I spent Thanksgiving week with family in Florida. My travel plans took me through five different airports and into some places I’d never been. I’ve been traveling more freqently lately and, whenever I do, I get excited to use Foursquare to document my travel and discover new places. This geolocation network has changed the way I travel.
In the beginning, Foursquare was just a game. I enjoyed watching my score climb on the leader board as I checked in to different restaurants, bars and parks. I fought to get the most check-ins at my favorite venues so that I could steal the mayorships and I loved collecting badges.
Then something unexpected happened. Foursquare became social and provided a unique tool for businesses.
This isn’t just a game anymore
As time went on, Foursquare evolved into a true social and business network.
- Users could comment on check-ins, give tips to other users and add photos to further document their experiences at different venues.
- Businesses could register specials on their products and services that would show up in the interface when a user checked in.
- Foursquare became integrated with other networks such as Twitter and Facebook. (I link my Foursquare account up with Twitter, but only allow posting of check-ins if I had context to add.)
- More badges were made available to users; some in partnership with other entities such as Zagat and even various sporting events.
However, I was most impressed with the brilliance of the Foursquare developers. They took the game and made it relevant to business and in the social media world.
But I don’t want to “level up”
I was surprised during my vacation when I checked into an airport and found out that I was given a badge that I had already acquired with a level attached to it. Apparently I had missed Foursquare’s announcement on this “leveling up” feature with its expertise badges the week before.
In this particular instance, I received a “Level 2″ for my Jetsetters badge, which is earned by checking in at different airports. On this same trip, I also received a “Level 3″ for this badge. I couldn’t figure out how that was possible.
Research told me that you “leveled up” after checking in at five different venues within that expertise field. However, during this one trip, I had only checked in to five airports; three of which I had checked into before. Then it hit me: Foursquare must have made the levels retroactive.
This theory (while unproven) became more likely as I watched my Twitter stream over this past weekend. I can only describe it as “Badge-o-Rama.” The number of postings about earned badges flowing through my Twitter timeline this weekend was borderline ridiculous.
Is Foursquare crying for Yelp?
There has been a lot of noise about Foursquare and Yelp (another geolocation service) competing against each other and whether or not they are “stealing” features from one another.
- Yelp started allowing check-ins and offering its own badges.
- Foursquare recently changed the design of its website and users claimed it was a copy of Yelp’s website.
- Yelp started out as a way to write and share reviews of venues (mostly of restaurants and bars) and Foursquare was accused of borrowing the concept with its “tips” feature.
At first, I ignored this bickering back and forth. I was a Foursquare user and I enjoyed the changes that the network was making. However, the levels addition to the expertise badges in Foursquare has me thinking again.
Reviewers say that one of Yelp’s best features is that the number and quality of reviews give users different levels of expert status at various venues. Sound familiar?
Please strive not to become anti-social
In my research for this post, I found an article from the summer of 2010 comparing Foursquare and Yelp that I still find relevant today. One of the better points in this article was that companies continue to grow if they ignore the similar startups around them and continue to do what they do best.
My biggest fear is that this new “leveling up” feature in Foursquare is an indication that they are going back to the game to directly compete with Yelp. Maybe it will work to create some “geo-jealousy” amongst those users who are there only for the game; but I think in the long run Foursquare will lose some of its credibility as a significant social network with useful business tools. Also, the change seems to have made it easier to earn badges and levels of badges, which will in turn make the game less challenging and less interesting anyway.
What I like best about Foursquare seems to be heading to the wayside. I’m going to continue to watch how this change affects the network and users of the network, but I might have to rethink how I use it in the future.