Gatsby + Foursquare: Find Friends or Enable Stalkers?

Such is the power of social media that a query on Facebook via Friendfeed, from an online friend I’ve never met despite college and social circle overlaps, led to discovering Gatsby, a location-based social recommendation service that works off the Foursquare mobile social platform. Gatsby looks at check-in data from Foursquare, then sends text messages to users phones suggesting that they might want to meet so and so because of common interests and being nearby. Despite there being some positive uses of Gatsby, this is the kind of mobile application that just raises a lot of red flags for some consumer.

Foursquare, which raises a few privacy red flags of its own, uses applications running on mobile devices (at present, Apple iPhone, Blackberry, Android and Palm Pre smartphones, and presumably iPod Touch and probably iPad) to let users announce to Foursquare friends or even to the world (via Twitter and Facebook) where they are at a given moment. Of course, if you want to violate your own privacy, that’s your choice.

Once you sign up with Gatsby (you can login with your Foursquare account, which uses OAuth authorization) and fill out a profile, the application supposedly uses your subsequent Foursquare check-ins to see if anyone else has checked in nearby and has similar interests to yours. While you’re filling out your Gatsby profile, you can enter one of the tags from the displayed tag cloud, or enter something new. Using popular tags and more of them, if they suit you, probably increases the chances that Gatsby will send you a social recommendation to meet someone with similar interests who has also checked in nearby. Either that or it will only notify you of the proximity of existing Foursquare friends.

That said, a few experiments running Foursquare with two profiles on two phones (iPhone and Palm Pre Plus), and two corresponding Gatsby accounts (with the exact same interests) suggests the following details that don’t seem to be clarified on the About Gatsby page. I didn’t have time to play with all the potential scenarios, but here’s what I did find.

  1. Number please. Gatsby sends text messages to your phone to make introductions to other Foursquare users. While you don’t have to include your phone number when you fill out your profile (it’s not a required field, and only U.S. numbers are supported), if you don’t add it and you’re in the U.S., the signup process does not complete. That’s true despite the fact that you’ll get a “You’re good to go” message on your screen. This is an annoying user experience. What you can do instead is add your phone #, but then uncheck “Receive SMS” by changing your profile settings. In other words, if you intend to use Gatsby, you have to give out your phone number; but it is not revealed to other users, and vice versa. (I’m guessing because of technical hurdles, the developers decided to go with using text messages instead of native smartphone alerts.)
  2. Who goes there? Lacking any information otherwise, you could assume that Gatsby will recommend anyone with similar interests who has check-in at a venue near where you’ve just checked in. A bit of experimenting started with my two Foursquare profiles being friends. When both profiles checked in to the same venue (or nearby) around the same time, and both used the “share with friends” option in Foursquare, the introduction was made. Not sure if Gatsby re-introduces people it has already introduced later, but playing around with turning off “share with friends” in Foursquare and/or unfriending resulted in no further “you should meet message”. Without going through a long process to try other profiles that are not friends, it’s hard to determine who will and will not get introduced to you.
  3. I’m so popular. For those of you with limitations on your text message plan, if you use Gatsby, just pray you don’t have a lot of common interests with loads of nearby Foursquare/ Gatsby users. Either that or get yourself an “unlimited texting” plan. The Gatsby social recommendation to my two profiles resulted in each phone receiving two text messages in parallel. One was a “You should meet so and so at Address such and such. You both like iPhone and Mobile.” The second was a “Congratulations on your first match…” message. Presumably, the second message will never again appear for either profile.

When you sign up on Gatsby, its own Foursquare profile automatically friends you. At the time of writing, Gatsby had just under 700 Foursquare friends, suggesting it’s a fairly new application. Whether that increases significantly depends on how much social networkers take to this application, or whether they shy away due to potential privacy concerns. Gatsby does have features reminiscent to the upcoming Apple iGroups mobile social networking functionality (iPhone and related devices) and to the Loopt friend tracking app. However, there are a number of issues to be worked out before I’d truly feel comfortable using Gatsby:

  1. If it will recommend two people to meet who are not Foursquare friends, is there any way for users to control this? While I can see some people want to using Gatsby to meet up with friends, they may not want complete strangers sending text messages, regardless of how many interests they have in common.
  2. Is there any way to stop the publishing of an introduction’s details on the Meet Gatsby homepage?

What would really benefit potential users is a clearer explanation from the developers of who gets introduced to you and under what conditions. Otherwise, my overactive imagination is seeing all kinds of police drama TV episodes popping up about Foursquare/ Gatsby stalkers. What do you think? The location-based social networking market might be hot, but would you use Gatsby?  Would you want to stick to introductions to people who are already your Foursquare friends? Would you want the service to make intros to you of complete strangers who just happen to be in the vicinity? Or would you rather have intros made under a more controlled enivronment, such as at a speed dating meetup or a popular nightclub or bookstore? I suppose this is no worse than meeting strangers on Facebook to hookup for casual sex.