Foursquare: why do we do it?

I’ve been on and off Foursquare for a while now. Actually, when I checked (with Idego) how early an adopter of 4sq I was, it said: You’re in the first 3.14% of users. Pretty early, eh? Fun percentage, too. (Though nothing beats my 0.01% at Instagram…) Back to square four, though: I have a little over a thousand checkins, 423 days out and 35 badges. There have been times when I didn’t check in at all, for months, and times when I checked in 10+ times a day, marking all my locations out of home.

First, Foursquare was a game for a very small (and growing) number of people. Then — not a long time ago — it started to get useful. You could actually find friends based on their check-ins, see if anyone you know is in the same cafe, or make plans to go to the next bar or club together at night. And you could unlock specials for your check-ins, like a free espresso in a restaurant.

Among my friends, I can’t help but notice all the different ways we all use Foursquare. Some either don’t use it at all, or stay as onlookers – without checking in themselves, but commenting on others’ check-ins and photos. Another group of people checks in every now and then, without any visible system or pattern. And there are those who check-in obsessively — even while passing a location. This gets me thinking, why do we really use Foursquare?

There are several reasons that come to mind.

1. The first one is what Foursquare declares: explore. Find the next good place near you. But for that, you don’t really need to check in. You can just go to the “Explore” tab and find the next whisky bar (if you’re in a Jim Morrison mood) or anything else you’re looking for.

2. Foursquare can be an app that helps you connect with friends in the neighborhood. You happen to be in the same place, why not meet? Obvious, and yes, it works. That is, if you’re actually at that place, and planning to stay there for more than 30 seconds.

3. Play. Of course, Foursquare can be a game — who’s getting more points for check-ins, who’s got what badges, and who’s mayor of what. Even if it’s your own bathroom. King of your castle, check. In.

4. Then there’s a close one to the previous point, but not quite. Staying on your friends’ radar. Every time you open the app, you’re instantly reminded of a portion of people you know simply because they recently checked in somewhere. Out of sight, out of mind, you know. Foursquare helps you stay the top-of-mind for people you know. Well, those on Foursquare.

5. Showing off is an unspoken, but easy-to-guess reason. You check in at places that make you look good, and you skip those that might stain your online reputation somehow. Like a check-in at a fancy restaurant or the season’s hyped club — definite yes, but at a McDonald’s would be a no-no.

6. Keeping a log of places you’ve been to. I’m more of a sporadical user, and on vacation, I try to check in at places to keep a log as a memory. Having a knack for self-tracking, I use IFTTT to add all my 4sq check-ins to a calendar.

Then the question is, when do you check-in and when you don’t? For example, who cares about your daily office check-ins? Or which nail salon and at what times you visit. With certain people, Foursquare is a real case of TMI. Like, yes, I get it, you go to the office every day. Congrats, man! Way to go! And you’re holding down the mayorship for your kitchen, that’s nice! By the way, do you check in when you’re actually in the kitchen, or do you fake it, from your bedroom? And puh-lease, I’d rather not know who’s the mayor of your bedroom (think twice before adding a photo).

For the most part, from what I see, we use Foursquare like pretty much the rest of social networks. We add to our online personality. We show off. And sometimes it comes with immediate benefits — of meeting up with a friend or getting a cookie.

(I’m not even touching the privacy and security side of revealing your location online.)

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