Last week, 2 years after most people, I joined Foursquare. People that know me know I have never been a big advocate of foursquare, and for that reason I feel I need to write this post about why I have joined it and about how I intend to use it.

I’m not afraid to admit that I used to have a small feeling of loathing for foursquare. I can’t really explain where it came from. I think partly it was down to the cluttering of twitter streams and facebook walls with ‘check-ins’ — in general I am a fan of the separation of services unless their combination adds some sort of value, and this did not — and partly down to the gamification side of things. It came at a time when everyone was banging on about gamification being an important factor of engaging services, but the majority of implementations were, in my opinion, missing the point and implementing the wrong things. This isn’t the article to discuss all that but if you want to read more about what I mean I’d suggest checking out some of Sebastian Deterding’s work (these slides are an good start).

All in all I couldn’t see how it would be useful, how the cost of having to check-in everywhere would be outweighed by what I would get out of it. I couldn’t see the value it was creating.

Saying that, I’ve now joined so why the change of heart?

Reasons for joining

Below are, in no particular order, my top reasons for join:

  • I was in a Thai restaurant discussing other thai restaurants I’d been to and wanted to remember the name of a very good one I’d been to. If I’d have been on foursquare I would have been able to find it out. In similar vain I wanted to know how many times I’d been to the amazing burrito place near where I work. A colleague, Matt Lucht, checked how many times he’d checked-in with it being likely I’d been there each time he had. At that moment having foursquare was very useful.
  • I channelled the spirit of a quantified-self bod, and was inspired by a few stories Matt Sheret told at dConstruct. He told the story of his experience of viewing the location data stored by his iPhone and how seeing all again allowed him to relive and enjoy past memories. I wanted a chance of that and foursquare might just provide it. I do not know what I will find or discover but like Matt Sheret I hope that if I do look at the data at some time in the future I will find something interesting, useful or at the very east enjoyable and nostalgic.
  • More recently people seem to be realising that too much untamed and unfiltered data is meaningless; and that to create meaning and value one needs to ensure only the relevant data is used at the relevant times. Basically people have stopped clogging up streams with irrelevant data so I no longer have a chip on my shoulder regarding this. My foursquare data will sit there quietly until I, or someone else, deems it to be of relevance and uses it. Nice, neat and unobtrusive.

Rules and Regs

As I’ve said the reasons for signing up were because I felt I could get value from it. Therefore I needed some rules to help maximise the useful stuff and minimise the noise.

Below are the rough guidelines I will be following, and that I will not deviate from, regardless of the whether I am getting stick for being behind friends on the leader board or chasing a new 7-day points high or new badge collecting or whatever else might tempt me. In my mind these things are secondary things that make the collection of data less mundane and in some ways more rewarding.

The following things are allowed:

  • The major group is places where I’d purchase something interesting and/or consume something. Places like coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, smaller more individual shops. This would count out food shops and supermarkets like Sainsburys or the local corner shop; and standard shops like Boots or Topman. The criteria would be, can it be reviewed? Do I want to remember where it is? Do I want to remember why I’ve been there? This is useful info to have.
  • Similarly to above I’ll be checking-in to venues. Places hosting gigs, sporting events, exhibitions, etc.
  • I am going to be in a location for a period of time, I don’t mind people knowing this and I wouldn’t mind “bumping” in to a friend. Again there is a potential benefit from this. for example if I am in Brockwell park and a friend is in the neighbourhood then they’d be able to see I was about and come see me (or avoid), if they wish
  • If I am travelling to place other than the place I live in then I’d like to record that so will be checking-in to train stations, airports etc. I like to know where I have been and when, and how I got there. I’ll check-in to a stations at each end but won’t check-in to specific platforms or trains. If I check in at King’s Cross station and then Leeds train station I think it’s safe to conclude I’ve traveled by train between the two.
  • Other. Obviously there are some gray areas which I’m still figuring out but on the whole it is about using your common sense and think about what’s useful and what’s noise. For example checking-in each time I have popped out of the office and returned is just noise. Checking-in at the corner shop whilst I’m picking up milk on the way home is just noise. Etc.

There you have it, my reasons for and my rules to use with foursquare. Feel free to question either in the comments below if you’d like.

Update: After only a week of using it one positive side effect I’ve noticed is that I have actively been hunting out new places to visit so I get more points. This is a nice unexpected consequence.