Foursquare King for a Week

Like any curious eight year old, when something gets popular I like to play with it, poke holes in it and see how it works.

Foursquare launched in Vancouver a few weeks ago.  So I wanted to be king of Vancouver for a week, not by a little bit mind you, but by a mile.  See what happens a long the way and get to know this area that’s really intriguing. 

Foursquare bills itself as a social game.  There are some rules or at least some inconsistent social codes depending on what circles you travel in.  Like any good hacker (which I’m not but pretended to be) I wanted to see what happens if I dominated Vancouver for a week.

I checked in every single place I was in, walked by or drove past. Easy enough.


  1. Victory – My score of 2088 was 5 times greater than runner up Hayley Z. at 405.  Take that Vancouver.
  2. Indifference – For a game, Foursquare isn’t very competitive.  Only the last day, maybe at that, some anyone noticeably attempt to aggressively move up the leaderboard.
  3. Reward – No recognition or even designation of “Mayor” for the week.  Seems odd not to reward with some sort of badge as other achievements are.
  4. Redundancy – As Vancouver didn’t have a pre-loaded database the only venues were those uploaded by players in Vancouver.  A great crowdsource initiative but seemed everyone who added places all hangs out at the same type of place. Quite the eco-chamber.
  5. Irony – Business tended to be great independent restaurants/businesses or mass market brands.  Not a bad thing, just a curious observation.
  6. Couponing – This big news last week was business could offer coupons, such as free beer for being mayor.  I’m all for driving traffic but beyond a bit of awareness Foursquare needs more to build brands.

At this stage it seems as those playing Foursquare are doing so to say they are playing Foursquare.  The competitive framework needs to be beefed up with rewards and consequences.  Obviously it’s early days for the tool, will be interesting to see how they evolve.  For the owners, undoubtedly there is a viable business model in there.  There are lots of small businesses keen to find better ways to market than the backs of fume squelching buses.  For business owners whether this will be an other addition to their marketing mix or a dramatic model shift is to be determined.

But in terms of a broader social movement it will be interesting to see what functionality or partnerships emerge. Branded scavenger hunts of sorts or GPS enabled fictional (or non-fiction) narratives are easy to envision and demand a premium price.  If someone like Zagat or Micheline Guides looked at their business as more than books and stickers on restaurant doors it would have been a brilliant extension of their business models.

As smart phones and next generation cars with smart navigation systems replace our current rolling stock over the next decade will be great to see what new applications and products come to market.  For marketing departments and ad agencies (traditional, digital, social, whatever…) it means either stepping up their game and being able to build a rigorous case for R&D budgets, not just marketing budgets, or slide a little further down the chain of innovation.