Check-in to Foursquare - goodbye social skills, hello deals
I can't decide whether Foursquare will rule the world or like most social media interaction conducted in public situations, completely destroy the fabric of society. Probably both.
Because there always comes a point during an evening at the pub when somebody pulls out their mobile to text or check email, giving permission for everybody else to do so. Then it's Facebook, Twitter and pretty much any thumb-bothering exercise that doesn't involve talking to each other in real life. You stand there in your circle, nobody speaking to anyone except avatars disconnected from your physical situation.
For the uninitiated, the year-old Foursquare has moved this principle onto location-based activity. It exists in the form of a mobile app (available across most handsets as a download or web application) that allows you to 'check-in' at shops, venues, restaurants, parks - anywhere. Certain types or numbers of check-ins you earn badges or become the 'mayor' of a particular venue - there's a very strong gaming element to Foursquare, as people figure out how to acquire certain badges and race one another to do so.
What's the point? Beyond the hollow satisfaction of becoming the major of Sainsbury's and spoiling all social events by further titting about on your mobile, what does Foursquare achieve? Nothing much. Well, not yet. Slowly but surely, businesses are becoming increasingly interested in experimenting with Foursquare, because it has the potential to drive to their outlets. In return, there's good news for consumers, if you're prepared to invest a few seconds here and there by checking in.
Bars and restaurants are promoting official offers through Foursquare - if you check into one venue, you might be prompted about another venue nearby offering free drinks or meals to its mayor. Plenty of unofficial deals are popping up too, with signs appearing in shop windows offering money off purchases to anyone who can show they're checked in at the store in question.
Yesterday, Foursquare announced a US-wide deal with Starbucks, which means customers can unlock a special Barista badge after five check-ins, but will also be able to access deals and invitations to exclusive events.
Real time, location-based deals have the potential to be huge, because while you wouldn't leave the house for a half-price cheese roll, Foursquare could determine your choice of sandwich shop if you're already in the vicinty. Of course, if the corporate suits get too involved, it'll probably see them trying to ask more of consumers than they're prepared to offer, and the road to collecting thousands of points for a tall latte is an easy one to stumble upon. Foursquare (and other similar serivces like Gowalla) offer the potential for consumers to benefit from local bargains, wherever they are, so long as you're prepared to be permanently distracted by your mobile.