Friends go online at Foursquare to meet offline

Nov 23, 2009 By RACHEL METZ , AP Technology Writer
In this photo taken Friday Nov. 20, 2009, the Foursquare application is shown on an iPhone in front of a Starbucks in San Francisco. Foursquare lets you share your whereabouts with friends, no matter if you're at a hot new bar or a neighborhood pet store. (AP Photo/Russel A. Daniels)

(AP) -- Laura Fitton's ascent has been staggering: In less than a year, she's become mayor of nine different places in several different states, all without giving any speeches or kissing any babies.

Instead, Fitton has gone out. A lot. And that's allowed her to build an empire in the world of a rapidly growing Internet startup called Foursquare, which rewards users with points and virtual "mayorships" for checking in on their cell phones when they're out and about.

Foursquare is the brainchild of Dennis Crowley, 33, and Naveen Selvadurai, 27. The two friends decided to roll out their service after learning in January that was shutting down Dodgeball - a similar tool for connecting with friends through text messages. Crowley had started Dodgeball in 2000 and sold it to Google in 2005 for an undisclosed amount.

Released in March, Foursquare lets you share your whereabouts with friends, no matter if you're at a hot bar or a neighborhood pet store. Once you've checked in somewhere - through Foursquare's Web site or its applications for the or phones - your friends can see where you are and decide whether to meet up with you.

If you want to check in on an iPhone, for example, you'd see a main tab showing your favorite and nearby businesses, and another tab showing where your friends have recently checked in. You can search for venues, leave tips for other users about things they might want to try at a bar or restaurant, or send a "shout" - a message that goes to all your friends.

Checking in is done on the honor system, so technically you can check in at dessert destination Serendipity 3 in Manhattan even if you're really sitting in an office in San Francisco.

There are plenty of applications that let you share your location with friends, such as Loopt, Glympse and Google Latitude. What's different about Foursquare - and what users say keeps them coming back - is that it includes a reward system familiar to video gamers.

You get five points for checking in somewhere for the first time, for example, and if you visit a place three times in a week you'll earn a "local" badge that appears on your Foursquare profile. Check in somewhere more than others do and Foursquare will dub you the mayor. (You'll have to keep visiting, though, or you might be overthrown by somebody else). A leaderboard lets you see how you stack up against your friends and other users in your area.

Since Foursquare launched, it has gained more than 100,000 users and added more than 100 cities worldwide to its roster (New York has the most Foursquare users, followed by San Francisco.) It recently launched in such European cities as Berlin, Paris and Madrid.

Foursquare isn't yet harnessing its users to make money, but Crowley says it plans to eventually. It might ask businesses to pay to display specials to users (some are doing this for free) or let the businesses sponsor site badges that users get for, say, going to a concert.

Some users attribute Foursquare's popularity partly to the success of Twitter and Facebook. The constant sharing with friends that is encouraged on these sites has trained people to be open to doing so elsewhere.

But while the definition of a friend on Facebook or Twitter can range from your grandmother to a guy you once spoke with at a party, Foursquare users tend to use it to connect with their actual friends.

"My rule there is that these are people I'd let sleep on my couch," says Patrick Reilly, a software architect in San Francisco whose mayoral holdings include a local Best Buy store and a bar.

This attitude makes sense to Robbie Blinkoff, a cultural anthropologist and managing partner at Context-Based Research Group in Baltimore. He believes people are itching for more in-person meet-ups, while social sites like Facebook are geared more toward connecting on the Web.

Reilly says Foursquare has led him to hang out more with his friends.

"It definitely creates more connectiveness," he says.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Study: Social media users shy away from opinions

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Evite rival Socializr launches events aggregator

Apr 15, 2009

(AP) -- Socializr, the online invitations startup from Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams, now helps users manage their events from sites like Facebook, MySpace, Evite and Meetup.

Facebook to keep profiles of the dead

Oct 27, 2009

(AP) -- Death doesn't erase the online footprints that people leave in life and Facebook won't either, though it will make some changes.

Marketing company sells clients Facebook friends

Sep 03, 2009

(AP) -- On Facebook, most people make friends the old-fashioned way - by sending a request to be added to someone's posse of pals. Now, an Australian marketing company hopes to save you time and energy by ...

Recommended for you

WEF unveils 'crowdsourcing' push on how to run the Web

3 hours ago

The World Economic Forum unveiled a project on Thursday aimed at connecting governments, businesses, academia, technicians and civil society worldwide to brainstorm the best ways to govern the Internet.

Study: Social media users shy away from opinions

Aug 26, 2014

People on Facebook and Twitter say they are less likely to share their opinions on hot-button issues, even when they are offline, according to a surprising new survey by the Pew Research Center.

US warns shops to watch for customer data hacking

Aug 23, 2014

The US Department of Homeland Security on Friday warned businesses to watch for hackers targeting customer data with malicious computer code like that used against retail giant Target.

Fitbit to Schumer: We don't sell personal data

Aug 22, 2014

The maker of a popular line of wearable fitness-tracking devices says it has never sold personal data to advertisers, contrary to concerns raised by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Should you be worried about paid editors on Wikipedia?

Aug 22, 2014

Whether you trust it or ignore it, Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world and accessed by millions of people every day. So would you trust it any more (or even less) if you knew people ...

User comments : 0