Not just for elementary school playgrounds anymore, Foursquare, a new online social network/gaming platform, is catching on like the common cold in a fifth grade classroom. And this isn’t their first venture: just a few years ago, this same crew gave us the mobile social network Dodgeball, which was acquired by Google in 2005, and then later canned. But unlike Dodgeball, FourSquare presents an expansion to the simple notion of broadcasting your location to your friends. Foursquare tracks your “check-ins” at various locations like bars, restaurants, museums, retail outlets, and even street vendors, and awards you for such notable achievements as “Gym Rat” (for frequent visits to the gym), “Mayor of ___” (for frequent visits to a certain location), and “School Night” (for checking in late on a weeknight). These achievements are then published on your personal profile and available for viewing for the whole Foursquare community.
Friends can use Foursquare as a means of finding each other when they’re out as well as compete with each other to get the most badges or Mayor statuses. One can see how addictive the game could get; similar to Facebook, Twitter, and the likes, users can easily become preoccupied with the number of “check-ins” and forget the real reason they even go out.
The team has also partnered with Twitter as another broadcasting channel for their check-ins, a partnership which spurred some chatter about the similarities between the two social networks. Mashable blogger Pete Cashmore commented on Robert Scoble’s observation: “Go back three years ago. Twitter was being used by the same crowd that is playing with Foursquare today.”
The application also allows for highly targeted marketing initiatives for participating locations, such as drink specials for the “Mayor” of a bar or reduced ticket prices for those who frequent a specific art gallery. The novelty in this could quickly wear out, though, as many perceive to be the fate of Twitter’s marketing abilities.
With key competitors including Gowalla, Loopt, Brightkite and Google’s Latitude, Foursquare’s path to success won’t be smooth sailing. But their unique offerings will surely give them a head start against the rest of the pack, and I’m sure we can expect many more great things added to the Foursquare platform in the near future.