June 7, 2010

My foursquare “Aha” Moment

You remem­ber your first time, right? The moment you real­ized email was more than just cool? Or the web, or blog­ging, or Face­book, or cell­phones, or or or — take your pick. There’s always that moment where you real­ize that this shiny, new thing actu­ally has value for you, and that’s when you really buy into inte­grat­ing it into your life.

I’ve been using foursquare for a while and hav­ing fun with it, but my “aha” moment finally came last month on a trip to Wash­ing­ton D.C. Foursquare (and ser­vices like it) use GPS built-in to your smart­phone to locate you. They show you venues nearby and let you “check in” at a spe­cific one. Foursquare treats this like a game, and if you check in often enough at a spe­cific loca­tion (and more often than any­one else), you become “the mayor” until some­one else has more check-ins there than you do. Foursquare also allows busi­nesses to offer “spe­cials” to those check­ing in, such as dis­counts or free items. Other ser­vices, like Gowalla, BrightKite, and Loopt, mostly just show you where your friends are, which can be handy if you end up near each other and don’t know it. In gen­eral, you can also broad­cast your loca­tion on Twit­ter or Face­book, and some­time this year Face­book is sup­posed to imple­ment its own location-based check-in service.

I'm currently the Mayor of ALA

Sure, it was fun when I was the orig­i­nal mayor of MPOW, and I got a glimpse of how use­ful a location-based ser­vice could be dur­ing ALA’s Mid­win­ter Meet­ing in Boston in Jan­u­ary, when I could see friends checked in at the con­ven­tion cen­ter or a nearby restau­rant. But let’s face it — it wasn’t dif­fi­cult to become the first mayor of ALA, and you expect to see spe­cific types of check­ins at a con­fer­ence. It’s really the unex­pected moments that result in a “whoa” or “aha.”

I had two of those on the D.C. trip. The first hap­pened when I checked in at the National Build­ing Museum and foursquare showed me that “Fiesta Asia Street Fair” was a nearby trend­ing place. This piqued my inter­est, so I looked it up on the web and found out it was actu­ally the National Asian Her­itage Fes­ti­val, which was hap­pen­ing just a few blocks away on Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue. I changed my plans, headed down there, and found music, food, ven­dors, and more. I had a great time, and I wouldn’t even have known about the Fes­ti­val if I hadn’t checked in on foursquare at the right time in the right-ish place.

I caught another glimpse of the power of infor­ma­tion plus loca­tion when we went to din­ner that night. I checked in at Rosa Mex­i­cano and got a lit­tle popup with his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion about where we were cour­tesy of The His­tory Chan­nel. I’d read about THC’s cam­paign using foursquare, but sur­pris­ingly I only ran into two fac­toids twice while in D.C. This first one noted we were at the spot where Samuel Morse opened the world’s first tele­graph office.

History Channel factoid that popped up during dinner

The sec­ond one popped up when I checked in at the National Por­trait Gallery. Unfor­tu­nately, we’re still at a point where “loca­tion” can be a lit­tle geographically-challenged, so even though I was pre­cise about where I was check­ing in, the fac­toid that dis­played was for the nearby Inter­na­tional Spy Museum. It was also worded in a way that implied the infor­ma­tion was about the Por­trait Gallery, which is unfor­tu­nate. It’s a good heads up that if you end up writ­ing these kinds of descrip­tions for a local his­tory tour or other ori­en­ta­tion to your town, be sure to be explicit in nam­ing places in the descrip­tion.

History Channel factoid about the International Spy Museum

Still, it was pretty cool to have infor­ma­tion dis­played to me based on my loca­tion with very lit­tle effort on my part. And while I’m call­ing this my “foursquare moment,” it’s really my location-based ser­vices one. It could have hap­pened on any of them, although foursquare seems to have the most crit­i­cal mass (I very rarely have to enter a venue any­more) and the “trend­ing places” fea­ture has been unique for me so far.

That said, I’m very inter­ested in Gowalla’s trips fea­ture, which lets you cre­ate a tour or itin­er­ary for friends. I’m very intrigued by this, and I believe it could be a great oppor­tu­nity for libraries to offer local infor­ma­tion, but Gowalla didn’t click for me on this trip the way foursquare did. I did dual check­ins to both ser­vices, and while I think I picked up a cou­ple of ran­dom “items” on Gowalla, I also had to enter a cou­ple of venues myself, a sign that it doesn’t have the same adop­tion rate. I had hoped to find some good D.C. “trips” to con­sider fol­low­ing, but unfor­tu­nately the Gowalla app doesn’t show nearby trips, which sorely lim­its the util­ity of the ser­vice. Every time I checked nearby trips, I got the same list of national ones, even though the Wash­ing­ton Post recently cre­ated one specif­i­cally for D.C., as did National Geo­graphic.

I expect to see a lot more use of both ser­vices dur­ing ALA’s Annual Con­fer­ence in a few weeks. If you’re attend­ing, make a note of the Gowalla trips ahead of time, because you won’t find them serendip­i­tously via the app. If you’re using foursquare, help us make the con­fer­ence hotspots trend­ing places. And if you have a smart­phone and aren’t using either of these ser­vices, you might want to give them a try onsite to see if you have your own aha moment.

Be Socia­ble, Share!


  1. Gowalla’s Wash­ing­ton Post and Nat Geo trips are really weirdly han­dled. You have to visit those links you men­tioned, then ‘fol­low’ those accounts on Gowalla. Now their trips will show up in your trips list. It’s a cou­ple extra steps that most users prob­a­bly won’t fig­ure out — like you said it’s a shame that they can’t be stum­bled upon while wan­der­ing DC. Still, I’m look­ing for­ward to try­ing them out :)

    The His­tory Chan­nel bits are very nice, but I wish Foursquare was respon­sive at all to work­ing with libraries. I’ve been try­ing to con­tact them for 6 months and haven’t got­ten a sin­gle response.

    Comment by Chad — June 8, 2010 @ 9:46 am

  2. Yeah I’vebeen hop­ing that we could get them to have some sort of library badge… maybe you could talk to them? I’ve enjoyed it at big tech heavy events like SXSW fig­ur­ing out where my friends are, but it’s also a neat place to find local tech-friendly cafes and the like. See­ing the “spe­cials nearby” but­ton means you know there’s a foursquare-aware place to hang out which is a decent indi­ca­tor that there will be other lap­top tot­ing nerds there. I’ve def­i­nitely used it to see what’s trend­ing nearby and, most impor­tantly, where my friends are in the air­port when I’m head­ing into or out of a big event. Nice post.

    Comment by jessamyn — June 8, 2010 @ 9:53 am

  3. Chad, I’ll email you the con­tact info I have for some­one there. I’m sure they’re just over­whelmed, but it took me months to get to some­one, only to be turned down for work­ing together on some­thing for Annual. Same thing with Gowalla. Very disappointing.

    Which leads me to ask… how’s your app com­ing? :D

    Comment by jenny — June 8, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

  4. Thanks, Jes­samyn. There’s an effort to get a book­worm badge going at http://getsatisfaction.com/foursquare/topics/bookworm_badge_please, but it doesn’t seem to be mak­ing much head­way. I talked to some­one at 4sq about that, too. He for­warded my request to “the folks here who work on that,” but I haven’t heard any­thing fur­ther. It’s a shame, because that would be a great badge that might prompt more libraries to get involved with their service.

    The air­port check­ins are def­i­nitely inter­est­ing, although some folks get so gran­u­lar that I think it defeats the pur­pose. I’m try­ing to write a post about think­ing through broad­cast­ing your checkin to other social net­works, and I might include that piece, too. This might be where gam­ing the “may­or­ship” works against the “social” discovery.

    I’ll keep watch­ing for you nearby. :)

    Comment by jenny — June 8, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

  5. Thanks for the info, Jenny! Sorry to hear you didn’t have bet­ter luck though :( My app is com­ing along, but much more slowly than I expected… I’ll know whether it can be done in time this week­end thought!

    Comment by Chad — June 8, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

  6. […] My foursquare “Aha” Moment Pub­lished: June 7, 2010 Source: The Shifted Librar­ian You remem­ber your first time, right? The moment you real­ized email was more than just cool? Or the web, or blog­ging, or Face­book, or cell­phones, or or or — take your pick. There’s always that moment where y… […]

    Pingback by Storytelling Social Media Marketing PR Business & Technology Curated Stories June 8, 2010 — June 8, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

  7. Okay — this has con­vinced me. I’m installing foursquare on my iPhone now. I have been see­ing lit­tle snip­pets of info on this (so and so just checked in at.…) but didn’t real­ize the poten­tial this App offers. Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Fran — June 9, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

  8. As a mas­sive geog­ra­phy & infor­ma­tion nerd, as well as for other rea­sons, I enjoy the idea of a sys­tem of shar­ing loca­tion and travel data with my friends… but every time I start to think along that line, I get over­whelmed by the mas­sive creepi­ness fac­tor of telling thou­sands, if not mil­lions, of ran­dom peo­ple I don’t know who I am and where I’m at all the time.…

    Comment by Jonathon — June 10, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

  9. […] * One person’s FourSquare “aha” moment. […]

    Pingback by The Artolater » Friday Links — June 11, 2010 @ 6:51 am

  10. Great post! I’ve been try­ing to explain how the tips sec­tion of FourSquare and the fact that you can see what’s going on locally around you is a bonus. I used it in place of Zagat’s when I trav­eled the last time and found some really great places to eat in town.

    Thanks again and I’ll be shar­ing your post at the Social But­ter­fly Lounge at #ISTE10 this June where I am pre­sent­ing FourSquare.

    Comment by Lisa Thumann — June 11, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

  11. …and I’ve just decided to stop “play­ing” foursquare. It eats up so much of my Black­berry space, mem­ory, speed, and shuts down every­thing else I’m using, that I’m giv­ing up. Maybe I’ll have to rethink it.

    Comment by Marian — June 15, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

  12. I am so pre-aha.

    Comment by Shelley — June 18, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

  13. Mar­ian, I think you can try play­ing via SMS if the app won’t work well for you.

    Comment by jenny — June 21, 2010 @ 6:44 pm

  14. […] with Foursquare and their library users. And Jenny Levine (The Shifted Librar­ian) shared her Foursquare “a-ha” moment with us. These are just a few […]

    Pingback by Leveraging Location-Based Social Apps: A Foursquare Example « Speaking of Information — August 3, 2010 @ 7:33 am

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