Foursquare is a Waste of Time

When Foursquare first hit the scene, it seemed like all the cool kids were using it — checking into places, becoming mayors, and earning badges. I wasn’t inclined to join immediately, despite wielding a capable iPhone with an unlimited data connection and penchant for getting out of the house at least once a day. Seemed kinda creepy to tell people where I was at any given moment — which, in turn, would also let people know where I wasn’t. The security risk, alone, was enough to keep me from signing up.

A long while later, I cleaned out my Facebook “friends” list and opted to set up a Foursquare account. “Location Based Services” weren’t going anywhere, and I was curious to know which discounts surrounded me on the go. That’s the reason I finally signed up, if you want to know the truth. Otherwise, what value am I delivering back to myself for taking an active part in a social network that does more to benefit someone else? Lo and behold, I found that very few of my frequent haunts were occupied by any of my local connections and that, worse still, nobody else seemed to care about where I seemed to go.

I mean, they may have cared that I checked in at a hair salon — but I was the only one who had ever checked into this well-established brick and mortar. I’m not exactly in the boonies, either.

I never connected my Twitter account to Foursquare, chiefly because I didn’t want to broadcast to the world that I wasn’t sitting somewhere in my home. I never leave the house without implementing various security precautions, but would rather err on the side of caution. Beyond the logic, it just didn’t seem all that smart to flood my timeline with pointless updates that benefited absolutely nobody other than the establishment in which I checked… in.

When Facebook and Yelp turned on similar-to-Foursquare functionality, I was running through the routine — in three separate apps — for weeks on end. Then, I got tired of the rigamarole and cut my activity back to using Foursquare (even foregoing a quick scan to see if there were any Facebook check-in rewards). It’s convenient to open an app and swipe over a couple of switches, but it… was tedious. It still is tedious, but I’m getting to that in a few more paragraphs. If this article were a movie, this is still the establishing shot. Or the opening montage with an old Blood, Sweat, & Tears song as a bed.

Foursquare is a Waste of TimeThen, I finally joined Instagram (yes, long after its release as well). I’m an early adopter, but I don’t have a short attention span like some of ’em do. Instagram didn’t seem to be fulfilling any more needs than PixelPipe handled well enough on its own, but PixelPipe continued to be hopelessly buggy with every release. I’ve been a happy-enough Instagram user for the time being — and, through its connection to my Foursquare account, I’ve performed most of my check-ins with associated photos. Seems smart enough, easy enough, and I don’t take images of everywhere I go. I let my security guard down a bit, though I tend not to share images until after I’ve left a location.

So, after starting to trip into town to take meetings and pick up a daily doppio espresso at a local Starbucks, I started to rack up a few check-ins. When Empire Avenue (yes, the social network which provides the second-highest, targeted engagement for me by way of rewards, second to YouTube) flipped on Instagram and Foursquare support, I was more inclined to use the combo more frequently. Before I knew it, I was several days away from becoming mayor of “my” Starbucks!

Wow! What would this mean? Would there be a parade in my honor? Demand for a recount? Some random scandal involving a photo of my nipples? Would I get any special deals? Would I be treated like royalty? Would I make the manager happy? Would I be given a key to the building? Free treats?

I found out when I stole the title of Mayor from some unlucky sap who wasn’t as caffeine addicted as I was. Only took me 54 check-ins to get there. Of course, the number of times I had gone to that Starbucks without checking in is anybody’s guess. This was it! I seemed to remember hearing that Starbucks mayors got something special at one time. That time had lapsed, and all I got was a lousy icon next to my name and some “points” that led to nothing special. I think I got a useless “Barista” badge at some point, too? But no discounts were at my fingertips, beyond that which I receive from being a “gold card” Starbucks patron.

Foursquare got me nowhere. Rather, it has gained me nothing of true importance. Maybe I’m going to the wrong businesses? Or, maybe too many businesses just don’t care about LBS? Or, maybe too many small business owners are doing it wrong? Or, maybe the incentives weren’t interesting enough? Or, maybe “checking in” is really pointless after all? I think my biggest beef is that for all that business I might bring to a business (free advertising), I’m not really getting that much in return. I use apps that give me things all the time, but… I don’t really care what my friends are doing at any given moment. Mind you, I’m also the kind of guy who just doesn’t care what song you’re listening to right now.

Maybe I’m the odd man out, here? I’m not motivated by achievements that don’t help me gain something beyond what I’m already gaining. Otherwise, I know I’d feel used. If someone gives me a likely attainable goal to achieve in conjunction with an added bonus (beyond simply achieving the goal), I’m more inclined to take the time to try. When I commit to a restaurant discount on Pirq, I know I’ll get up to 50% off on my bill when I check in. Does that incentivize me to eat at Pirq-supported restaurants more frequently? Absolutely.

Foursquare has promise, but for me, it’s largely failed to deliver.

Article Written by

Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.

  • Dena Coe

    I use Google shopping for nearby specials, and check in via Latitude. Google offers everything and more nowadays. The privacy settings can also be tweaked to be selective of your audience.

  • Mojotronica

    It seems like it would be useful at events, like General Admission concerts, to find friends to share the experience with and to record that you were “there.”

  • Ryan Meray

    If you use Foursquare because you’re expecting to be rewarded for something, then yes, you’re going to be disappointed. If you use it expecting people to be impressed with all the cool places you go, yes, you’ll be disappointed.

    If you use it to keep track of places you’ve been, meet up with friends when proximity and schedules magically align, or to fix gaps in your mileage log at the end of the year, then you will get a lot more out of it.

    • MightyCasey

      Exactly. Also, I’m amused/bemused by the utter failure of brick and mortar businesses to take advantage of Foursquare as an engine. It also makes me want to get on the road more, since I love the totally random way badges unlock when I do =)

  • Geilt

    I love foursquare, and if you know where to hunt for specials, you can get alot out of it, not to mention friending mayors to meet new people in your local area! Has been great! I even met people at the gym to workout with!

  • Guest

    To answer your question about “being the odd man” I’d say you are. It’s true that with Foursquare there are times where you see you’re friends check-ins and think:”Whatever, so what?”. But I’ve got so say, that I have had a tremendous amount of reward out of Foursquare that makes me love the app and service so much! From small things (like getting a free small fry or soda at McDonalds) to larger things for (like a free meal or 20% discount on clothing!) Not to mention, with my close circle of friends we like to challenge each-other by seeing at the end of each week, who gets the most points (whenever we meet-up again), gets a drink from each of us! By reading your post, it makes me feel like your experience with Foursquare has really been a let down. But I would definitely not say Foursquare is a waste of time, because taking my example again, it shows that it is possible to gain from foursquare. I guess your experience may be caused by a different amount of factors; it may be your area, or the businesses that you dealt with or even how the individual businesses dealt with your check-ins. I believe, these should be taken into consideration. My point is, the title, I think, is way to harsh considering your circumstances. Many people look at LockerGnome for advice, and seeing such a title may potentially harm foursquare seeing the influence that you have as a source of information, Chris. So, maybe that’s just me…and yes, maybe I am over-reacting a little, but I’m just saying. Don’t bash it.

  • Anonymous

    To be completely honest, I’m so addicted to Foursquare.  I don’t use it to have people stalk me, I like to use it to be social and spark conversations with Friends about where the best places in my area are to eat.  You can also meet new people, as long as you’re safe.  Although I mainly use it to check it to see if there are any great deals on items, it is another great social networking site.  Many have their own opinion.  That’s what’s so great about the internet.  Everyone is free to their own opinion. 

  • Adonis

    just don’t add people that you didn’t know to avoid stalker. that’s all!

  • Bobby Black

    I’m pretty hooked on 4sq. You have pretty valid points, but a lot of places I do go, do have discounts or some other kind of benefit for checking in. Also, most of my firends are on 4sq, so I have a need to unlock more badges than them as well as try to be on the top of the list of check-ins. During my vacation home, I made sure to get to places earlier than my firends so I could rub it in their face that they weren’t the first to check in there. I even proved had a phone-themed high noon standoff with a firend to see who could check in at a favorite bar the fastest. Security is not a BIG issue with me when it comes to check-ins because nobody but friends know where I live.

  • Steve Hughes

    I enjoy 4 Square when it picks up my true location anyway.  Discounts on the fly, come on, that’s valuable.  In NJ I’m actually surprised at how many places have deals.  I thought it would take more time to gain traction.  Stick with it, it takes 10 seconds to check in, and it will improve with time.  It already drove FB Places out and Gowalla didn’t do anything creative.  I’m not sure what FB will do with Gowalla, but I’m not holding my breath.  Go foursquare…

    • PC Easy

      Location data information. Lots of valueable information there.

  • Deanna Ogle

    I liked it at one point just because it was fun some evenings to “check-in” and get points. But then I was the only one doing it and it had no further value. I think it might be of more use if more businesses offer coupons or discounts based on that. But even then, I quit using it because I haven’t figured out how Foursquare isn’t creepy!

  • Bob Warren

    Have a Fantastic Monday and a Super Duper Week!!

  • James Duckett

    What I like about Foursquare is to find out where the cool people are hanging out. I’ve seen a lot of people check in at a new restaurant, so I ask how they like it. I often get asked by those who follow me if I liked where I went, or they noticed me checking in some places on multiple occasions and they end up doing the same.

    So, I think Foursquare has helped me “get places” but Mayorships haven’t. My Mayorships have all stunk like yesterday’s garbage.

  • Bill Shelton

    I have a FourSqaure account that is also attached to my Empire Avenue account.  I approach it a little differently though.  I don’t know if you knew (I would suppose you do, don’t take offense) but you can also use your FourSquare account to create status updates.  When I post to my other networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, I also post updates to FourSquare using HootSuite.  If I get bored while I’m out, or waiting on my wife or kids, I’ll check-in if I think about it.  So you can still use it as a Social Networking tool, without as much concern for security.  And you can take that to the bank, because it was sent directly from the “Mayor of Home”.  

    I completely agree with FourSquare being a waste of time as far as checking-in.  No one is ever going to need to find me, and look on an app to see where I am/was.  I think they would just call or text me “Dude, where are you.  Call me”.  Also so few places offer anything truly worthwhile for Mayors (Winston Salem, NC) for such a pointless task.  If places could introduce a “Check-In QR or Barcode” or for people with Nexus S 4G, NFC tags to facilitate checking in, it may become a little more worthwhile, but only marginally.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Lisa Mason

    I tried it and it wasn’t really for me either. Just another site to keep up with that didn’t really serve a purpose for me. Everyone is different in how they use their social media, of course.

  • Anne Thomas

    I do like the free cookies at McDonalds …

  • bamelin

    I like Foursquare as it doesn’t involve the same time commitment that sites like Facebook do.  With Foursquare all it asks of me is a one click check in … For many people who have extremely busy schedules but want to be involved on some sort of social media network this is an attractive draw.

    Plus in my area alot of the mayorships are hotly contested … including the building I live in.  This keeps things interesting as well.

  • Bonnie Sayers

    I was on yelp before foursquare and used the website before the app and did reviews and added photos and want to be part of the elite some day.  But now not doing reviews as much with the app and then due to eav joined 4sq and I even use gowalla.  Do you use Gowalla?  Think they were just bought by facebook.

  • Magic Trax

    I’m not sure I completely agree with you about Foursquare. It really depends on how you’re using it and what you expect to gain from using it. I like to use foursquare to find nearby restaurants or businesses I might be interested in checking out and also to see if anybody left any tips to check out or do at a certain place.

  • Sally K Witt

    People can be RUDE on Foursquare too.  

  • Barry Watson

    I agree with some of Chris’s comments. The Mayorships are ludicrous to say the least. Retailers ,by and large, offer very few specials of any note. How often do you find that the Mayor is one of the staff who work there? Kind of defeats the whole point of the mayor thing.. I think the whole mayor thing could be re-vamped to great effect.

  • M Heiner

    I think you’re right, too many small business owners are doing it wrong.  One way I use foursquare is to let the small business owner know about LBS, and Geo-Social smartphone apps.  I’ll show them the app as I pay for my food/drink, et al, let them know that my f&f will get notified that I was at their shop, enjoyed the experience, and encourage them to visit, and since I’m willing to give them a WOMM shout, I ask if they would be willing to comp or discount my bill.  I’m no social media genius with a gazillion followers, but I never miss an opportunity to get a discount.  Any savvy small business owner knows the value of credible marketing and is usually willing to reward the same. 

    btw, I haven’t paid for coffee or fountain drinks at a local C-Store since I signed up for foursquare in February 2010, just for checking in when I’m there.

  • Anonymous

    I never ‘checked’ in somewhere with foursquare. I rather use foursquare to let my connections there know . . . that I don’t let everyone know where I am right now. foursquare = pointless – absolutely.

  • bayuamus

    It depends on what sort of interaction you’re looking from Foursquare. I myself record notes of eateries I’ve visited and compile them into a list which act as references to those curious to find out; just trying to be helpful. Sometimes it’s a good conversation starter as well.

  • Anonymous

    Foursquare (and all these locations sharing apps) are a waste of time. This whole “sharing everything” has gotten to be so ridiculous I actually find myself using social media and apps like this one less. Social media has become noisy and tiresome really, really quickly.

  • Joshua Auerbach

    seriously… why put up a video with subliminal messages of a santa clause with a sign that reads “he’s watching you” and another of a vampire WTF?.. and whats with that dude with the smiley face.. i recognize the third subliminal.. thats the guy that has a loud annoying voice and stuff.. don’t forget to invest in (e)Auerbach 

  • David Abraham

    Foursquare has a good brand, and good hype but no future.

  • TVisio

    FfourSquare boosted my EA shares …other than that, I agree with you it is not delivering but neither is Klout…what is your take on her?

  • Meetu Singhal

    FourSquare’s checkin specials are great for my city ( Las Vegas) . I gete several discounts / free stuff. It works for me in this city, Chris! 

  • Michael Allton

    I started using Foursquare on my trip to Barcelona a year ago to track the places I was eating. I ramped up activity just like you did when Empire Avenue started scoring activity. And I completely agree, it’s now tedious and unrewarding. I’m connecting with people all over the world and there’s always someone with more checkins than me, so even the competition lacks any satisfaction.

    Great article!

  • Nakeva Corothers

    I try all the tech/social media services that come out and interest me. Foursquare is something I use whenever its relevant (to me). It has not delivered on taking user data and offering anything of real value. We use it, post it and its free marketing to any location. Now we can add photos and its free social media marketing for any company. What do we get? Nothing. As Ryan pointed out, if you use it expecting to get something, its a disappointment.

    Its not the use and expectation that bothers me: Foursquare is offering our data to businesses and  its the businesses that are not demanding creativity to give back to the users. Again, taking our data and getting free marketing.

    So, like free Facebook, free Twitter, free WordPress, free Yelp, free Google+, I use the tools provided for my own benefit and amusement. It will be another argument/uproar if or when any of these services start charging for access.

    Anyone want to get a Starbucks Latte? After all that typing I’m thirsty.

  • John Haughey

    If people are worried about being stalked on services such as Gowalla or Foursquare, I think they need to be more selective of their friends.  If you fear someone on Foursquare is going to break into your house while you’re gone, why the heck are you friending them in the first place?

  • Rach

    Chris, You’re doing it wrong.

    Especially now, if you have an Am Ex card, they’re giving you FREE MONEY
    just for checking in. Maybe you do actually live in the “technology
    boonies”. Hell, I live in Cincinnati, which would def be considered a
    big city, and it still took some time for ppl to get on board, but once
    they are, its great.

    From a business account perspective, its a great marketing tool. And
    provides amazing analytics about some demographics coming into your
    business that you otherwise might not be partial to. As a consumer, with
    the new explore tab, I can see who has specials in the area, and am I
    more likely to go there? probably, especially if its something I want to
    try, or something new. It’s been known to happen before. Even local gas
    station chains are offering amazing specials.

    And the whole privacy level. Thats you’re own doing. YOU accept who or
    who isn’t a friend, and who see’s your checkins. There is the button
    when you check in that says “Share with friends Yes/No” You can click
    no, and then friends only see “[off the grid]”.

    Your thinking just blows my mind and shows to me that you haven’t
    educated yourself on the subject matter at all… which is surprising
    coming from you…

    • Chris Pirillo

      Again, that’s contingent on deals being in place and WITH REGULARITY. Foursquare has long been a wasteland of useless check-ins without value. If that trend changes, so will my opinion.