Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Foursquare – so what is it, exactly?

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One thing I get asked regularly by friends is ‘what exactly is this Foursquare thing?’ that they often see me refer to. Some time ago I would have given a relatively simple answer, but nowadays, Foursquare is actually several things, and caters for a much wider audience. So, here is a list of all of the things that Foursquare is.

1. It’s a way of telling your friends where you are

This is the original raison d’être for Foursquare and is still arguably its main feature – you ‘check in’ to a place, or venue, and your friends on Foursquare (and optionally Twitter and Facebook) know that you’re there. So, if you’re out on the town, and some friends of yours happen to be nearby, they’ll be able to see where you are and arrange for an impromptu meetup. If you’re more narcissistic, you can use it to brag about checking in somewhere prestigious or interesting.

2. It’s a way of finding new places

Foursquare is beginning to focus more on suggesting new places, and its ‘Explore‘ feature is the implementation of this. When you open Explore, Foursquare looks back at the places you’ve previously checked into, and the places you have liked, and come up with suggestions for where to go. It’s intelligent enough to tailor its suggestions based on which places are popular, the time of day, and even the local weather at the time. You can then narrow down suggestions to specific types of places – whether it’s bars or restaurants, or maybe cultural attractions, parks or shops – or whether you only want it to suggest places you have never been before. You can even include specific search terms like ‘thai’, ‘sushi’ or ‘burger’ if you fancy a particular cuisine, or ‘free wifi’ if you’re looking for somewhere with a wireless hotspot.

3. It’s a game

There’s a competitive side to Foursquare too. If you’re the most regular visitor to a particular venue, then Foursquare awards you the title of ‘mayor’. To keep this title, you have to keep checking in regularly, to avoid someone else ‘ousting’ you by checking in more than you do. Often, being mayor is merely an honorary title, but sometimes it has tangible privileges – at most Wetherspoon pubs, the mayor gets 20% off the food bill. At other places, there may be a special table reserved for the Foursquare mayor. Finally, any tips you leave on the venue’s Foursquare listing may get shown more prominently to other users. (more about mayorships from me last year)

You can also compete amongst your friends on the leaderboard, by scoring points whenever you check in. Each check-in normally grants at least 1 point – more if it’s your first time there, you’re the mayor, or you’ve visited that place several times in the same week. The user with the highest number of points in a week sits atop the leaderboard. (more on Foursquare points) Finally, you can also earn badges, and I devoted two blog posts to this last year.

4. It gives you information and directions to places

Thanks to the growing number of superusers, who can edit venue information, Foursquare is now also a very useful directory. If you’re trying to find a place, then search for it on Foursquare and you’ll get a map, and usually the address. With popular venues, Foursquare knows exactly where people check in, so often the location is more accurate than searching by postcode in other apps. You then just need to tap ‘Directions’ to get walking or driving directions from your current location. Most venue listing also have a telephone number, so you can tap the ‘Call’ button to contact the venue. Some restaurants even let you book tables through the app, or view the menu, and others will show you the opening times.

5. You can save money with Foursquare Specials

A number of venue listings which have been claimed by their owners have special deals – offers only available if you use Foursquare. I’ve mentioned the Wetherspoon 20% off food deal above; Domino’s also offer a free small pizza on your fifth check-in and free garlic bread when you spend over £15, when you collect your pizza in person and check in. Many others like Nando’s, Tesco and Pizza Express offer a discount the first time you use an American Express credit card and check in.

6. It helps you to remember where you’ve been

Foursquare remembers every checkin, and you can use your ‘History’ page to see where you’ve been in the past. You can narrow this down by date, location, category, or even other Foursquare users that you may have checked in with. This is great for when you remember going somewhere, but can’t recall what the place was called, for example. You can also make use of this data in interesting ways using third-party services, like Timehop which emails you each day with your Foursquare checkins from that day last year. (my review of Timehop)

7. It helps you plan future trips

Last year Foursquare introduced Lists, which lets users create lists of venues on a common theme. It might be their favourite pubs or restaurants, or places to chill out. Lists are public and other users can follow them; I’ve made some of my own, such as free places to visit in West Yorkshire, the best things to see and do in York, and my favourite places to eat in Bradford. And all users have a to-do list, so you can use these lists as inspiration for new places to visit when you go somewhere.


In all, there’s a lot more to Foursquare than perhaps meets the eye. If you thought it was just a niche social network for people who like to show off where they are, then maybe it’s worth another look. After all, it’s free to join, and supports all major smartphone platforms.

One Comment

  1. My worry is still that if I am not at home I don’t want everyone to know as it tells them my property is empty and therefore could be burgled. Anyone can see when it comes up on Twitter feeds.