Time Magazine’s inclusion of Foursquare on its list of the 50 Worst Inventions is incredibly short sighted and a perfect example of someone (in this case a stumbling media entity) not understanding new technology or giving it a proper opportunity to mature. The 50 Worst list is questionable for many reasons, not the least of which is that somehow none of Time Life’s country music box sets or complementary infomercials made the list.
Foursquare, the geo-location social gaming app, is on the list alongside other inventions such as Agent Orange, subprime mortgages and DDT. The writer, Kristi Olloffson, calls it, “Just another tool tapping into a generation of narcissism, with which you can earn badges for checking into your local Starbucks more than anyone else.”
Narcissism is the easy out on Foursquare the same way calling Boulder a hippie town is a tired reference that has remnants of truth, but misses a much bigger more exciting story. The same way a deeper look at Boulder reveals it to be a hotbed for startups, a deeper look at Foursquare shows its value goes well beyond narcissism and gets into gaming between friends, group communication where shouts from the app turn into mass text messages and multiple opportunities for jokes that come in the form of tips, to dos and venue names.
My guess is that Olloffson spent very little time with Foursquare or could just use some friends who are a bit more creative.
My check in at a posh hotel or the DMV can be viewed as narcissistic the way Oloffson sees it or can be seen as an opportunity for each of my Foursquare friends to interact with me. The app’s potential and power go far beyond boastful chest pounding and lie in its ability to bring fun and meaningful interactions to our everyday common experiences.
When I check in to a new restaurant, I can look at the tips for help on what to order. A check in at a coffee shop, can entice a nearby friend to join me (Squarendipity). A celebratory check in on my first day on the job can draw encouraging shouts of, “Good Luck.” When I check in to a far away airport I can laugh at the hilarious tip or to do left by friends to greet me.
Many people think Foursquare’s potential can only be reached when real world benefits derived from a users’ check ins become the norm. The real world benefits usually proposed are a free beer or bagel for the mayor of an establishment.
However, I believe in the power of Foursquare’s real world benefits that go beyond coupons and offers. Foursquare creates an experience where, if I want, I can always have someone with me to give advice, make me laugh or just communicate in an interesting new way. And should I desire to bask in anonymity I can check in “Off The Grid” or just leave my phone in my pocket.
Foursquare’s mayorships and badges are nice, but it’s the unexpected uses people create that make the app and so much of social media fun, exciting and worth our attention. The fact that Time doesn’t get this and isn’t willing to look into it may not bode well for a publication that has steadily lost readership since the late 90s and declined 35 percent in newsstand sales during the second half of 2009.
I am optimistic about what people are creating in the digital world. I know some things will fall by the waysides as fads and others will remain intact for years to come. However, I remember when people laughed off twitter as narcissistic and self indulgent only to see it grow into a great way to follow news and exchange useful information. I truly believe the people developing these tools and the people using them are far too creative to write it off so quickly. I look forward to what happens tomorrow, not feeling the need to judge before watching and learning.
Please weigh in with your thoughts on Foursquare in the comments and share any interesting uses for the app that other people might not be aware of.
Dan Viens has recently finished studying at Boulder Digital Works and will begin work as a Junior Brand Strategist at Goodby, Silverstein and Partners later this month. Right now he walks his dog a lot in Portland, OR.