App Review: foursquare PDF Print E-mail

Over the past few months, I have noticed a curious trend: an increasing amount of my friends and acquaintances on Facebook were becoming mayors.

I knew that they hadn’t all turned into politicians overnight. I’m not THAT far behind the times: I’ve always known that being awarded an activity badge, such as “Mayor”, is part of using the foursquare app.

But I was intrigued about why the app appears to be gaining in popularity (it now boasts over 20 million members worldwide), especially at a time when privacy on social networking has been a constant issue for many users. So if you’re skittish about who you allow to see your photographs on Facebook, why sign up for a geo-tagging and location social networking app whose sole purpose it is to let others know where in the world you are at any given time? Is it about being given the ability to show off that you are a globetrotting, trendy club hopper without outright boasting about it? Or does it serve some other, worthy purpose?

On the “about” page of its website, foursquare’s developers claim that the free app “helps you and your friends make the most of where you are. When you’re out and about, use foursquare to share and save the places you visit. And, when you’re looking for inspiration for what to do next, we’ll give you personalised recommendations and deals based on where you, your friends, and people with your tastes have been.”

So I strapped on my virtual helmet and took the plunge to check out whether all these foursquare check-ins have any redeeming qualities. My timing happily coincided with the local release of the all-new, updated version of foursquare for BlackBerry users in South Africa.

During a recent evening out, I activated the app by registering with my email address and dreaming up yet another password. The app asked permission to determine my location. It immediately showed me places of interest nearby: restaurants, guesthouses, hotels, bars, etc. I found my own location on the list and “checked in”, thereby immediately unlocking a “Newbie” badge. I was also able to type a little comment about where I was and what I was doing there. Being a writer unable to resist any blank box, I did that. Just as on Facebook, people will then be able to “like” it or leave you a comment about your check-in.

What I found a little disconcerting is that I almost IMMEDIATELY received notifications of friend requests. Luckily it was all from people I know, but it seemed very “Big-Brother-is-Watching-You-esque”. But of course he is! You are, after all, pointing out exactly where you are!

New users, beware: the foursquare privacy settings are already set to make all your information as public as possible, so you have to physically go in and change it yourself if you don’t want, for example, your phone number to be visible to all and sundry. To change this, click on your BlackBerry’s menu button and select “Options” from the drop-down menu. Clicking on that will take you to “My Settings” from where you will be able to tweak your account settings, link your foursquare to your Twitter and Facebook accounts so that your check-ins and other activities can automatically appear on your feeds (this didn’t work for me – I found a website unavailable error message and decided there and then to take it as a sign to rather not do it) and search for friends, find pages, etc. BlackBerry users can even connect it to BBM to tell our messenger buddies where we are.

Back on the home page, all your check-ins are displayed. From there, you can access other parts of the app by clicking on the easy-to-access tabs displayed above. See what your friends are up to by clicking on “Friends” (not working on my handset, for some reason), the “Explore” tab shows you nearby places of interest and the “Me” tab allows you to access your account settings from where you can upload photos, check out your badges, read tips, etc.

After playing around with the app for the past few days, I’m still a bit ambivalent about it. Yes, I can see how it could be of use when it allows you to receive discounts at places that you regularly frequent or shop at. I can even see the benefits of having foursquare recommend places to you when you are stuck for ideas on what to do or where to go. However, I already think we are inundated with too much information on a daily basis. I don’t think I need to clog up my friends’ feeds with where I had lunch today. If I am really moved by a menu, I will share it the old-fashioned way, by merely updating my Facebook status.

This app was reviewed using a BlackBerry Bold 9790, courtesy of BlackBerry South Africa.

Good: The app is easy-to-use. My own privacy and over-sharing concerns aside, I can see how it could help you to get to know your town better by telling you of restaurants and other interesting places in your vicinity. I really like that your handset doesn’t automatically “check in” on your behalf. You have to physically do it, so you decide what you want to share.
Bad: The fact that the privacy settings are made as public as possible by default. The realms of possibility an app like this seems to hand to stalkers and other sinister types, literally makes me tremble.
Price: Free.

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