Getting Started with Foursquare

You’ve probably heard the buzz surrounding Foursquare, the newest player in the online social networking space, and wondered what the big deal is. Foursquare is a site that allows you to “check in” at various real-world venues, share information with friends, and compete for virtual prizes. It’s easy to get started.

  1. First, visit www.foursquare.com to sign up for an account.

  2. Select an application to download to your mobile device.

    Since the object of Foursquare is to check in on the go, you’ll most likely be using your iPhone, Blackberry, or other smartphone to access it. However, Foursquare does allow you to check in from their mobile site (foursquare.com/mobile) in case you’re at your computer.

  3. Fill out your profile and add your picture.

  4. If you want, link Foursquare to your Twitter and Facebook accounts and share information between the services.

  5. Use the tools on the site to find your e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter friends.

    The fun in Foursquare comes from being able to find out what your friends are doing and what new experiences they’re having.

Once you sign up, you’ll quickly start getting friend requests. Feel free to accept invites from people you recognize, but unlike other services, it’s not wise to friend people you don’t know. Foursquare gives out your current location, so if you wouldn’t want someone to know where you are in real life, don’t give them access to that info online.

Next, it’s time to get social and tell your friends what you’re doing. Depending on your device, you’ll see a rather prominent CHECK IN button somewhere. Selecting that pulls up a list of nearby locations that Foursquare recognizes based on the GPS coordinates read from your mobile device. If your current location — a restaurant, retail store, police holding cell, or whatever — is there, click on it and check in.

If your current location isn’t listed — Foursquare is fairly new, so that can happen often enough — you can add and select a new place. Then, you can choose whether to send a “shout out,” a message to your Foursquare, Facebook, or Twitter friends, such as “Happy Hour 4-7pm” or “Parking is tight, so leave your car at home.”

Here’s where the fun competition begins. Based on when and how often you check in, you can receive prizes, known as badges, on the Foursquare site. Badges can be doled out for a check-in at a specific place, time, or location — you never know when you’re going to win one. You can also become a “mayor” of a site by checking in there more times than anyone else. Mayorships on Foursquare are competitive, and people have been known to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to wrest a Mayorship back from someone else. Be ready to defend your turf!

Suppose you cut out of work early to see a cool movie that just opened. You want credit for the check-in but don’t want to let your boss know where you are. You can still play the Foursquare game and not let your friends know where you are. Just uncheck the “Tell my Friends” button and your check-in will be recorded without anyone else knowing.