Location Etiquette Tips: Foursquare 'Faux Pas' to Avoid

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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?

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