Foursquare is exactly like a dog peeing on the ground to claim territory.
Let me explain…
I was walking our dog Martini the other day. (Her full name is Ms. Martini Kookoo-Bear, Contessa de Guadalupe, in case you really want to know how insane my Girlfriend and I are.)
Anyway, while walking, she saw a wet patch on the ground where another dog had urinated. This instantly got her attention. She went to the puddle on the gravel, sniffed at it, then squatted over it and peed on it herself. To break that out:
1) She went for a walk.
2) She sniffed another dog’s pee on her turf.
3) She marked it herself, in the hopes other dogs would recognize the area as her fiefdom.
Now break out what you do with the Foursquare app:
1) You go to a place.
2) You look the place up to see if anyone’s been there.
3) You check in, in the hopes that you’ll become “Mayor.”
This is part of why Foursquare works for so many people. It isn’t the badges, which few people I know brag about. (Not many people get anything more exotic than the “Crunked” badge anyway.) It certainly isn’t the points, which no one – including Foursquare – knows what they mean.
What people do understand is, “I’m king of the hill, come try to knock me down.” At my own company, there’s a check-in war going on between several employees to become Mayor of the place. Why? I’m not sure – I may be more of a cat person myself.
It does offer a new take on how to get traffic to do something. We know using “free” is always great for getting people to click through, and many sites including Foursquare have already seen the value of including badges, which are cute, but cost nothing to provide and are worth nothing monetarily.
Now we have proof of a new incentive: Territorial pissing ground.
Some businesses have already started giving away coupons or free product to their, “mayors.” Starbucks will give a free coffee a month to them, so it becomes actually worth something to be “mayor” of one of their stores.
Of course, this shuts out all of the other people who check into a Starbuck’s, but so what? For them, the value is in showing how many connected people show up at their stores. They don’t need to reward everyone who checks in, they just need to make sure they keep checking in.
This is something about Foursquare that has amazed me for the longest time: How little they need to do to get people to spend time checking in, without there being any end-user benefit to doing so.
I get Tweeting from a location, or posting pictures of what you’re eating for lunch on Facebook – I really do. You want to share part of your life. If people have a hard time with that, you tell them to go jump in a lake, this is what you want to share.
But it seems Foursquare has tapped into something primal within us: The need to beat our chests and declare an area as, “ours.” And when we get old and weak and stop maintaining our territory, some younger cub will come along, check in a lot, and be the new King of the Wolves.
But when you know it’s the same thing as a Maltipoo urinating on a tree, it sort of takes the fun out of it.