Why Foursquare is a Bad Idea…and Twitter still reigns

Look out folks, it's on the rise.

Foursquare is what some in social media circles are calling the Twitter of 2010. It is a social media game that rewards you for logging your location at any point in the day.  Eating a burrito? Tell the world where and when! The more you do, the more “badges” you earn. If you are the person who has logged the most visits to a specific place on Foursquare, you will win the additional honor of becoming the “mayor” of that location. Smart locales are playing along and giving out freebies to their “mayors.” Taste D-Lite lets customers accrue extra points on their TastiRewards cards for Foursquare check-ins and tweets.

From January 2010 to February, Foursquare passed the 1 million mark on Twitter (you can opt to have all your posts on Foursquare automatically post on your Twitter stream as well). In that month’s time, the number of check-ins doubled–showing remarkable promise. It list of seed-money investors include some of the most innovative minds in social media, including Digg Founder Kevin Rose, who endorsed the site to the tune of $1.35 million.

Some cite the brilliance of Foursquare in the fact that real-life social interactions become a virtual game. The person who wins the game is the person who is best able to show the world that he/she has the most interesting life.

So why do I think it’s such a bad idea?

Don't people realize the power they are giving to others when they reveal their whereabouts & spending decisions?

Because so far, the only benefit I can see in Foursquare for the common man–the Joe-the-Plumber, if you will–is that it’s entertaining.

Who really wins in Foursquare? Marketers, big businesses, anyone hoping to use your personal information to make  buck…oh yea, and the FBI. And trust me, there are bucks to be made in this. I hate to be a fear-monger here. I swear, I’m not one of these “all change is bad” people. I am a quick adapter. Half my family has me to thank for their Facebook pages. But I also believe that information is power. And by making public every location where we spend money, we are giving incredibly powerful information away for free.

Twitter, which some would argue does the same thing (see cartoon on left), you have the option to generate meaningful conversations (albeit short ones), show off expertise, track breaking news, donate to a cause, and much more. You can also remain anonymous if you need to (on Foursquare, you can’t be a “mayor” unless you’ve posted a profile photo). No one ever needs to know your location in order to tweet.

Time for the Twitter vs. Foursquare Face-Off

Looking at this from a different angle, let’s take John Bell‘s five key questions to determine the viability of a new technology as a “groundswell” threat.

  • Does it enable people to connect in new ways? – Yes, both Twitter and Foursquare present creative connection tools for people around the world.
  • Is it effortless for people to use and signup? Yep. and Yep.
  • Does it generate enough content to sustain itself? You bet.
  • Is it an open platform? Of course.
  • Does it shift power from institutions to people? This is the key question. In Twitter, the answer is an unequivocal YES. During the Iran elections, voices resonated worldwide because Twitter gave them a mobile platform. With Foursquare, I would argue that the institutions are the ones who still hold the power. Users feed information that otherwise would have been painstakingly cataloged by expensive marketing research firms and sold to big businesses in order to improve their bottom line. At most, you could argue that it shifts power from big institutions to smaller institutions. Those mom-and-pops shops who can’t afford market research can log into Foursquare and see what kinds of people are coming regularly, and try to capitalize on them.

My question is: Do the benefits outweigh the negatives? With Foursquare, they do not.

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6 Responses to Why Foursquare is a Bad Idea…and Twitter still reigns

  1. Bassam Sebti says:

    I think the ‘social’ media networks have become too much. I have decided that I have enough networks in my life to use to ‘socialize’ with people. Facebook comes first because it helps me be in touch with friends and family members whom I can’t see in person because they live far away. I use Twitter mainly as an RSS reader to see what interesting sites or people post. Finally, I have recently subscribed to Linkedin and I have to say I don’t see any good in it.

    Thanks for this analytical comparison!

    • Dawn Arteaga says:

      Hey Bassam–I use social media a lot like you. Although I do like LinkedIn for job hunting and making professional contacts. I think the most successful ones enable us to compartmentalize our information. Just as facebook let’s you group your friends and show different groups different items. Anything that forces you to constantly worry about privacy issues won’t last long (or at least I hope not!)

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