I promised an answer:
So here goes. Why do I “check in” every time I eat at a restaurant or attend an event (or even at each train stop as I roll home from New York tonight as I write this)?
As David Heyman and I noted in a later Twitter exchange during the Cohen interview, I don’t actually see a lot of value right now in my use of Foursquare (and my check-ins sometimes annoy Mimi).
I don’t even know what I did to earn most of my stinkin’ badges. I take no pride in being No. 11 on the “leaderboard.” I’ve never made it to No. 1, and I’m pretty sure I won’t get anything except tweeting rights if I do.
My Digital First Media colleague Buffy Andrews tried to get a free cup of coffee at a place where she was mayor, and they didn’t know what she was talking about.
Beyond the value of tracking my son’s night life (and I couldn’t do that, except that he agreed to be my friend), I don’t get much out of Foursquare.
So why should I, or any journalist, spend time with Foursquare?
Maybe we shouldn’t, but here’s why I do: I think mobile news, information and commerce play a huge role in the future of journalism and the news business. I think location will play a significant role: providing news, useful information, coupons and other content and commerce relating to a person’s precise location at a particular moment.
I don’t particularly think Foursquare has figured out what that future will be. But it’s the leading player in location now (having beaten back a Facebook challenge), and if I check in and play the silly games, I hope I’ll play a role in finding or shaping that future, or will be in a position to take advantage when someone else finds and shapes it.
I can already see some of the possibilities:
On a breaking story last year, my TBD colleague, Mandy Jenkins, used Foursquare to see who had checked in recently at the Foursquare venue where the news was happening. Similarly, if you checked the “Mayor” of a venue that’s in the news, you might be able to find someone who could be a good source (I’m a loyal customer of Lucia’s and spent last week at Premiere, so I might be a decent source for a story on either).
When police were evacuating Times Square last year because of a would-be bomber, the Wall Street Journal used a Foursquare “shout” to break the story, so that people checking in on Manhattan would know about the danger.
At my encouragement last week, Connecticut Magazine opened a Foursquare account. The magazine chooses a popular “Best of Connecticut” list every year, telling people in the state where they can get the best Buffalo wings, creative cocktail and so on in the state. I noted the opportunity to reach a broader (and younger) audience by posting the “Best” ratings as Foursquare tips for each location selected. (On a California visit last year, Mimi and I ordered a delicious pie based on a Foursquare tip.)
Some media organizations are using Foursquare’s API to sell ads to local merchants, Cohen said Tuesday. As an advocate that news organizations need to seek new revenue sources, I sure want to see where this goes (and will be encouraging Digital First Media sales people to pursue the possibility).
My friend Elaine Clisham tweeted last night that being mayor does have some value:
Then JRC colleague Matt DeRienzo, Mark Loundy and Elaine discussed other possibilities and benefits:
At Tuesday’s interview by Jeff Jarvis, Cohen mentioned a new Foursquare tool called Radar and a social app built on Foursquare’s API, Sonar (I downloaded it). Cohen also said Foursquare will be exploring what to do with checking in about intentions: not where you are right now, but where you’re planning to go.
Clearly, Foursquare is evolving, as any startup (or established company) should. I think Foursquare or some competitor is going to find a way to profit by location-based information, engagement and commerce. I think my company and I will have a better chance of sharing in that prosperity if my colleagues and I pursue some badges and mayorships that don’t seem to count for much. Yet.