Foursquare: What's the Point?

My "Baker's Dozen" Badge

“Check in, check in, mom!” my kids beg when we stop by a new restaurant in our neighborhood. They want me to “check in” on Foursquare, the location-based social networking app, so I can get points.

When I check in and see my points for the week add up to 80, I’m nearly as thrilled as the kids are. But we’re not exactly sure why we’re so excited– maybe it’s just human nature to want to amass points (or maybe it’s just my naturally competitive nature).

“What’s the point of the points?” my older daughter, Jesse, 10, asks. “To be honest, I’m not sure.” To be honest, I’m not even sure what the point is of Foursquare. Aside from the fleeting thrill of amassing points, one of the only other benefits, as far as I can tell, are that I occasionally get a discount for checking in at a specific restaurant or store.

In addition to amassing points, if you visit the same location more than any other Foursquare user, you’ll be appointed “mayor” for the week, which may entitle you to some benefits (such as a free beer). Then if you check in to any one type of spot often enough, you’ll get a badge. Again, it’s ridiculous how excited I am when I earn a badge, which I realize is sort of pathetic.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I have earned 14 badges, including 2 “Baker’s Dozen” for visiting way too many bakeries and four “Fresh Brew” badges, for buying way too many lattes.

There are a couple of other helpful features. For instance,  I sometimes use Foursquare to “explore” neighborhoods — much in the same way I would with Yelp — and find a coffee shop or frozen yogurt shop in the vicinity. There’s also the opportunity to keep track of your friends and see if they’re doing something more interesting than you are. It’s also a good way to see if any of your friends are nearby in case you’d like to meet up with them.

But, just as I don’t understand why some people choose to post every single they do during the day on Facebook, I don’t see why someone would check in on Foursquare at the podiatrist or the dry cleaner.

As critics have pointed out, Foursquare is the perfect tool for a stalker or a thief. Just announce to everyone where you are and they can easily find you — or visit your apartment while you’re away.

If you’ll check my Foursquare profile, you’ll see that I have a paltry 14 points for the week, compared to my all-time high of 134. I can also see my ranking among Foursquare friends (I’m currently #16 in terms of points). Now that I realize that there’s not much point to the points, I’ve pretty much given up. Foursquare now has more than 20 million users, but I wonder how many of them use it regularly.

Do you use Foursquare? Aside from the occasional discount, what do you get out of the experience?

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