New Service Helps Texters Find Each Other

Artwork: Chip Taylor
A free service that lets members find each other via text message is one of the most talked-about new products at this week's South by Southwest conference in Austin, better known as SXSW.

Foursquare has gained buzz among the Web developers, content creators, entrepreneurs and aspiring cyberlebrities who've packed Austin for the ten-day Internet, film and music festival. The event's demographic skews toward young adults and Internet oversharers, always on the move among panels, parties and spontaneous meetups. For this crowd, Foursquare seems a natural lifestyle accessory.

What does Foursquare do? Members create a network of friends who also use the service. When they arrive at a nightclub or other social gathering spot, they "check in" to Foursquare via a text message or a smartphone application.

The idea is that they'll announce their physical location, for instance, "Playing darts at the Lucky Shamrock with nickdouglas." Foursquare also lets members post their recommended restaurants and bars. Users can track specific sites, to be alerted when another Foursquare user checks in there.

For now, Foursquare -- found at -- only supports a few cities: Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

As explained in a New York Times blog post, Foursquare is in many ways a resurrection of founder Dennis Crowley's previous company, Dodgeball. Google acquired Dodgeball in 2005, a year after it was founded. Despite great expectations, Google did little with Dodgeball. In February, Google announced that the company would shut down the service.

This time, though, Crowley has added a marketing program that lets members rack up points and awards, in hopes of making Foursquare more exciting than he felt Dodgeball was:

Players rack up points for checking in at unusual places, early hours of the morning or in the same location as other users in their network.

Mr. Crowley and Mr. Selvadurai created 16 badges that are awarded after a certain number of points are collected. Trek to the same nightspot several times in a week and you'll find yourself crowned mayor of that particular spot. Check in during the wee morning hours several times in a row, and you'll be rewarded with a badge proclaiming that you went on a bender.

Eventually, Mr. Crowley said, he hopes to open the tools and enable users to build their own badges and challenges for each other.

But if Foursquare takes off like Twitter, the only sure thing is that users will come up with wildly popular uses for Foursquare that Crowley never imagined.

This story, "New Service Helps Texters Find Each Other" was originally published by

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