Sep 08 AT 2:20 PM Eric Weiss 10 Comments

Foursquare for Android: Online friends competing in the real world

The Foursquare app has been available exclusively for iPhone users for a while leaving the rest of us forced to use the (not very convenient) mobile-web site or (even less convenient) SMS service. Last week that changed when the app became available via the Android Market (take that Blackberry and Pre!) and I can sense my OCD kicking in as I try to become a mayor of my favorite hangouts and collect more badges than my friends.

Foursquare is one part social networking, one part city guide and one part game and currently available in 21 cities. After downloading the app and registering, the point is to collect points by visiting locations and checking in with the Foursquare service. Earn more points than everyone else (and meet certain other criteria) at a certain location and you become the “mayor” of that location. Along the way you will collect “badges” based on criteria such as the tags people have added to the location description, or doing an activity a nuber of times. For instance if you go out four nights in a row (and check-in with Foursquare) you earn the “Bender” badge. Some badges are city or event specific. For instance, checking in at the Brightkite SXSW party in Austin last March got you the “Party Crasher” badge.

You aren’t just in competition with the rest of your city either. Foursquare allows you to import friends from Gmail, Twitter, Facebook or via email and once you add a few friends on Foursquare the points battle really heats up as you check their progress.

Foursquare was developed by Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert, the same people behind early Web 2.0 social networking website Dodgeball. Dodgeball was acquired by Google in 2005. In 2007 Crowley and Rainert left Google, describing it as more of an “escape”, and started Foursquare with Naveen Selvadurai. In March 2009 Google shut down Dodgeball and replaced it with Latitude.

The concept (the mixture of online friends and real world locations in a competition based on visiting locales) was a little difficult to grasp at first for me. Quickly though, I have gotten into it. I still forget to check in quite often (though it let’s you check-in when you aren’t at a location, an obvious opportunity for cheating and a glaring problem I hope will be fixed soon). And once I forgot to lock my phone after checking in and accidentally checked in six times in a row.

That said, these guys know what they are doing and where they want to take Foursquare. Right now it’s a little bit oriented toward the “hipster” crowd but I think as more people join that will change. And, like all social networking programs, the experience is dependent on more people joining. If your friends aren’t on it, it’s not going to be much fun. The integration with Twitter is smart. Your check-ins and badges can be automatically tweeted which may pique interested from your followers.

All in all I had fun with Foursquare this past week and look forward to competing with more people, earning more badges, and hopefully becoming a mayor or two.

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