the culture and values of social media

Foursquare, Locative Media, and Prescriptive Social Software – Part One

Posted: April 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: social media, social networking | Tags: , , | 45 Comments »

This is the first in a three-part series. Part Two discusses Brightkite; Part Three discusses Loopt.

Today I went to a local coffee shop to eat soup and read my 40+ pages of notes (so far) on what is supposed to be a 10 page chapter of my dissertation. I’m a frequent user of the iPhone app created by foursquare, location-based social software that lets you check in to venues (restaurants, bars, clubs) and broadcast your whereabouts to a network of friends.

4sq screenshot

Foursquare is not the only software out there that does this; similar applications include BrightKite, Google Latitude, Whrrl, and Loopt. What interests me about foursquare is that it’s a terrific example of prescriptive social software: applications that encourage particular social behaviors and provide very clear rewards for behaving in the “right” way.

Let’s start with foursquare. When I “checked in” at The Grind, here’s the feedback I got:

foursquare screenshot of checkin points

Foursquare gives you points depending on when, where, and with who you check in, and keeps a weekly leaderboard of high scorers in each city. In this instance, I get 5 points for checking in at a new venue (don’t ask where the 22 points comes from; I didn’t check in anywhere last night after midnight [Edit: apparently this is a bug that’s since been fixed]), and I’m told that Jay A. is the Mayor of The Grind, which means he’s checked in there more times than anyone else in the last 60 days.

So I go check my place in the Leaderboard:

4sq screenshot

Social butterfly Charles G. has checked in 18 times since Sunday (it’s Wednesday), with a grand total of 114 points. Naomi M. has checked in more times (20) but gotten fewer points, so she trails Mr. Charles for second place. (Don’t give up, Naomi, you’ve still got four more days!)

After a month of using foursquare, I’ve found that it rewards the following:

  • Going to new places : you get a 5 point bonus every time you check in somewhere new.
  • Going to multiple places in one day/night: 3 point “travel bonus”
  • Going out after staying home for a few days: “First night out in a while” bonus
  • Going out many nights in a row

There are also badges, which reward particular things, such as checking in at 10, 25, and 50 new venues; checking in X number of days in a row (”Bender”); checking in at X number of venues in one night (”Crunked”); checking in at the same place three times in one week (”Local”); and checking in with multiple members of the opposite sex (”Playa Please,” which I got at the Austin airport). You get fewer points for checking in somewhere you go frequently.

Given that the application presumes moving one’s way up the leaderboard is a good thing, the model of social life valued/rewarded by foursquare involves going out a lot, in urban areas, to many different venues (bars/clubs/restaurants), many days of the week (”exploring” the city, presumably with a group of suitably soused friends). This is a very urban, American, and youthful model of socialization. If you’re the kind of person who likes to stay home and play board games with your two best friends, or go to the same bar every night, or if you live in the suburbs, or if you’re done with the phase of your life when bars and clubs seemed exciting, you’re not going to find foursquare very useful, and foursquare isn’t going to encourage your type of socializing. Foursquare values going out a lot; it doesn’t place value on catching up with your reading. But then again, if you don’t like to socialize or don’t like going to bars, clubs, and restaurants, foursquare wouldn’t have much utility for you, either.

[Edit: apparently you don’t get points for checking in during the day on weekdays, which obviously, prioritizes socializing at night.]

So does this prescriptive social behavior actually change people’s social behavior? While I have zero empirical evidence to believe this is true, I have plenty of anecdotal evidence, like any good blogger. A quick search on Twitter for foursquare found the following in the first page of results:

@rogersmithhotel I’ll be there, going for the local badge on @foursquare by tomorrow. Oh, and I’m mayor too :D

GushueIS: Wow i just realized I.m 1 in sf on @foursquare now i feel all this pressure to go to new places!

creasian: HAHAH I’m the new Mayor of the San Jose International Airport on !!! Sweet! #foursquare

There’s something here worth examining. What assumptions about “good” and “bad” socializing are built into social media? Locative social media is especially interesting because it directly affects how people move through the city. It can be terrifically fun and useful for people who fit its prescribed social model. Here in San Francisco, where I’m doing ethnographic work on social media users, foursquare has positively affected my social life. For example, on Monday night, I went to dinner with a friend. After dinner, I saw that two of my closest friends were at a local bar. We met them there, and over the course of the next four hours, about 10 other people showed up, all of whom found us through foursquare. Whether or not it’s wise to have a party in a bar on Monday night is arguable, but it was really fun. Likewise, last night, on my way to meet my friends at Cafe Du Nord, I detoured through Dolores Park to say hi to two friends who’d checked in there. We watched the sunset together and I went on my way.

Foursquare also contributes to ambient awareness. Like Twitter, you feel part of a group of people, but whereas you can follow anyone on Twitter, foursquare restricts the displayed information to people in your city, and friendships are bidirectional – nobody can friend you if you don’t friend them. People tend to be fairly picky about their foursquare friends, precisely because of the type of specific locative information that it provides. This creates a social map of the city – my friend Jane is at work, John is at the park, Josh is climbing, Jen is having brunch – which can be comforting and helps to provide a sense of social context.

But it’s important to remember that the social models built into social software are not value-neutral. In the second part of this post, I will look at the types of social behavior that other locative media services prescribe.

Disclaimer: I’m friends with the guys behind foursquare.

45 Comments on “Foursquare, Locative Media, and Prescriptive Social Software – Part One”

  1. 1 Andrew Mager said at 3:48 pm on April 22nd, 2009:

    Ah you just reminded me to checkin.

  2. 2 dens said at 3:57 pm on April 22nd, 2009:

    hey alice –

    digging this post. a few things…

    #1. i *just* fixed the “22 pts” bug (ha! timezone issues).

    #2. i think the most interesting / important thing going on in foursquare is our ability to reward people for doing “interesting” things. of course we’re the ones that defined “interesting” – which is kind of a drag for now, because we inherit that “hipsters drinking beer” image that plagued dodgeball for so long. tho the long term (er, near term!) goal is to *let the users decided what’s interesting* in the form of user-created-badges and the Tips and To-Dos we have on the site… and delivering on the idea that if you do those things, you earn points, move up on the leaderboard, etc. and to keep yourself on top, keep doing interesting things (or at least contribute interesting things for others to do). this is going to be fun to build.

    (sidenote: for now “something interesting” is always tied to place… which makes it hard to reward people for reading 2 books this month or winning your softball league, but when you tie events to places, you can start to do super interesting things… e.g Mercury Lounge on dates X, Y, Z earns you “annoying emo band superfan” badge or going to Museum of Modern Art on three diff opening nights unlocks something special, etc. you see where this is going)

    #3. points. oh man, did we underestimate how bananas people would go over points (esp. points that aren’t worth anything, that can’t be redeemed for anything). which makes me think, “what’s going to happen when we DO tie the points to something” (e.g. concert tickets, free coffee, freq flyer points, etc)… it brings a whole new level of madness to the system (i mean that in a good way).

    anyway, thanks for the thoughful analysis. i only hope we can keep up with all the good ideas people are generating. :)


  3. 3 Jonathan Nolen said at 4:33 pm on April 22nd, 2009:

    I think you’re analysis is right on, and Dens obviously understands the “hipsters drinking beer” problem.

    I can already think of two things that FourSquare should change downsides of the game you’ve outlined:

    1. User-created-badges, as Dens mentioned. (And hopefully they’ll provide a good remote API for that as well. There’s opportunity there for partnerships and more.)

    2. FourSquare should introduce the idea of groups, and allow you to “compete” with just your friends and/or fellow group-members. it will diffuse the overall competition in more specific demographics and allow for different social values.

    I’m totally loving FourSquare (as I loved Dodgeball back in the day) and I hope that they can advance the service quickly: there’s so much potential!


  4. 4 powkang said at 8:20 pm on April 22nd, 2009:

    I’ve been really enjoying foursquare lately. Ever since I stopped being perpetually sick, plus the nicer weather and stuff, I’ve been checking in like crazy. I’m currently obsessed with earning badges. In fact, the thought of earning badges sometimes plays a pretty large part into where I go when I’m out. I want the “BK 4 Life” badge and the “Superuser” badge, and I should have both in the next few days. It’s fun to achieve my goals.

    Not a ton of people seem to be using in Bushwick. I’m currently the Mayor of King’s County, and if I apply myself just a little bit, I can easily become the Mayor of a few other places, locally, as well.

    As far as using it as a social tool with people on my list, I haven’t actually used it to find any of my friends while I’m out and about.

  5. 5 Jay Allen said at 12:14 am on April 23rd, 2009:

    Welcome to the neighborhood! I am, indeed, the Mayor of the Grind. Duboce Park too. Of course, I practically live and work on top of them.

  6. 6 Patrick said at 10:20 am on April 23rd, 2009:

    I think you’ve hit on a strategy that seems to be very effective for websites involving seemingly mundane tasks like writing reviews and checking in locations. A certain element of competitiveness and gaming behavior is a great way to encourage participation and loyalty.

    I think in large part, this is what helped Yelp succeed over CitySearch. With CitySearch, reviews were sparse and poorly written because reviewers received no benefits from writing thorough reviews and reviewing often. Yelp made the smart move to allow users to build profiles, track how many reviews they wrote, allow other users to score the reviews, complement reviews and reviewers, made special categories of reviews like first review and best review, and gave out titles and rewards to the most active reviewers. Without explicitly saying it, Yelp essentially built the most comprehensive user-generated review website by building it on a text-based gaming platform.

    I think prescriptive behavior has close ties with how people act in an engaging gaming environment. And new web services looking to create a social community with content would do well to create some type of game mechanics. We’re competitive and somewhat selfish beings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across a new website and their only pitch is “help create a community of X” without any clear benefits for the individual user and I know right away it’s going to fail.

  7. 7 FourSquare Prepping To Take Its Game Overseas | My Blog Channel said at 2:21 am on April 28th, 2009:

    […] select urban areas as a virtual game of sorts, I recommend reading Alice Marwick’s piece on locative media and prescriptive social software. It’s a great look at what drives me to be the mayor of so many local […]

  8. 8 » FourSquare Prepping To Take Its Game Overseas said at 2:24 am on April 28th, 2009:

    […] select urban areas as a virtual game of sorts, I recommend reading Alice Marwick’s piece on locative media and prescriptive social software. It’s a great look at what drives me to be the mayor of so many local […]

  9. 9 FourSquare Prepping To Take Its Game Overseas | The Good NET Guide said at 3:18 am on April 28th, 2009:

    […] select urban areas as a virtual game of sorts, I recommend reading Alice Marwick’s piece on locative media and prescriptive social software. It’s a great look at what drives me to be the mayor of so many local […]

  10. 10 Prescriptive social software & WOM « Rouleur said at 12:06 pm on April 28th, 2009:

    […] social software & WOM Alice Marwick’s piece on the emergence of prescriptive social software solutions – Brightkite, Loopt, Foursquare, Whrrl, […]

  11. 11 Paparazzi on MobileBehavior TV:demo said at 1:27 pm on May 5th, 2009:

    […] a great example of mobile software that turns life into one big game, or what’s known as prescriptive social software, like GoWalla or […]

  12. 12 Lucy-Edelgard said at 11:34 am on July 29th, 2009:

    Great idea, but will this work over the long run?

  13. 13 Futurman said at 3:12 pm on September 7th, 2009:

    Полностью поддерживаю лестные отзывы о работе авторов, действительно все на высоте.

  14. 14 Blendspices said at 3:47 pm on September 8th, 2009:

    Меня эта статья очень заинтересовала. Но есть и другие, более детальные мнения на этот счёт.
    Автору всеровно спасибо

  15. 15 Kinder said at 1:40 am on September 12th, 2009:

    А мне нравится этот блог, только авторам надо помнить , что посетители разные бывают. Короче учитывайте возростной ценс посетителей.

  16. 16 Triawbart said at 11:09 pm on September 12th, 2009:

    Я бы сказал, что материал достаточно интересный и заслуживает повышенного внимания.
    Автору особая благодарность.

  17. 17 Aviator said at 4:19 am on September 13th, 2009:

    А может мне тоже ктонибудь подскажет где найти специализированный сайт по оборудованию сто?? Заранее спс всем.

  18. 18 Onlyjazz said at 5:07 pm on September 13th, 2009:

    Моё мнение, что статья достаточно интересная, но всё же требует некоторых дороботок.

  19. 19 Ditrih said at 12:49 am on September 14th, 2009:

    Побольше бы тематической информации, и будет респект полный.

  20. 20 Neaktivnih said at 5:11 am on September 14th, 2009:

    Очень полезный материал, но немного тяжёл для восприятия.
    Стоит писать более просто, дабы понять саму суть происходящего

  21. 21 Komiks said at 2:30 am on September 15th, 2009:

    Сдесь комменты можно почитать и в цирк не ходить!! бред какойто.

  22. 22 Utroorg said at 9:25 am on September 16th, 2009:

    Познавательная статья, обязательно добавлю в избранное для того, что бы следить за обновлениями

  23. 23 Zruvcom said at 1:21 pm on September 16th, 2009:

    Давно искал подобный материал, перерыл весь инет, а тут на тебе. Благодарю автора

  24. 24 Adler said at 4:52 am on September 18th, 2009:

    Вроде все в порядке, только по ссылке почему то не могу перейти

  25. 25 Mobilecl said at 12:41 am on September 19th, 2009:

    Чётко, кратко и интересно. Наверное правильно говорят, что краткость сестра таланта

  26. 26 Codik said at 1:25 pm on September 19th, 2009:

    Достойный внимания блог, продолжайту в том же духе.

  27. 27 Milishnik said at 9:41 pm on September 21st, 2009:

    Решил всё таки добавить в избранное, так как материал достаточно познавательный

  28. 28 SeregaDertin said at 11:29 am on September 22nd, 2009:

    Полностью все усироило меня в этом блоге, нашел все что хотел. Везде бы так делали.

  29. 29 Kelovash said at 7:35 am on September 23rd, 2009:

    Послушать Вас, так можно решить, что наступил конец света. Что Вам ненравиться в этом материале?

  30. 30 Kinderio said at 7:46 am on September 23rd, 2009:

    Не могу согласится с подобными высказываниями и имею свою точку зрения по данному вопросу

  31. 31 Meloman said at 6:53 am on September 25th, 2009:

    Нормальненько все с наполнением, нашел все то на что рассчитывал.Хорошо сделали.

  32. 32 Kranovchik said at 9:48 pm on September 30th, 2009:

    Поддерживаю положительные отзывы о блоги, реально все качественно сделано.

  33. 33 Tostbaidu said at 4:26 am on October 4th, 2009:

    Хотелось бы обсудить эту тему поподробнее, давайте сделаем это вместе

  34. 34 Semen Flavor Pills said at 11:57 pm on October 5th, 2009:

    That was a very good post! The tips are good, bit it is very difficult to follow them, well according to me, one should try semenpills to increase prodcution, volume and flavour. Yes its possible to do naturaly, but it will surely help the casue lot.


  35. 35 Bitrasewqas said at 1:11 pm on October 6th, 2009:

    Enter comment here.

  36. 36 Павел Векшин said at 9:43 pm on October 7th, 2009:

    С незапамятных времен Давид погонял плеткой своих быков…. Так я собсно к чему – пора заканчивать разговор на эту тему, Вам не кажется, господа? :))

  37. 37 Павел Хохолин said at 7:05 am on October 9th, 2009:

    Спасибо! Пригодится…..

  38. 38 allianceblaa said at 6:23 am on October 15th, 2009:

    вот ведь лажа

  39. 39 Benetos said at 12:35 pm on November 1st, 2009:

    Видно, что неплохо потрудились с ресурсомЮ побольше бы таких проектов.

  40. 40 eburgmap said at 4:30 am on November 13th, 2009:

    Спасибо за статью ;)

  41. 41 Alice Marwick on foursquare as “prescriptive social software” | Foursquare Blog said at 5:08 pm on September 24th, 2010:

    […] Marwick on foursquare as “prescriptive social software”…  [whole article] There’s something here worth examining. What assumptions about “good” and “bad” […]

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