEEs from 7-11 some motivation was critical.  Aadvark, to their credit, replied to Aaron’s keen observation and must have added the ‘reward factor’ to their equation because they’re being acquired by Google.

It’s this same criticism that I now have of FourSquare, GoWalla, and now Facebook Places.  Why check-in? How is this going to benefit me?  Where’s the ‘reward factor?’

Good ol’ Kevin, yes the guy who is the mayor of just about every Starbucks in NH, actually swung by a PetSmart when I checked in there during a puppy training class.  He got to meet my starter-son Charlie, a wheaten terrier.  That was it though.

I’ve realized that the only thing I’ve been doing while checking in on FourSquare is missing out on the experience of real life.  It seems too, that I’m not alone.

Last week I tweeted that I was bored with FourSquare.  The responses came rolling in:

The prosecution rests. FourSquare and it’s friends GoWalla, Facebook Places, as they’re currently offered, are doomed.  They need a reward factor for check-ins.

Will they find it? Maybe, but I see a much more interesting future for geolocation.  Checking into a location is the start, much like floppy disks were so much cooler than using index cards with holes punched on them.

We’re seeing only the tip of the location-based innovation iceberg.  Saving money more than social fun will be the driving force that helps this new tech bridge the gap from fad to phone.

  • Danconia Media

    Well put! Once the novelty of being mayor wears off, there's little reason to continue using Foursquare.

  • Kevin Micalizzi


    Thanks for the mention. It was great to meet your puppy that day. Honestly that was one of two times I've used Foursquare to physically meet up with someone. Another time I was in Boston and we tracked down @JeffCutler by following his checkins until we finally caught up. Ended up being a great afternoon and evening hanging out with him.

    For me the benefit of Foursquare has been finding and “meeting” more people interested in social media in the local area. Services like Twitter let you set your location, but it's not a focus for most users of the service so there's little incentive to update your location all the time. Because Foursquare lets you check in at physical venues, it's easier to see when people are in your local area and see who checked in. They used to show you who had checked into a venue, but sadly seem to have removed that feature.

    I agree the novelty is wearing off. The question is, will enough venues jump on the bandwagon to create more incentives to check-in when visiting? Starbucks is one of the few companies I saw do it right. They actually let each store know who was mayor of that store and posted it at the registers so the mayor could get their drink.

    My guess is that specific location-based services like Foursquare will be come obsolete or they'll be merged into established social media/networking services like Yelp, Facebook, etc. So location-based info will become a part of what you share, but it's just a value add to a service you already use for other things. Automatic checkin when you're near a venue will make it easier for those less concerned about privacy, but I don't believe that alone will be enough to make a service that's just about location interesting enough to sustain in the long run.


  • Casey Cheshire

    Thanks for the comment! Novelty is a great word- and it'll be FourSquare's challenge to overcome.

  • Casey Cheshire

    You've identified the big question: Can they get more businesses on board quick enough? I've often wondered why FourSquare didn't create a system of local reps to promote the concept to area business much like Groupon has done. Kudos to Starbucks for doing it right and THANK YOU for taking the time to comment!

  • Jennifer Houston

    Working in Marketing, I feel the need to try out all of these technologies. For some reason, I could never get into FourSquare. I think I lasted a couple of weeks, at most. I do agree that incentives may have made me hang around longer.

  • Casey Cheshire

    Hey Jennifer! I'm the same way about giving new things a try at the start. You're not the only person that I've heard say that they just never got into FourSquare. Thanks for commenting!

  • Kelly Normand

    Try SVNGR

  • Casey Cheshire

    Hey Kelly! Thanks for commenting. What do like you better about SVNGR?