A passing fad, yet another social networking site to annoy us or is there something to Foursquare?

Being an avid user and advocate of social media I was keen to try out Foursquare. Basically, Foursquare is a free downloadable application for smart phones/mobile internet devices where users sign up for an account and ‘check in’ at different places, such as museums, cafes, bars, restaurants and parks. In doing so users earn points and interact with other users by leaving tips for them to discover as well as take advantages of special deals. As Foursquare themselves say: “Foursquare on your phone gives you and your friends new ways of exploring your city. Earn points and unlock badges for discovering new things.”

How big is Foursquare, then? On 1 July 2010 there were over one million check-ins in a single day (via @foursquare on Twitter). The New York Times recently reported that: “Foursquare, the social networking service that allows users to broadcast their location to friends from a mobile phone, announced on Tuesday that it had raised $20 million from venture capitalists. Since it was introduced last March, Foursquare has amassed more than 1.8 million users and says it is adding new ones at the rate of roughly 10,000 a day.”

The Times also notes that “A big part of Foursquare’s appeal is that it turns location-sharing into a game that lets users compete for points, badges and “mayor” status at bars and restaurants. ... the rewards players received could be a valuable marketing tool for local businesses and advertisers. ... Since its introduction last year, Foursquare has established partnerships with more than 10,000 businesses, including Starbucks, Bravo TV, Zagat’s and The New York Times Company.”

When travelling in the States recently I was curious to see that two of my younger museum colleagues automatically ‘checked in’ wherever we went and, once there, looked around to see who had also checked in. Another one checked in at a restaurant and ended up with a free meal as a reward. The city of Chicago, and now Pennsylvania, are also using Foursquare as a tourism tool, allowing users to earn badges and access special deals not available to the broader public. Chicago have 'themed' their Foursquare offer under three "iconic Chicago themes": Chicago Blues, Chicago-style hot dogs, and Chicago film locations.

Museum Victoria also announced recently, via Twitter, that they will be offering some deals via Foursquare soon and seem to have a fairly active Foursquare presence already.

As we usually find with all this social media stuff, there are privacy concerns. Normally I’m not worried about this kind of problem, but as a user myself I have wondered about the privacy angle as it is really easy to see where someone actually is at any given moment (unless they’re telling fibs...). There was a recent article on Wired, White Hat Uses Foursquare Privacy Hole to Capture 875K Check-Ins, that showed some loopholes in the system. Since then, Foursquare responded with some security changes (but you’ll notice by the vitriolic comments on that blog post that some folks aren’t happy!).

So, is Foursquare the next big thing? Given the trends about rapid Smartphone uptake and location-based services becoming more prevalent and easy to access, there’s definitely something there worth following, at least for the short-term (or at least while I’m still mayor of my house, my train station, my local sporting field and my other local!).

Be keen to find out if anyone knows of any museums that are using Foursquare in innovative ways – or even in any ways at all?

(Acknowledgments to Russ and ChrisL for pointing me to some of these articles).