I have been asked by several people about foursquare (probably because they see me check-in on twitter every 5 minutes). What is it? Why should I use it? What is the point? Et cetera, et cetera. I thought I would take a minute or two to type up a quick post about it. This is not meant to be a guide or a walk-through, nor is it all-inclusive. This is just a quick explanation of what foursquare is to me and how/why I use it.

What is foursquare?

Foursquare is a game. Think of it like a city welcome guide meets twitter. It allows you to “check-in” whenever you go somewhere: the grocery store, the mall, a conference out-of-town, a restaurant, a bar…you get the idea. The more places you go, the more points you earn and more badges you unlock. The more points you earn and badges you unlock, the more smack you can talk to your friends!

What happens when I check-in?

Your friends are notified when you check-in to a place. You can set it up to tweet your whereabouts or to post it on facebook.

You can leave tips at places. What you are trying to do is give hints to other foursquare users that maybe people without foursquare won’t know about. Not really a review like “A wonderful venue with an exciting menu and fantastic variety of cuisine!” More along the lines of, “Talk to Sam and ask for the secret menu” or “Ask for a Katy, it’s not on the menu, but the best sandwich they have!” When a person checks in to a place you have added a tip to, they are notified. Every tip you leave is discoverable to others.

One could create one’s own “virtual scavenger hunt” with a little time and imagination. If a person goes to a place you have left a “clue” at, they are notified. If they figure out the “clue” and go there, they might find another “clue” that you have left.

You can also create a “To do” list for the next time you check-in to a venue. Something like “Try the veal next time” or “The filet mignon was horrible” where you would remind yourself of what you were thinking last time you were there.

What are these “points” for?

Right now, bragging rights. The leaderboard displays who has the most points between you and your friends, or overall. The point system is rather complex, but here is the gist of it:

  • Each time you check-in for that day, you get points. 1 for the first check-in, 2 for the second, 3 for the third, and so on. I am not sure if there is a limit on the amount of points awarded (i.e., is your 25th check-in worth 25 points, or is it capped at 10?). If you figure it out, let me know.
    UPDATE: It seems as though 20 is the max.
  • When you add a new venue (you are the first one ever to check-in at a place), you get a bonus of 5 points if you add the venue’s info.
  • The first time you check-in at a place you get a 5 point bonus. If you are the first one ever to check-in there and you add the venue as stated above, you get both sets of bonus points plus the check-in point(s).
  • If you drag a friend along, you get points for that, too!

Example: You go to BestBuy.

  • You are the first one ever to check-in there, so you add the venue to foursquare (+5 points).
  • It is your fourth check-in today (+4 points).
  • It is the first time you have checked in there, obviously since you added the venue, (+5 points).
  • 5 + 4 + 5 = 14 points for that check-in. Confused yet? Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it!

Have a look at my Points List for a complete listing of point values.

Points are not awarded for multiple check-ins at the same place within minutes of each other or for checking in during business hours (sorry, delivery guys…you can’t cheat!). Some people find ways to cheat and get points for stupid stuff like adding a venue for their bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, and garage. Great…you have successfully cheated your way into more points. I hope you drop your phone in the toilet!

That’s not fair! I just joined foursquare. I will never have as many points as people who have been using it for a long time!

Points used to reset every Sunday night at midnight. Not now. What you see now is a total accumulation of the points you have earned in the last 604,800 seconds (exactly 7 days). I put it like this to illustrate that the points are updated by the second. People were getting mad, claiming that their point count kept changing without checking in. Now you know why!

What if I want to still earn points, but not notify everyone of my location? (Shhh…I’m not supposed to be here!)

Foursquare has thought of this, too. You can check-in and earn points, yet remain incognito. Your friends will be notified that you have checked in, but will not know where. A simple “Off the grid” message is displayed instead of the venue that you are at.

What is a Mayor, and what does that do for me?

If you are the person who has checked in to a venue the most, you become the mayor. Some establishments will offer the mayor a free or discounted item or service depending on the place (e.g., a free beer of drink, a $5 gift card, a free night stay, etc.) Don’t believe me? See for yourself. However, mayorships are pretty competitive at places like this. Don’t plan on staying mayor for long.

Some business owners ban foursquare check-ins for employees. Why, you ask? Because they are there every day! The mayor would, in this instance, be the person who got to work the latest (or just the last person to check-in) since they would all have approximately the same amount of check-ins. It would make it impossible for a customer to become the mayor, therefore making the “Mayor Prize” contest a moot point.

What is a badge, and how do I get them?

Badges are virtual awards for completing different tasks (e.g., your first check-in, checking in four nights in a row, checking in to 10 different venues, checking in four times in one night, 30 check-ins in a month, etc.).

Why would I use foursquare?

Foursquare is a social networking site. It allows you to connect with others who have similar interests evidenced by frequenting the same venues. When you check-in to a place, you can be notified if any of your friends have checked in there recently, or are possibly still there. Some circles of friends have foursquare “parties” or “mashups” in which the organizer announces the venue and it becomes a contest to see how many foursquare check-ins that party can register.

Ok, I’m sold. Now, how do I get it on my phone?

Foursquare is available on BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, and Palm. If you have a supported phone, head over to http://foursquare.com and click the appropriate link.

In short, foursquare is simply a fun, addictive game that allows you to connect with people. To add friends, they have integrated an app that “scans” your twitter, facebook, and Gmail accounts (with your permission of course!) and add any foursquare users it finds to your friend list once they have approved your request. Give it a try, you are sure to love it!

Follow @foursquare on twitter for the latest updates and info!

What did you think about this post? Did it help? Do you have another tip or suggestion? I would love to hear it! Please, leave a comment below!