Where art thou? foursquare, of course

A capture of how a foursquare update, known as a "check in," appears on my Facebook page.

After hearing Antony Rotolo of Syracuse University‘s iSchool talk about the power of location-based social networking tools like fourquare, I decided to open an account and give it a whirl.

Foursquare (which writes its name lowercase except at the beginning of sentences) allows users to connect with each other and to share their locations through a process called “checking in.”

You can use foursquare on a computer, but it is most powerful when launched on a smartphone, as it can tap into the phone’s GPS and help users determine exactly where they are and what’s around them. Foursquare ties into users’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, which makes it easier to find contacts who also use foursquare. Additionally, this feature turns foursquare into a blogging tool that can enhance posts to those platforms. There is also a foursquare plug-in for WordPress, which I have yet to play with.

As Rotolo explained to students in Ines Mergel‘s New Media Management class, foursquare has clear value to businesses, who tie it into their customer loyalty programs. Customers who “check in” at certain locations get discounts and freebies, which in turn motivate the customers to utilize foursquare more.

Governments and nonprofits are also starting to get on board. The public transportation system for the San Fransisco Bay area, known as BART, has developed a foursquare program that utilizes foursquare’s game mechanics to make riding more enjoyable. Syracuse University also has a sophisticated presence on foursquare and has turned it into a powerful tool for exploring the campus and connecting students to the broader Syracuse community. One of foursquare’s founders a Syracuse alum.

Foursquare creeps out many potential users in the way that other social networking tools make people uncomfortable, only more so. The primary questions people have about the platform are (1) who has time for another social networking tool, (2) why would I want to let people know where I am and what I am doing all the time, and (3) who would even care?

All valid questions, for sure. But I think foursquare and other location-based services have a role play. Whether or not to utilize them, and how to utilize them, all depends on what you want to accomplish online and acting strategically to achieve those goals.

If meeting your goals require you to create and share narratives about yourself online, foursquare can be a handy device for enhancing and enriching that experience.

Applying common sense and selectivity to what we share empowers us to keep our posts  professional, positive, constructive and safe. For instance, you will not see me checking in on foursquare from my home or the doughnut shop. But I am happy to share my location with people when watching the Orangemen at the Dome or attending an art opening in Downtown Syracuse.

Enhancing posts with foursquare is obviously more fun when life is interesting. Foursquare and its precise mapping tool would have been a wonderful addition to my posts when blogging for Syracuse.com and The Post-Standard from Katrina-destroyed Mississippi, or when I bounced from polling place to polling place on election night.

So for me, the question is not whether location-based services have value, but how best to use them. It’s also an open question as to whether foursquare can stay relevant as giants like Twitter and Facebook add location-based functionality to their platforms. But for now, foursquare is doing a great job of becoming part of the social networking conversation.

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