Why Foursquare is a waste of your time

It is a big call, I know. I’m writing off what some gurus call the biggest revolution to social media since Twitter. But I think most New Zealanders using location-based social such as Foursquare are wasting their time.

The concept is not a new one. People have been under the mistaken impression that strangers are fascinated by them for a while now, at least since Twitter went big in the autumn of 2010.

Back in 2009, Foursquare was launched by a couple of New Yorkers, mostly as a means to help tourists explore the city, bookmarking venues for other users, and leaving behind helpful tips and tricks. Later, businesses came on board, offering specials and discounts for regular checker-inners.

From tourist trips to rewards, it all sounded pretty good, and as more Foursquarers signed up, users were able to see nearby friends and meet up for impromptu get-togethers.

So if the origin of Foursquare is good, when did it jump the shark?

Foursquare got hijacked by virtual graffiti artists. Marketers left faux tips: “oh hai, you’re at so-and-so’s store, but such-and-such is HEAPS better!”; Check in locations became more obscure “oh hai, I’m at Billy’s house!”; and then the dreaded cross-platform autoposts started “oh hai, I’m at so-and-sos and look! I just got a badge for most annoying autopost!”

Now wheretheladies.at lets you track nearby female’s Foursquare logins – a perfect app for anyone hoping to stalk a few women in the course of their day.

Twitter user @bsidebeats said that his first impression of location-based social was that it was full of “narcissistic, useless info. But that was also my first impression of twitter, so…?”

The man has a point.

Users started checking into their supermarkets, a state highway in the middle of nowhere, an impossible location up top an unclimbable mountain. They would walk through malls, checking into each store they passed. They shared this information on Twitter and Facebook. A lot. As Twitter user @al_nz says, the autoposting is a waste of time. “Clutters my feed up. Unless you’re somewhere cool or interesting, not gonna give a shit”

As New Zealand businesses evaluate if Foursquare will replace their coffee cards, users have to ask themselves if messaging annoying, unpaid endorsements for services is worth it.

Some users say Foursquare is the worst part of Twitter.

“Anything that contains Foursquare is an instant turnoff. Its hands down the most annoying part of Twitter.” @zactommo notes.

Do I think location-based social media is a valuable tool? Not for most people. Not right now. Will it be in the future? Let’s get honest: Foursquare is reasonably parasidic and relies on users spamming out into other social platforms to keep it alive – annoying the very users they are trying to convert. Uptake rates, although steady and at around 5 million people, are still very small. Foursquare say they’re signing up a million new users each month. With the incoming Facebook Places, it may become more mainstream, but there’s a fair bit for us Kiwis to sort out before then.

NZ smartphone uptake, mobile data rates, business buy-in, and a cultural shift need to happen first.

I recently ran a social media poll, and asked if location-based social media was all it was cracked up to be. The vote was split. Although slightly more people were passionately opposed to using it, a similar amount rated it “okay” or better.

A quick crowdsourcing tweet unleashed a world of hate for geo. There was, however, one voice who stood up for Foursquare.

@enzedchik tweeted that their “outbound sales team use it as valued work tool. Knowing where the team are is helpful & generates fun competition on leaderboard!”

She says Foursquare helps her keep track of when a workmate is near a cafe.

“It helps me know when to ‘casually’ put in a request for coffee delivery!”

And I suppose that is getting back to the heart of Foursquare. A heart we seem to have lost along the way.

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...


  1. Matthew Marsh Reply

    I think you missed the point of Foursquare. Yeah sure, businesses jumped on and tried to get something out of it…but Foursquare is a social GAME, that’s what it started out as. It evolved to “free gelato for the mayor”, but it’s roots are as a giant social game to be played amongst friends. The points for checkins, achievements, mayorships, badges, etc….it’s all part of a giant game to compete with friends.

    So yeah, it might be a waste of time for people looking to score free stuff, but for those of us who have been 4Sq’ers from the beginning, it’s not about the free stuff, it’s about the game element.

    1. Cate Owen Reply

      Hi Matthew, thanks for your feedback. I thought the post was sufficiently tongue-in-cheek enough to stir the pot! I haven’t missed the point of Foursquare, I just wonder about the value of it. I love the original idea of Foursquare – the tips, tricks and insider knowledge – but am not sold on “the game”.

      I personally think it devalues the platform, but understand that others love it. 🙂

  2. Anonymous Reply

    I have to agree that the location updates on twitter are garbage. For me I ultimately do not care where people are. The people i care about all call each other to get together. And there is not a mass of offers in NZ to make it great for deals.

    Where I find it useful is for discovering new places and getting legit reviews when going somewhere new. There are some great reviews out there and it’s not all marketing spam. if i have read several bad reviews at one place I will choose not to go there. This has saved me time, possibly money and saved me getting pi$%#d off. There is value right there. Gaming aside, this database of reviews could be biggest use in the future.

    1. Cate Owen Reply

      Hi Shannon – this is the meaty stuff! I was hoping someone would share a positive case study. Sounds to me like you’re using FS with its original intention in mind – the tips and tricks for young players. Maybe if the gaming side was dropped all together we’d see a return to that core. Gaming side isn’t going anywhere, though 🙂

  3. Leah GP Reply

    Well, being 4sq’ers from the beginning might imply a tiny bit of bias, don’t you think? I don’t use 4square because, believe it or not, most people actually don’t give a crap about where you are.

    One of the reasons why I’ve unfollowed people (and I know I’m not alone on this one), is the fact that they bombard me, not with opportunities to interact, but with 4Sq updates. You’re losing your chances to interact with people in a way that is going to value them, give them jollies, entertain them, relate to them — whatever. It really does dilute your effectiveness as a communicator.

    On the other hand, 4Square is an amazing tool for market research and studying consumer behaviour… but other than that, I’m with Cate on this one.

  4. Glenn Williams Reply

    In a way foursquare actually answers twitter’s original question “what are you doing right now?”. Remember that? I’m finding Foursquare is a goldmine of interesting tips and suggestions at venues all round town. The recently added photo feature adds another textural layer (ghosts of check-ins past) and perhaps makes it more relevant when feeding a check-in over to twitter. I’m impressed with the service and it can only get better and more useful as people jump on board. Users just need to wise up on privacy concerns and be smart about it. Use anything like a muppet and you’ll get burned.

  5. John Lai Reply

    Another Interesting post Cate, you touch on NZ uptake on mobile phones definitely rings true to me, because before we can embrace these tools, there is a need for the masses have access to GPS and social media features enabled phones, plus with the soon to launch Facebook places that will play a major role I think in moving NZ towards the “check-in” market.

  6. The Common Room Reply

    I’m a bit confused Cate, you start by talking about how foursquare isn’t valuable and location-based services as a whole are a “waste of time” and then spend the bulk of the rest of your post talking about how annoying the auto-tweet feature is.

    While I agree that noone wants to know what 15 shops you visited today, I think it’s also important to note that the constant updating people on your whereabouts aspect of the current LBS platforms is not necessarily regarded by marketers as the most interesting or valuable feature they offer.

    You’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater a bit here. The ability to perform real-time and location-relevant marketing activities with your customer base makes these platforms a potentially priceless tool for business.

    Of course anyone who says they’re the holy grail of marketing and that the MD needs to get on there and leave a thousand tips about where we can find the best gelato is a bit deluded, but so is anyone who says they’re completely useless and have zero value at all.

    And people can turn off the twitter alerts. Blame the attention-seeking people for that one, not the platform.


    1. Cate Owen Reply

      Hi Keren

      I spent a fair amount of the post talking about auto-posting because that seems to be the main reason why most potential adopters are frustrated and rejecting the platform.

      I’m all for “real-time and location-relevant marketing activities” but surely the NZ base for these kinds of activities is so tiny that it doesn’t justify the time and effort for many businesses or marketers. Perhaps for a niche market, it does.

      Having said that, this post was not written for marketers. It does, however, raise an interesting point… Which will come first: Foursquare critical mass, or The Next Big Social (or geo) Network?

  7. Michael Moore-Jones Reply

    Hey, nice post. While I agree on some levels, I think you miss a really important point.

    Yes, autoposting is annoying. Yes, checking into venues in the middle of nowhere is pointless. But, Foursquare is very useful if you’re checking into places in your city, and a lot of your friends are also using the service. There have been countless times when I’ve checked in somewhere, and received a text a few minutes later from a friend saying they’d seen my checkin, and that they’re really nearby so we should hang out. That’s powerful. It means you don’t have to text ALL of your friends asking who is nearby, but rather everyone volunteers that information so you can meet up if you ARE nearby.

    I think we have to remember that Foursquare is meant to be social. It’s not made as a marketing tool, nor was it originally created to offer deals. The beauty is being able to find your friends, and receive meaningful information about venues from your real friends.

  8. Louisa Redshaw Reply

    I mostly agree. I believe Foursquare is made for business to create loyalty programs for their customers, not for the average consumer to tell the world that they’re shopping for shoes at The Warehouse. Foursquare is similar to twitter in the way that it’s better for business’s as I instantly turn off from personal updates on twitter as with foursquare. If people don’t connect their foursquare accounts through twitter, we’re all better off!

  9. Hamish Denston Reply

    I’m with you on this one Cate. While I don’t think the concept is past it, I think the implementation is. I believe we’re a technology iteration or two away from it being the tool that it can be for marketers, and the service it can be for users.
    Mind you, I’m not so sure I’m totally in favour of being marketed to in this manner. It always makes me think of Minority Report, where Tom Cruise is bombarded with personalised advertising as he walks through the shopping precinct, based on his retina scan. Substitute “mobile phone” for “retina scan” and we’re getting into that zone.

  10. Newreality Reply

    A manager in my organisation (education) is keen to jump into foursqaure, but I’ve got to say I can’t see the point for us. We can’t offer rewards beyond a hearty ‘Well done!’

    Like some other posts I’d agree it’s fun thing to play with friends, but not much use to a business that can’t offer little treats like free coffee or drinks.

    And being pedantic – parasite > parasitic

  11. paul Reply

    im a business owner and jumped on the foursquare bandwagon a year ago and offered specials to 4sq customers. They were good specials too and the mayor got a free lunch once a month

    Guess how many people checked in (at the counter not walking past) ZERO

    I have opened a second shop and was actually trying to research 4sq user numbers to decide whether to 

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