The mobile phone fad Foursquare is about to hit 1 million users. But while early adopters have signed on to play their little games, it's just another narcissistic assault on decent society by urban-dwelling iPhone users.
This game of Foursquare is played by "checking-in" when you visit a certain location, be that a bar, restaurant, nightclub, brothel, supermarket, office cubicle, parking garage, or dentist's office. It then tells everyone in your network that "Joe is at Best Buy on 61st Street and Broadway" or wherever the hell you are. The person who checks in the most at a certain place is deemed the "mayor" and has all the responsibility that comes along with absolutely zero power. There are also other "badges" given to users for certain behavior, like the "Bender" badge for visiting a bar four days in a row, the "Crunked" badge for hitting four bars in one night, or the "Barista" for visiting five different Starbucks.
Users get absolutely nothing for being the Mayor or having badges, so the only consolation they get is to prove some sort of crazy self-worth by collecting little electronic pieces of fabric that tell them they're cool. Foursquare honcho Dennis Crowley says that in the future, the mayor of a certain location might get a coupon or a discount. Sorry, but if you go to a bar or restaurant often enough for the staff and managers to recognize you, then you are a "regular" and that privilege is as old as public houses and one that often comes with freebies. The lovely gentleman at the coffee shop I go to every morning sometimes gives me a free cup just for the hell of it, and neither of us needed some silly internet game to tell us to do it.
The competitions for mayorhood and other badges have already become tedious. According to the Wall Street Journal, patrons of the Buttermilk Bar in Brooklyn are pissed because the bartender is the mayor. It's official, I never want to visit the Buttermilk. They also tell the tale of a young woman who's dying to be the mayor of her coffeeshop. Listen, lady. If meaningless electronic competitions mean that much to you, buy yourself a Wii and unlock a bunch of surprises playing tennis or something. You can get all the approval you need and maybe even burn off some of those venti soy half-caf lattes you've been sucking down hoping to earn your imaginary trophy.
Now people have started linking Foursquare to their Twitter and Facebook accounts, so some people's Twitter feeds read like an itinerary. "Joe is at Taco Bell." "Joe is at Wal-Mart." "Joe is at Tian'an Men Massage Parlor." Shut the fuck up, Joe. We don't care where you are! And if we did, we would text or call or email and say "Where are you?" Is that so hard? Even worse is if you're with Joe on a night out, and he's too preoccupied with earning his badges and seeing where everyone else is to actually talk to you. Hey, Joe. We're right fucking here trying to have fun in real life. Stop ignoring your friends, put down your iPhone, and try to engage with the real world like an actual person instead of some virtual game like some sort of limp World of Warcraft avatar.
As useless as all the mayorhoods are, the real danger of Foursquare is letting the world know your every location. There is already PleaseRobMe.com, a website that lets potential burglars know which people won't be home based on Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare updates. That seems a bit far-fetched, but there is the very real danger of having your boss check your Foursquare when you call in sick to work to discover either A)you were bar hopping all over town last night; or B) you are currently at Bliss getting a manipedi and not sick at all. If you are stupid enough to let either of those happen, you shouldn't be using a "smart phone" to begin with.
The more immediate danger is having people find you in real time. If you check in at a bar in Manhattan on a Saturday night, how quickly before that killjoy friend you're trying to avoid, your annoying coworker with the beer tears, and your ex with a bone to pick all show up for a meeting/confrontation. Based on the Venn diagram of concentric social circles New Yorkers run in, it will be impossible to hide. This mass stampede of new visitors could ruin a venue. If everyone figures out where certain key cool partiers are hanging out or where noted foodies are going to eat, the hidden gems will be overrun with the Foursquare-using rabble in no time, turning what used to be your favorite spot into something akin to a bachelorette party in the Meatpacking.
The lede in the Observer of the inevitable FoHo (that's short for fauxhemian) backlash almost writes itself. "An increasing number of New York's exclusive hotspots are forbidding visitors from 'checking in' on Foursquare to keep the hip locations secret and oh so fabulous." The article will detail how Paul Sevigny isn't letting anyone Foursqure from his latest boîte, so that the unwashed masses don't know how fabulous it is and come crashing into his velvet rope.
Unlike Twitter, whose popularity was built on the backs of celebs, no famous people are going to jump on the Foursquare train (well, except for Ashton Kutcher who's getting something out of it) because they don't want anyone to know where they are and come hunting them down. If Justin Bieber can cause a riot at a mall with Twitter, imagine what he could do with Foursquare. It would be absolute pandemonium!
Without the support of the chosen people, the games will grow tired quickly and the badges will be easily forgotten like some many Friendster profiles. Sure, Foursquare may be the hit of the tech crowd now. But like many other internet fads, it will quickly fade away as people grow bored (and since no one can figure out how to make money off of it). Without the money or popular support behind it, Foursquare will be just another crushed relic of a fun night out—like a champagne cork in the gutter.