It’s [foursquare] Time
The foursquare mayor of the Holy Cacao drinks for free. The Austin, Texas, dessert shop peddles its confectionary wares out of a short, yellow trailer, but for the mayor, the thick, $4, European-style hot chocolate is gratis. On the other side of Lady Bird Lake, the troupe that holds residence in the Hideout Theatre offers its mayor free admission to improv shows. Foursquare has used game mechanics since its inception, but it’s now increasingly adding a fundamental principle of games: winning.
Foursquare was co-created by Dennis Crowley, and according to the website’s blog, the service has more than 500,000 users who check-in at the 1.4 million venues. In its first year, foursquare tallied 15.5 million check-ins.
Mayorships are one aspect of the foursquare community. They represent the user who has checked in the most times to a particular place. Along with badges for accomplishing goals and user-generated tips, these elements merge social media with gaming — Twitter meets playground tag.
For Melbournite Alexander Lobov, foursquare is a new way to discover the city and review trending restaurants on his food blog, MSG: The Melbourne Social Guide.
“Foursquare is very useful for food writers, because it allows us to see real-time trends, where people are going and why,” writes Lobov in an email. Lobov, a mayor of 36 locations, says he joined foursquare because he thinks it’s a good system for “catching up with friends and for exploring new parts of the city.”
The geo-location, social-networking business is starting to get crowded — hello, Google Buzz — but foursquare is quickly adding the prize element to attract users who are willing to explore. It has launched a foursquare for business service, and they’ve announced deals with major companies from Starbucks to Condé Nast.
“We try to combine friend finders and city guides,” Crowley says, “and we layer some game mechanics to encourage people to continue being actively involved. The combination of all three of those things is really sticky.”
By tying badges to user-supplied tags, foursquare maximizes its crowdsourcing abilities. Users must tag places to gain rewards. But Crowley suggests foursquare appeals to a community with a propensity for interaction
beyond the gaming elements.
“In certain terms there’s a weird culture to it,” Crowley says. “Foursquare has a little bit of that culture about leaving tips behind. A lot of times you’ll check in and even if you don’t get a tip someone will text you and be like, ‘Oh shit, I was just there last night. Make sure to try this.’ There’s this level of expectation that goes along with it that is kinda cool.”
For Roy Janik, owner of Austin’s Hideout Theatre, foursquare is just one more way to develop his improv group’s collaborative interaction with the audience. By offering a special to foursquare players, Janik hopes to encourage a spirited competition for the title of Hideout Theatre mayor.
“Every show we do involves audience interaction,” Janik says. “Any way we can expand that idea of the fact that it’s sort of a collaborative creation process between the audience and the performers, we’re all about it.”
John Spillyards, who manages Holy Cacao with his girlfriend, says foursquare is just one more way the business attempts to communicate with its consumers.
“We wanted to offer something for our mayor. The idea is to get people to come back on a frequent basis,” Spillyards says, “and so far it’s worked well. I think we’ve had quite a few people who’ve commented that, ‘Hey, we’re on foursquare. We’re checking in.’”