How's Foursquare? Any good?

That was the Twitter DM I received from a good friend this morning. Well, I quickly realised that 140 characters wouldn't cut it, so here are my thoughts on the location based mobile application that is creating buzz all over the media and that I have been using for a few months.

A quick excursion into my life: As a frequent patron of the lovely C'est Ici, a lovely French cafe near Barons Court Tube Station and George's Cafe, a down-to-earth builder's cafe behind my work that does marvellous beef and chicken curry, I expect a certain level of customer service. I expect to walk into C'est Ici, have the guy look up, recognise me, remember my usual order and simply say: "Good morning sir, that'll be 2.20 please." The same goes for George's. When I rock up, I expect the staff behind the counter to recognise me and sort out my chicken curry with rice and mixed veg without me having to actually verbalise the order. The guys at George's get this right. Down to the important detail of giving me a spoon to eat my meal with. The French cafe on the other hand, rien du tout. I have to actually order the same thing, every time. "A large skinny latte to go please." Extremely annoying.

What does this have to do with Foursquare?

The app rewards you for repeat check-ins with the chance (goal?) to become the mayor of a certain location. Some cyber savvy venues in London have begun to see the potential here to reward their regular customers with discounts or other perks.

The app has a number of other rewards or badges to unlock: checking in 10 times in a day will get you the "overshare badge"; check in on four nights in a row and you're awarded the "bender badge"; if you manage to hold the mayorship at 10 or more venues at the same time, you may call yourself "super mayor". These badges are nifty and do give you a weird sense of satisfaction. Of course the goal is to steal the title of mayor from other users. Still, without real-world perks like the above, the app does become boring. To become really interesting, fun and possibly even useful, Foursquare needs two things: more users and more venues giving real life incentives to their mayors.

Why do the guys at George's get it right and the staff at C'est Ici don't notice the same guy order the same thing ever time? Probably because when I get my coffee I am half asleep and incapable of social interaction before my first dose of caffeine. At lunch time on the other hand, I'm awake, I chat with the George's staff, we have a bit of fun.

Bottom line: social media and location based apps should support but on their own will never substitute good customer relationships. Is Foursquare any good? Not at the moment, but I think it has the potential to become something that helps you meet up with friends and score some freebies at restaurants, pubs, cafes and other venues.