Constantly ongoing discussions about Internet safety, social media, technology and Internet addiction may draw interested readers to Foursquare, an app that allows people to ‘check in’ to locations, earning mayorships, badges and promotions along the way. Like any informational tool, Foursquare has its pros and cons, its supporters and doubters, and now, it’s time to look at both sides.
At its most basic level, Foursquare is fairly simple to use for anyone who knows a little bit about technology (as long as you have a smartphone or other compatible device). All you have to do is sign up for a free account, and you can start checking into places wherever you go.
• PRO: The ‘friendship’ factor
One of the most fun aspects of the app is the ability to check-in with friends. It’s essentially meaningless, but there is something fun about the simplicity of checking into a mall, business or restaurant with friends or family.
When you go to check in to a location, you can also discover if any of your friends have been there before; this could also be helpful if you research places beforehand. You can see which friends have been there and ask their opinion of the place, what to order, where to sit, etc. It’s the ability to share tips like that which makes the friendship factor a useful part of Foursquare.
• CON: I’m trying to forget that I’m addicted to you…
Foursquare users come in a few different shades, like users of any other social media platform. There’s the ones who sign up with good intentions to regularly use the tool, but never do. There’s those who sign up and use it ALL THE TIME FOR EVERYTHING YOU COULD THINK OF, even if that isn’t what it’s meant for (we all know someone like that on Facebook), and then there’s those who use it periodically but aren’t quite locked on.
Like any other social media or Internet platform, there is the possibility to get a little too hooked. If you find yourself creating a check-in spot for every standing place in your house…. you’ve gone too far. While it may be fun to have a few silly spots – especially if they’re connected to an inside joke with friends – spare your Foursquare buddies the pain of having to see you check in everyday to ‘My bed’ or ‘The showerrrr.’
• PRO: Save a penny, save a dollar, get a free drink…
One of the best features of Foursquare – if not THE best – is how some businesses integrate the use of the app into their marketing strategies.
Many businesses have deals or special offers that can be earned simply by checking in once; others may give you a discount if you check in so many times. This is absolutely valuable and can especially come in handy while traveling.
Say for instance that you’re planning a trip to Toronto, ON. Using Foursquare, you can search areas of the city and find everything from museums to shops, bars to bakeries and hotels – and you can read reviews that people have left, which could give you a good idea of whether it’s worth a stop or not.
But you can also check those businesses and see if they offer any special deals.
For instance, let’s look at a trip I took to Toronto last summer for a Blue Jays game. I knew by my scheduling that I’d have time between when my bus arrived, when the hotel allowed me to check-in and when the game began, so I searched for things to do in that area and came upon the Steam Whistle Brewery.
What does Foursquare tell me about it? That I can get a free souvenir tour with my first check-in! Now, by no means am I a beer connoisseur, but knowing I’d be in the area, it was free and it sounded interesting made me want to do it – so I did. I simply checked in upon arrival, showed the woman attending the bar my Foursquare screen, and received free admission to the next available brewery tour. With the tour comes not only a viewing of the facilities, but also free samples and a free beer glass.
Sometimes the trip might not be so planned out, but you can still check-in to places you’re going and maybe you’ll be so lucky as to stumble upon a deal – especially if the business has a Foursquare sticker on its window. While in Pittsburgh this past week, my uncle decided to go through the car wash; I checked in, and it gave me (him) $5 off the price of the wash.
I also enjoy using Foursquare while on vacation not only for the research use, not only for the discount use, but also just for the ability to look back. When I return to Pittsburgh in a year or even two, I may not remember which car wash we went to or which restaurant had that great service, but if I look back through my check-ins, I’ll be able to retrieve that information in a breeze.
• A CONCERN: The safety of it all
Now – let me be the first to say that I completely understand the discussions and concerns about Internet safety. They’re legitimate concerns and yes, things happen. With Foursquare’s ability to literally tell people where you are every minute of the day, it’s only natural that safety is an issue.
Here’s my take on it all: PRIVACY SETTINGS. PRIVACY SETTINGS. PRIVACY SETTINGS. PRIVACY SETTINGS. PRIVACY SETTINGS. PRIVACY SETTINGS.
– First of all, your private information (phone number, e-mail address) can be shared with friends – but you can also toggle it so it isn’t. You can link to your Twitter and Facebook accounts from your Foursquare profile, but you can also opt out of that.
– By default, all Foursquare check-ins are shared with friends, but you can select to make any of them private so no one else will see it. You’ll also automatically be included in a public list of people checked in at a venue – so anyone can see that you’re there… UNLESS you opt out of this on the privacy settings.
– If you don’t want people to know that you’re at a specific place, simply don’t check in there or make the check-in private (“unlisted.”)
– If you check-in everywhere you go all of the time, then yes, there is potential that someone out there COULD be stalking you, following you everywhere you go. But it’s about being aware of your surroundings, being aware of who can view your profile, and knowing when someone’s crossing your comfort zone boundary that will keep you safe.
– Many people have concerns about the listing of homes on Foursquare – but if you create the venue and specifically designate it as a home, the address will be kept off the public grid. So no, everyone won’t be able to automatically know where your house is. And if you’re still concerned – don’t put your house on Foursquare!
My basic conclusion here: Foursquare is a pretty nifty tool, if it’s used in the correct way. Like anything on the Internet, if you’re going to use it, you have to be aware of the privacy settings – AND USE THEM. Common sense is another tool that should go hand-in-hand with any Internet usage (but sometimes, people are lacking). Don’t be afraid of it, use it well, and please don’t become of those people who creates a check-in for every single place in their house.