Social networking software

Location Etiquette Tips: Foursquare 'Faux Pas' to Avoid

I love location-based social-networking service foursquare. A lot. (If you're unfamiliar with foursquare but want to know more, check out this post for a quick primer.)

I currently have 77 foursquare badges that I (proudly) earned in various locales across the United States. I'm the "Mayor" of 10 popular Boston-area local establishments, and I take those Mayorships pretty darn seriously--way too seriously, according to my girlfriend and other acquaintances, who are all quite vocal about their displeasure at having to frequent the same couple of bars and restaurants so I can retain my Mayor status.

When you become so fully invested in something like foursquare, despite the things you love about it, the shortcomings, the things you don't love become much more readily apparent. And, man, people do some annoying--and plain old stupid--things on foursquare.

What follows is my personal take, on the quirky, frustrating, silly and dangerous things I see people do regularly on foursquare, along with a few reasons why it's in your best interest, and the best interest of other foursquare users, to avoid them.

1) Foursquare Cheaters Never Win, and Winners Never Cheat...or Something Like That

It's fairly simple to cheat on foursquare. I won't get into the details, but you can easily check in to places that are thousands of miles away; you can check in to any and all locations around you in a bid to collect points and rule the foursquare "leader board" or become the Mayor of those venues; and you can rack up ill-gained badges in the process; etc.

But cheating takes the fun out of foursquare. Period.

Badges gained with illegitimate check-ins or for events you didn't really attend have little or no significance because, obviously, you didn't earn them. Sure, cheaters may have more impressive foursquare "trophy cases" with more badges to display, but who are they really trying to impress? Foursquare badges obviously mean different things to different people, but to me, badges are really about commemorating events or achievements. So, for example, when I see my two foursquare Consumer Electronics Show (CES) badges from 2010 and 2011, I'm reminded of the good times I shared with other foursquare friends and about my stays in Las Vegas, as well as when I unlocked the badge at the Las Vegas Convention Center. And those memories are truly valuable to me.

"Stealing" the Mayorship from a legit foursquare user by checking into places you don't really frequent or locations you've never been to is even worse -- it's not a "victimless crime;" you're stealing Mayor titles from other users who want to play by the rules and who could offer other users valuable venue tips. So while you don't actually gain anything by doing this, you are causing others to lose something.

Checking in to every single business you pass by on your way to work is also a form or cheating; if you don't actually step into an establishment with the intent to do some sort of business, you shouldn't be checking in because, you're not a legitimate customer.

Bottom line: Anyone can cheat on foursquare, but if you want to get real value out the service--and trust me, you can--you should avoid the temptation to check in to places you've never been and/or collect illegitimate badges, etc.

2) Be Selective About Who You Connect with on foursquare

Some people seem to think all social networks represent a popularity contest in which the goal is to collect the highest number of connections/followers/friends/whatever. I say that's a load of...misinformation...especially on foursquare, where you willingly post details about your whereabouts at a given time.

Common sense should tell you that letting people or brands know where you are, or when you're away from home, in another state or country, etc. shouldn't be taken lightly. However, I see folks with thousands of foursquare connections all the time. And I get LOTS of foursquare connection requests from people I don't know. (Right now, I have a total of 124 foursquare connection requests that I will never accept, because I do not know the folks who sent them. And I have only 84 "friends" on foursquare.)

With foursquare and other location based services (LBS), it pays to be very selective--paranoid, even--about who you connect with. In fact, I'd put it like this, if you don't want someone knowing where you spend your evenings, when you're away from home on a business trip or that you'll be at a movie for the next couple of hours, do not connect with them on foursquare.

The same goes from connecting with random brands on foursquare. Sure, sometimes, these brands offers unique badges for check-ins, but is that badge really worth opening up your whereabouts to handfuls of people who work for those brands who you couldn't possibly know or trust?

3) Don't Automatically Send All of Your Check-Ins to Other Social Networks. Please.

Many foursquare users mysteriously feel the need to share their various check-ins with all of the other social networks they employ, such as Twitter and Facebook. This is a bad idea, and it's bad social-networking etiquette overall because, well...nobody cares. It's that simple. Even if you think they do, they don't. I promise.

Sharing all of your check-ins with foursquare connections is fine; those folks should have known what they were getting into when they connected with you on foursquare or vice versa. But automatically posting all of your check-ins to Facebook or Twitter is a great way to anger your followers and lose a few of them in the process.

Do you really think that your Twitter followers care where you buy your morning java? Do your Facebook "Friends" need to know the supermarket at which you regularly pick up dinner fixings? I assure you, the places you frequent on an average day are much more interesting to you than they are to all of your social-networking connections.

I'm not saying that foursquare users shouldn't ever share check-ins via other social networks. But it makes sense to post only check-ins that are noteworthy or that might interest the people you're sending them to. For example, if you're at the baseball game at Fenway Park, it might be worth sharing that particular check-in because the venue is the oldest baseball field in all of Major League Baseball. And, as such, other people may have visited the park and may have connections or memories of their own associated with the venue.

4) Creating Venues for Your Home is a BAD Idea

One foursquare "faux pas" I regularly see is the dreaded "home check-in." This is when you create a foursquare venue for your home or residence, with address information and, possibly, other data that could be used to identify you, contact you or determine the specific location of your home, all so you can become the Mayor of your own residence.

This is a very bad idea for a handful of reasons. And I see it all_the_time, from people I otherwise consider to be Web-savvy, intelligent individuals. First of all, when you create a public venue, it's viewable and accessible by anyone and everyone on the Internet. Not just other foursquare users, not just friends and colleagues you've connected with on foursquare, but everyone with an Internet connection.

So, if I were to create a venue for my home on foursquare, with address details, finding my home would be as simple as searching Google for "Al Sacco home foursquare" or something like that. Even if I decided to call the venue just "Al's Home" and I left out my last name, it would be simple for anyone who knows just a little bit about me, like the fact that I reside in Boston, to search Google or foursquare and find venues in the Boston area called something like "Al's Home."

It's even more risky to become the Mayor of such a venue, because then you're basically telling everyone and anyone who views that venue page that you live there--or spend a lot of your time there, at least.

Some folks who create home venues choose to leave the address details blank or unspecific, so, for example, they might only include the city they live in. However, this is a an equally bad idea, because foursquare displays the rough location of check-ins on venue pages, and even if you don't include your specific address on the venue page, it's fairly simple to look at the check-in map to get a rough idea of where your home is located. Then potential miscreants, or people who you might not want to know your home address, could be a single Google search away from having the ability to show up at your doorstep.

So, to sum that up, it's not a good idea to create a foursquare venue for your home and then become the Mayor. Sure, there are ways to help protect the location of your residence if you do decide to list it on foursquare, but there's little reward for creating such a venue, and even if you do become Mayor, the associated risk clearly outweighs the potential prize.

5) Don't Create Random or Redundant foursquare Venues

Another foursquare no-no, creating random or redundant foursquare venues for places that already exist or "places within places," etc.

For example, if you search for your local Dunkin Donuts on foursquare, and three results come up, two with spelling errors in the venue names and one with a wrong street address, don't simply create another venue with the correct spelling and address. This just causes more foursquare "clutter." Instead, check-in to one of the venues, and then report the venue issues on the foursquare support forum, where someone will help you correct the inaccuracies.

Excessive venue creation is annoying, and it can cause foursquare confusion. So, if you're at the ballpark watching a baseball game, you don't need to create and check into venues for your specific section, row, and seat, etc. Or if you're staying at the Marriott Marquis in NYC, you don't need to create a new venue for your room, etc. Creating legitimate venues for missing locations on foursquare is a good thing, but there can be a thin line between helping the system and abusing it.

6) Leave Valuable Tips on foursquare Venues, or Don't Leave Tips At All

One of my favorite things about foursquare is the ability to gain valuable information on venues from the people who know them best. Foursquare users who regularly check in and spend time at certain venues can offer some really great "inside information" via venue tips.

Unfortunately, some people just don't understand this concept or simply don't care.

Overall, I probably see more worthless tips on foursquare venues than valuable ones. For example, a tip at McDonald's instructing me to "Try the fries," is worthless to me. As is a tip at the local diner that reads something like "We ate here in September. It was okay."

Also, overly negative tips that don't offer any constructive criticism or tips that are really just complaints rarely offer any value. "This place sucks," is not a valuable tip, even if it's a fact. It's okay to leave critical tips or to point out negative things about foursquare venues. But you're only doing your fellow foursquare users a service if that tips is genuinely helpful. So, instead of writing "This place sucks," write something like, "Every time I go here, my food is served cold and the beer is warm. For a better experience, walk two blocks east on 4th Street and try Paddy's Pub."

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