Today’s topic may not be completely new for my American readers but probably for some of those from Germany. On November 19th the third wave of cities for Foursquare has launched. Among them now my hometown Frankfurt in Germany as well as about 50 new cities worldwide. It’s been around in a lot of bigger cities for quite some time. In Germany it’s now live in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Frankfurt. Zurich and Vienna are Foursquare cities in Switzerland and Austria.
So what is Foursquare? Basically it’s a local location based social network (I will use this word in the presence of my granny in the next couple of days). That means: You download a client to your iPhone or Android phone, connect with some friends and start your day in the city.
The big difference to…let’s say Facebook…is, it only works in specific cities (well…yet) and it’s all about exploring and recommending locations and events. Let’s say for example, you know this fantastic little bar around the corner and you think the White Russian there deserves a little more attention – then you simply locate your favourite nightly hangout via GPS (or start a new venue) and leave a shout to all other Foursquare users in the area to make them try the White Russian here.
Of mayors and citybattles
Foursquare is one of two pretty cool new applications in this rather new field of social software. The other one is Gowalla, which has a slightly different focus but which also intertwines local recommendations, smartphones and incentives. Incentives? Yeah, because both apps reward you with virtual goodies that you love to collect once you’re in the game. Gowalla revolves around hidden virtual goods that you can uncover and exchange once you check in to a certain place. Foursquare rewards you with a more competitive system where you collect points when you tag your favourite bar. The more you do (start a new venue, leave recommendations etc.), the more points you collect on your city’s leaderboard.
Two more incentives keep you constantly busy (and we had a great city battle on Foursquare’s first weekend in Frankfurt). The more points you collect, the more ‘badges’ you get awarded. Special badges for frequent recommendations, for nightlife tips or for your knowledge in specific aspects of city life. As you tag specific locations (with terms to describe what other users find there) you will also uncover specific badges like the pool, photobooth or Margarita badge.
Additionally you can become the mayor of certain spots if you’re the one to most often check in there. Until tomorrow morning 9.15 I will stay the mayor of my employer Neue Digitale / Razorfish…well, at least until my colleague Johannes reclaims the title. In fact, it’s pretty funny to see who’s the mayor of your favourite dive bar…maybe your boss? Get Foursquare and find out.
Why it is cool
Foursquare is just a week old in Frankfurt. And even though I don’t think there are more than the usual 50 suspects registered currently, I sense some kind of game dynamics starting to develop. Foursquare is connect gaming with social networking. It combines the hunt for hidden virtual treasures and classic recommendation functions. In fact, it’s not only helpful to find out that a friends sits right in the next bar, it is also quite cool to find out that this ugly restaurant down the street obviously offers great Pasta. An information which you get pushed straight to your smartphone once you’re in the area and once you’re a friend of the guy who left this information.
Foursquare is just another application which brings the web into reality. No, the (this time in fact happening) mobile revolution won’t happen the way many expected it to happen. It won’t come via SMS, WAP or another genuine mobile technology. It happens because Smart phones intertwine computer tech with GPS. And Foursquare is one of the first cool services that show us what might be mainstream soon. The tool (or the service which eventually ‘wins’) can become a cool user generated city guide or it can become a cool little CRM tool for local shops and bars:
As Amit Gupta noted yesterday, a bar/performance space is doing something similar in San Francisco. But they’re also expanding on the idea. Not only does the mayor of the venue (The Marsh) get free drinks, but everyone who checks into the venue on Foursquare and shows proof (on your iPhone or other mobile device) gets $2 off a ticket to any performance that night.
Exactly this is where it’s heading. Currently Foursquare and Gowalla are very small in Germany. You will find the same afficionados that you will find on every new hard core twitterbloggingsocialurbanite platform. But it’s a great thingie to play around with. By making the new social location based tools interact with Facebook and Twitter, interoperateability is guaranteed. And: Even though the company just hired its fourth employee, Foursquare gets bigger every day with new cool features and new stuff.
To sum it up: I like Foursquare and I hope its new concept will succeed. It adds a new, real-life layer to social networking and it’s both, useful and fun. I hope at least this time Germany is not as slow as usual and uses this concept quickly and wisely. Time for Frankfurt to play around with a set of new tools and show Germany that we’re the digital capital of this country. Find me here on Foursquare and tell me where you spend you lunch breaks, which drink to try or which museum’s a must see currently.
Oh…and if you would share your comments, feel free to do so. I am curious what you think or if you have already tried it.