Abuse Foursquare, Become Mayor Of North Pole

If you are not familiar with it, Foursquare is a location based service that combines a game with the discovery of places and friends. You can find Foursquare clients for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry mobile phones. The idea is that when you get to a location you check-in to Foursquare, which uses GPS or cell network information to determine where you are. If the location where you are at is not in Foursquare then you can add it as a venue. When you check-in Foursquare awards you points, and when you earn enough points you earn a badge, one of which is the Mayor badge. You can earn points for adding a venue and providing tips about a venue.

The gaming aspect of Foursquare appeals to many users and entices them to provide information about venues, which is then beneficial to everyone else, however there are no actual awards. Despite this Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley says that about 2-3% of check-ins are fake, meaning that people are checking in at locations where they are not actually at. Jim Bumgardner (KrazyDad) wrote of just how he discovered that he could fake check-ins, when he decided that he wanted to be the Mayer of the North Pole. Jim’s blog post prompted a nice discussion in the comments.

At the moment faking check-ins appears to not be a big issue, however it raises a question about the reliability of location based services. Imagine if Foursquare were to strike a deal with McDonalds where when if after a certain number of check-ins McDonalds gave you a free Big Mac. McDonalds would pay Foursquare to run the promotion with the hope of driving more business to their restaurants. In such a situation McDonalds would want assurance that the check-ins actually happen at their restaurants otherwise they will not gain the additional business.

No doubt Foursquare and companies like it are hoping for the type of business I just described so it will be in their best interest to solve the reliability the check-in process. As Bumgardner says, “I think the problem of how to authenticate geocoded check-ins is an interesting (and perplexing) one. If companies like foursquare are to truly add value to check-ins, they will ultimately need to solve that problem, and it’s not going to be a walk in the park.”