If you’re a member of the gaming service Xbox Live, then you’re probably familiar with its Achievements system, which rewards players points for accomplishing tasks like completing a game or defeating a certain number of enemies. (Sadly, these points are purely for show and can’t be redeemed for cash or other prizes.) Foursquare, a social media app for mobile devices, applies this same concept to real life.
Initially, Foursquare seems like another GPS-based mapping app, like Google Maps. However, Foursquare allows users to post their current location (which it calls “checking in”), and awards users points for doing so. The amount of points users receive depends on where the location is and how often the user has been there. Foursquare also has a friends list feature that lets you compare scores and locations with other users, which adds a competitive element to check-ins.
In addition to points, Foursquare users can also earn Badges, which are special awards given for accomplishing specific goals, such as visiting certain places or walking a certain distance. Perhaps the most difficult Badge that’s been earned so far is the NASA Explorer Badge, earned by astronaut Doug Wheelock upon checking into Foursquare from the International Space Station on September 23, 2010.
Also, unlike the case with Xbox Live Achievements, there are material incentives for Foursquare check-ins. Foursquare has formed partnerships with several retailers, such as Gap and Best Buy, that allow users to receive discounts for checking into participating stores. When these incentives are taken into consideration, Foursquare could be seen as an evolution of Xbox Live’s point system: instead of earning worthless points for simulated activities, Foursquare gives users tangible rewards for actually-performed activities.