Ramble On Ron

Diamonds, Music and other Facets of Life

Foursquare or Stalkersquare?

Posted on | March 3, 2010 | 16 Comments

Being in the social space is often pretty weird. The king of social networks, Facebook, has made it easy to check out everyone’s family pics, personal interests and hobbies, and everything else that you want to know (or not know) about someone. Often these people aren’t really “friends” but acquaintances at best. After all, do I really know 850 people?  Twitter is #2 with a lot of people that I really don’t know and have never met spewing out all kinds of links, comments and other BS.  The trick with Twitter is to try to find the good stuff among all the noise.

Now we have some new social networks that popped up – Gowalla, Foursquare, Brightkite, even Google Buzz. These are social networks that share your exact location, using GPS technology, to your friends on Facebook and Twitter. You can earn badges and points if you “check in” to more places, so it’s like an addicting game (if you buy into it). When I first saw a status update or tweet saying, “I’m at Starbucks” or “I’m at the Safeway on York Road” I thought to myself, “WHO CARES!” Why do I care if you’re at Starbucks, Safeway, or Shell Gas Station? What does that do for me?

Well, before I trashed this idea, I had to hop on Foursquare myself to see what it’s all about. After all, there are some pretty bright guys invested in this company, including Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey. I wanted to find out what’s there from a marketing standpoint. I assume that they will find a way to make money from this. Once you know where someone is, you can market to them through their mobile device in all kinds of creative ways.

Since being on Foursquare, and even before joining, I saw a big problem with this concept. Then came the site that affirmed my paranoia called Please Rob Me. The site is basically a live stream from Twitter titled “Recent Empty Homes” and those people are labeled as “New Opportunities”. I am so glad that this site is out.  Read what they say on their “why” page:

Hey, do you have a Twitter account? Have you ever noticed those messages in which people tell you where they are? Pretty annoying, eh. Well, they’re actually also potentially pretty dangerous. We’re about to tell you why.

Don’t get us wrong, we love the whole location-aware thing. The information is very interesting and can be used to create some pretty awesome applications. However, the way in which people are stimulated to participate in sharing this information, is less awesome. Services like Foursquare allow you to fulfill some primeval urge to colonize the planet. A part of that is letting everyone know you own that specific spot. You get to tell where you are and if you’re there first, it’s yours. O, and of course there’s badges..

The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home. So here we are; on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home. It gets even worse if you have “friends” who want to colonize your house. That means they have to enter your address, to tell everyone where they are. Your address.. on the internet.. Now you know what to do when people reach for their phone as soon as they enter your home. That’s right, slap them across the face.

The goal of this website is to raise some awareness on this issue and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc. Because all this site is, is a dressed up Twitter search page. Everybody can get this information.

Foursquare and other similar sites fill the self-promoting way of the status update and tweet. People LOVE to say “I’m at the beach” or “I’m on vacation” so others can see how cool they are and what an exciting life they lead. These sites feed right into that need. I found myself doing it in New York City last week. It was sooo cool of me to be at Radio City Music Hall watching a concert while all of you were home watching The Bachelor. 🙂 Guess what? It’s stupid! My wife was home alone. In the jewelry business, it would be extra stupid for a salesperson to tell anyone where they are.

One other thought that is not addressed on Please Rob Me goes out to women who are telling us guys where they are all the time. Now, I’m a happily married man and a good person. But there are a lot of sick people out there! If you’re an attractive woman, do you really want every guy on Twitter to know where you are so they can happen to just show up to see you? Or even worse to hurt you?

Maybe I’ll eat my words and these sites will be the next Facebook, but remember that the internet is full of stalkers, criminals and psychopaths, so use some common sense here people!

What do you think of these sites?  Are they game changers or a stalkers heaven?


  • katielynn783

    I like the concept of Foursquare and can see its potential, but why cant we just keep Foursquare on Foursquare? This way, you aren’t broadcasting your location to everyone and the people who care to know where you are can request to follow your updates!

  • Hi Katie,

    Thanks for your response! I agree that it would be better if you just broadcast your updates to only your friends on Foursquare. Can you do that or does it have to go to Twitter all the time? Still learning about it, but I did want to point out some dangers here that no one thinks about. Complacency is a real problem with all social networks…

  • Nice post Ron. So far I’ve ignored these location based social media sites due to an instinct that told me it just isn’t smart to tell people where you are… you put those feelings into clear words, good job.

  • Thanks for reading Greg! Yeah it’s pretty weird but I bet those guys find a way to make money with that site. I’m just not sure I want to be a big part of it.

  • Darin McCall

    I think it’s unlikely that burglars are going to use Foursquare when just watching their house is easier. They’d never know if someone else is going to be there anyway.

    But there is a site out there that’s calling up businesses that get checked in to and then they page Foursquare users and say crazy things to them so they can post the calls on their website. It’s funny, but seems to make the victims not want to use Foursquare anymore. Which may or may not be a good thing.

  • You can keep them closed off to your foursquare friends if you chose. Easy to do on the iphone app. Still think we should avoid ignoring this trend.

    Location is not going away and I am betting that this shift will eventually become important to local jewelers. Sure Foursquare is mainly about bars and restaurants, but eventually someone is going to create “Foursquare for shopping”.

    Great way to get people taking about your store and the experiences they have in them. I’ve also found that it tends to build loyalty. I like checking in at the same places and getting deals in return for my patronage.

  • Hi Michael – thanks so much for your comment! That’s a good point that there will be a use for this in shopping. As far as the jewelry industry goes, they won’t catch onto this one for about 10 years. 🙂 But I’m just pointing out that it is a little creepy. You can be sure that aside from the customer interaction that it may provide, the money that will be made from the creators of these sites will be from the sale and analysis of your behavioral information to advertisers. Big Brother is watching!

  • Big Brother is absolutely watching, the only upside here is we potentially get to see what he sees (or at least a valuable part of what he sees).

  • I think we are on the horizon of location based marketing. Foursquare is just ripening up the ecosystem. I agree with some of the points for sure – safety first. Maybe keep each medium to its own, etc. Ive been thinking about not cross pollinating my foursquare check-ins with my twitter account, and never populated them to facebook. That said, I am all over this location based stuff…

  • Thanks Greg. I’m sure that there is something there. I think the right move may just be to not cross pollinate with your facebook and twitter accounts. And use common sense. People do need to realize that it’s a crazy world out there!

  • A slight correction; I believe the Google service is Google Latitude; Buzz might in fact connect with Latitude but it is a different service.

    I think as always two things are important 1. Only connect on services like these with people you trust, 2. Do not report your every activity… only report activities you’re comfortable sharing with your list. I guess a third idea would be to not do anything you would be unwilling to share with the world.

    A good video that points to the kind of mentality which may be behind these technologies is here:


    A certain naivete among people about the possibilities here is probably involved. In the end it amounts to ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ I don’t mind my priest knowing my personal errors, privacy is not absolute. But while Facebook might be trustworthy – what if Facebook is bought by someone who is not?

    That Google refused to submit to demands to divulge search query data to the Government is either a positive sign or a negative one, depending on how paranoid you are, I guess 🙂

  • I don’t see these sites as the next Facebook either. Rather, they appear to me to be grabbing a slice of the Facebook model, much like twitter has done with the status update. I agree with other commentors that the marketing opportunty through location-based access to people will be absolutely huge. And mobile will be THE platform. It’s always about becoming untethered. Getting away from the desktop. But this will likely go the way of the Craigslist Killer case. It may take one serious Foursquare crime to get these services and their users to standardize their behavior so the danger is minimized. I’m not predicting this eventuality. Hopefully people are generally smart enough to use discretion in these places.

  • Thanks Garth and GREAT VIDEO! Still watching it, but farmville has more users than twitter is mind blowing!

  • I agree David!