Former digital editor at The Takeaway, former producer at The Brian Lehrer Show.
One of the addictive elements of Foursquare is something that affects everyone: the leader board. It shows the "scores" of the players based on the points they’ve earned for checking in, with bonus points for going the extra mile. I signed up last week at the urging of a friend and iPhone owner who raved about how fun it was. Suddenly I was staying abreast of his nocturnal escapades (well, at least the bars he was going to on any given night). Apart from being jealous about a friend having a much more active social life than me, I felt like I was staying in touch without making an effort. And, the places Foursquare told him I was, which ranged in adventurousness from my neighborhood park to my local Laundromat, required very little effort on my part. In fact, I didn’t even have my friends in mind when I checked in. (I had also persuaded other iPhone owners to download the app and friend me.) I was just in it for a higher place on the leader board and the coveted title of "Mayor," which you earn when you check into a place the most number of times.
But even though I wasn’t directly communicating with friends, my friends were finding out about me. As guest Scott Lamb made clear on Friday's Takeaway, this a whole new network of friends based on passive communication. And the incentive to take part, playing for points, is entirely selfish.
No major news was broken with this experimental journalism. But in many significant ways we broke down the barriers between the radio hosts and the radio audience. Even the people who didn’t call in were hearing about the people who did, fellow listeners whose experience they shared each time we played or read a response.
I believe we forged our own social network of fellow radio listeners who stayed in touch by playing our version of the Foursquare game, but something else happened that surprised us. Many of the people who called lost jobs to the dire economy and in the course of checking in with us, we — and all of our listeners — found out more about that experience. As we find out more ways to "play" with our listeners, we hope to further ours and everyone else's understanding of the situations facing Americans. Maybe then we’ll make some real news. But in the meantime, what’s wrong with having some fun along the way?
How we did it
Last week Scott Lamb and I played with a new iPhone application called Foursquare. We started finding out about each other's social life (or lack thereof) and getting to know each other in a different way. Then I added people I vaguely knew as friends and got to know them in a different way, too. Suddenly, I had a bigger incentive to go places just to “check-in” and earn points and badges along the way.
The buzz about Foursquare was growing among users of other social networking tools, so I pitched the idea as a segment to the rest of the Takeaway team. We looked at a few discussion points, including passive communication as a means of interaction and what the larger benefits to society this might have, given that Twitter and other tools like it have already made such a difference (e.g. in democratizing media and pioneering new businesses).
I booked Scott on Friday’s show and discussed these issues with him. On Thursday evening we came up with a question for listeners. The goal was to emulate the Foursquare game on live radio — a tall order. We decided we’d just ask the question, without getting bogged down in the details of Foursquare and this is what we came up with:
"At the takeaway this morning we're trying to get to know you better by having you tell us where exactly you are and what you're doing. All you have to do is call or email and check in. No matter how mundane or insane! If you're in the kitchen: Call us. If you're on the subway: Call us. Fleeing the country? Call us! You get a point each time you check in. And you'll get bonus points for frequency and outlandishness. The leader board will be at thetakeaway.org."
The responses flooded in. Here are two examples:"I was driving to school, but now I'm not sure where I'm calling from..."
Thanks in part to our staff and contributors calling in with real-time updates, we were able to lay out the question clearly. Within the first 10 minutes, almost 50 phone responses had come in. By the end of the show, there were hundreds.
Read contributor Scott Lamb's post about the absurd satisfaction of playing Foursquare.