Checking in with Foursquare

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to join Foursquare, the online service that allows you to “check in” wherever you are. (Among my other resolutions: to try absinthe and to be described as “cheeky.” And yes, to exercise more and eat well, with the possible exception of the absinthe.)

On Foursquare, you can earn “points” and “badges,” and you even become the “mayor” of locations that you frequent often. You can share all of this beyond Foursquare itself via Facebook and Twitter.

I have several friends on Foursquare who post their check-ins to Twitter and Facebook, and I was curious about how and why they used it. I wondered why they would feel the need to let the world know that they were at the grocery store, a gas station or the office.

I asked friends and colleagues about Foursquare. What was I missing? Is it worth joining? Here’s how Margret Anne Hutaff, program coordinator for e-learning at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, described how she uses Foursquare:

“I try to check in at unique places and events. I’m not one to check in at my apartment (privacy issues) or Starbucks every morning or the j-school every day. That can get annoying for your friends/followers. And I don’t always publish it to Twitter. Usually I say something or post a photo when I post to Twitter.”

That journalistic approach makes sense: Check in when you are doing something you consider newsworthy to friends and followers. They may not care that you are at the grocery store, but they may be interested to know that you are at a workshop on campus, out of state for a conference, or somewhere that’s simply interesting.

Hutaff also made this suggestion: “Sometimes I use the app to find places to eat or explore, especially when I travel. I sometimes leave tips about places, and it’s helpful to see tips from others, too.”

Again, I see the value in gathering and sharing information, regardless of the medium or method. That’s what publications like Rough Guides and Zagat have been doing for decades, after all.

I’ve been on Foursquare for about a month. So far, I am enjoying it. Yes, it’s a bit of goofy fun to get “points” for checking in somewhere. I’ve earned a couple of badges and even become a mayor of my gym, at least for the moment.

When I share check-ins on Twitter, I aim to offer something of value to my followers. A check-in by itself is a bit like a robo-Tweet. It needs context and a human touch. So I include a comment about what I am doing at that place, and I sometimes add a photo.

The idea is to “contribute to the story,” as this Atlantic article about Twitter suggests, and “to be informative or funny — or, ideally, informative and funny.”

On the latter quality, perhaps I’ll check in when I get around to following through on that absinthe resolution. Or maybe not.

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