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Pushing the Check-In Envelope: A Day Spent Hacking at Foursquare HQ

Ah, the lure of the social media check-in…you may be asking, what’s all the hype about?  Is it the vain need to inform the world of where you are every moment? A serendipitous tool for finding a lunch partner or meeting up with a former colleague you didn’t know was in the same town or airport as you?  Perhaps it’s become your little black book of best places to eat, drink and soak up culture no matter what city you are in? Or, let’s face it, you are one of those people who can’t resist the opportunity to unlock a special or become the ‘mayor’ every chance they get. Whatever the motivation, checking-in and other features of location-based services (LBS) have assumed a unique role within social media.

From 2010 to 2011, the largest LBS player, Foursquare, grew its check-ins by 3400%.  As of January, 2013 Foursquare now boasts +30 Million users along with +1 Million businesses on its platform worldwide.  Yelp and Facebook quickly jumped on the growing geo-location bandwagon, each mimicing elements of Foursquare’s unique features and capabilities within their own platforms.

Despite copycatting by its rivals, Foursquare remains an increasingly interesting platform for hyper-localized networking and marketing.  A few weeks ago, I spent the day hacking with dozens of developers at Foursquare’s offices in New York City, which was part of a larger global event hosted by Foursquare and coordinated by The Hacker League.  Over 200 developers worldwide participated and their efforts spawned 82 hack ideas built across Foursquare’s API and six other partner/sponsor APIs.


The range of hack submissions was staggering – three big themes emerged as I listened to some of the live hack pitches and saw their creativity in action:

Localized Shopping & Payment

Beyond just checking-in to a specific location, users would have the ability to either place a ‘to-go’ order from that location’s menu or ‘pick-up’ if a product at a store and also conduct a payment transaction specific to that location’s merchant.  Examples:

  • GeoCash – leave funds for someone in your network at a particular venue and when they ‘check-in’ within a certain period of time, the funds are deposited with the merchant directly.  Neat potential application for events with ‘will call’ tickets shared amongst friends.
  • CheckIn/TakeOut – show up to a restaurant and don’t like the wait time for a table?  Browse the take-out menu from your check-in and place an order.
Contextualized Content

There was a concerted effort to help make the tips and other content surrounding location venues more contextually relevant to users in real-time, whether through user-generated content submissions (rate, vote, confirm, etc.) or integration of other third-party content sources.  Examples:

  • What’s the Wait & Bus Server – will inform plus ask you to confirm actual wait times for restaurants, bars, and clubs or transportation services such as the airport rental car shuttle bus.
  • LiveTip – promotes ‘time sensitive’ tips and other notifications and then erases them once the timeframe relevance has expired.  Think ‘only 3 Chef Specials left – order now’ or ‘Mini rental car special upgrade available’ and other similar insider loyalists’ info.
  • Jamsesh – allows you to select a music track for your check-in and set the mood for the store.
Directed Engagement

Several concepts explored a deeper level of communication and interaction between users as well as merchants in the platform whether through utility-based messaging or lighter, gaming moments.  Examples:

  • Let’s Get Drinks, BAM! – pick a time, a place and a friend in your network – send them an invite for an overdue meetup.
  • Leave Kudos – send positive feedback about a product, service or an individual for a particular venue.
  • Gym Shamer – allows you to set personal fitness goals and then connects to Foursquare to track your check-ins at the gym. If you don’t meet your goal, Gym Shamer will tweet and post to Facebook on your behalf.
  • FourKeeps – a location-based twist on the classic Monopoly game where you check-in and may have to pay your friends ‘rent’ if they are the mayor of that venue.

While the Hack-a-thon event generated a broad range of interesting concepts, I personally believe the broader ‘utility factor’ of the Foursquare platform is still very much a work in progress.  There is a lot of opportunity to take the behavioral data within Foursquare and build decision-making tools along with other concierge services that could assist and direct consumers’ ‘future’ check-ins through extensions of the Explore tab.  Loyalty also appears to be a bit of a sleeper feature – I was hoping to see more ideas on how to turn the Leader Board and badges into merchandizing incentive mechanisms for consumer insiders to engage more with their favorite merchants and retailers.

Will stand-alone LBS platforms like Foursquare survive long-term? I say yes, if they remain maniacally focused on the utility aspects of the platform while growing their gaming model to bring out and enable the best foodie, jetsetter, art enthusiast, gym rat, soccer mom captain or wine connoisseur possible within our circles.  We all want to see more, do more, experience more – yet we have increasingly less time to do it all in our media-filled lives.  Social platforms that can extend their data and content to bring daily utility to my fingertips will always have a prominent place on my screen.  The winners will help us shop faster, travel & explore our locales smarter and stay connected better – with just the right level of play and surprise to keep us hooked and hungering for more.

It’s an exciting time in LBS media – I look forward to seeing the creative utility that future Foursquare hack-a-thon events will inspire and produce.

About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

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