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From Addiction to Apathy: The Five Stages of Foursquare Use


Foursquare, the smartphone app that gives you points and badges for "checking in" at clubs and convenience stores, is about to reach the one-million-user mark. That's a big deal. But it's also a reminder that, try as we might to cover its every move, most of you haven't tried Foursquare yet. (Or you're using its scrappy archrival, Gowalla.) Here's what to expect when you do:

Foursquare curiosityStage One: Curiosity
So you've gotten 27 emails about this Foursquare thing, and stupid blogs won't shut up about it, and its always clogging your Twitter feed, and ugh, fine. You'll try it, okay?! "That one guy from Jersey Shore has an account," you think, "so it can't be that complex." As you toy with the app, you realize you can get virtual status symbols for, well, living your life the same way you always have. Suddenly, buying sponges isn't just shopping. It's a quest! For points! And badges! Ditto that trip to the dry cleaners. "Hmm," you think. "This is actually kind of fun..."

Foursquare addictionStage Two: Addiction
Once you grasp the basic premise—which usually takes about a day or two—it gets harder and harder to imagine a time when you didn't have an incentive to run everyday errands. You start checking in everywhere: your apartment, your apartment building, your subway stop, your office, your favorite lunch spot, your dentist's office, etc. "It's not oversharing," you tell yourself, "it's the ethos of Foursquare." Eventually, you stumble across a venue that's not in the database, which you can add to receive bonus points. "Jackpot!" you squeal, fist-pumping your iPhone. Everyone arond you glares. They just don't understand.

Foursquare socializationStage Three: Socialization
By this point, you've become "friends" with actual people on Foursquare, and you can keep tabs on their whereabouts. In all seriousness, this feature is pretty useful: You can use it to surprise friends/significant others ("Can't believe I ran into you at this obscure nail salon!"), exploit roommates ("I know you're at the grocery store. Don't forget to replace those Pringles you stole."), and even see which bars are buzzin' on Google Maps. "This is way more fun than getting points and badges," you think. And then you discover the Leaderboard.

Foursquare greedStage Four: Greed
Because Foursquare is meant to be a game, of sorts, there are winners (people who check in all over the place) and losers (people who don't). And as soon as you figure this out—generally after a week of just-for-fun use—the novelty wears off, and the competition kicks in. You start guarding venues at which you've been anointed "mayor" (more check-ins than anyone else), just so you can brag about the title. You start frequenting off-the-beaten-path lunch spots, hoping to find a restaurant that hasn't been added (+5 points). You start shopping at different convenience stores, just so you can reap rewards for charting new territory (+3 points). You start checking in as often as possible, hoping to earn those coveted Superstar and Overshare badges. And you may even start cheating, just so you can make outrageous claims like, "I'm the mayor of the North Pole." The whole time, you've also got one eye on the Leaderboard, so you can prove, once and for all, that you are the busiest, most adventurous, most Fouresquare-savvy person in...well, your immediate vicinity.

Foursquare apathyStage Five: Apathy
And then, just as suddenly as your Foursquare obsession began, it grinds to a halt. You've checked in at all your usual haunts, explored some new ones, added some others, and scored at least one week atop the Leaderboard. But since the charts reset every week, and you don't get as many points for re-visiting the same places, your moment of glory is fleeting. "Well," you say, sighing, "at least I have my badges." And that's true. You get to keep those forever. But now that you've gotten the basics—Adventurer (10 check-ins), Explorer (25 check-ins), Superstar (50 check-ins)—and maybe a few oddballs, such as "I'm on a Boat!" (checking in on a boat) and Gym Rat (10 check-ins at the gym during one month), you kind of stop caring. What initially excited you about Foursquare—apart from being able to keep tabs on people you know, which you still may want to do—was getting "rewards" for living your everyday life. Once you have to start working for them (spending more money, traveling greater distances), you realize they're not actually worth it.

That, or you start appreciating Foursquare for what it really is: a simple(r) way to stalk your friends.

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Add New Comment


  • I'd like to propose a 6th stage: STALKING MODE. This is after you return to Foursquare, finding that many new friends of yours started using the amazing app and you check-in just from time to time yourself, but constantly review your friends' whereabouts ;)

  • Roger Toennis

    Foursquare may end up being a faster and more spectacular flameout than was Dodgeball. Smart thing for founders to do is sell immediately as 4SQ is about to peak on it's buzz meter trajectory. Dump it on Yahoo or MS for a premium price.

    Take the max corporate money you can get on terms where you can leave immediately.

    Then for your third try, start from a business model first. You've proven you can generate "free user" buzz. Do something that shows you can generate "paying customer" buzz.

  • Kevin Leonardi

    I'd say that I'm somewhere in the late part of Stage One. I did sign up just for curiosity's sake, but during the past few days I've noticed myself checking in as many places as I could with the hope of unlocking a new badge or becoming the mayor of an obscure location. I admittedly only have two friends on foursquare at the moment, so hopefully once more join I'll find myself in the optimal Stage Three. As the location-based foursquare continues to catch on, I think we've only begun to see the potential that it will have.

  • John Vasko

    This is a fun post. I think I'm in Stage 3 but not sure. I'm older than the average user but it is kind of fun being the "mayor" of my dog run. I want to start using it for finding interesting restaurants as JJ Sullivan and Mike mentioned below.

  • Lamar Morgan

    Just as Twitter and Facebook are both different - but still Social Media resources - so too is Foursquare. However, unlike Twitter and Facebook, Foursquare will reward its users for getting to know their surrounding community.

    Both Twitter and Facebook are being used to drive foot traffic to physical locations - like restaurants, coffee shops and book stores. However, Foursquare provides a "reward" just for showing up. How clever!

    Foursquare, through its game mechanics programming, is really doing a good deed for communities around the world. Every local Chamber of Commerce should encourage Foursquare "check in's." Why? Because those check in's really do encourage the public to "shop local" and strengthen the local tax base.

    Many businesses see Foursquare as a resource through which they can promote their storefront. Want proof? Take a look at The list is long and impressive. I even got a little Mom and Pop Thai restaurant display ad up on Foursquare. Want proof? Visit The San Francisco Transit Authority is using Foursquare to get more people to ride its rail system. The San Francisco Sympony Orchestra is using Foursquare to increase the public turnout for its concerts. A local San Francisco TV station was so impressed with Foursquare, it decided to show the public on TV how to use it. Want proof? Visit

    Havard University, Bravo TV and even the online restaurant service,, have all become fans of Foursquare. Why do you suppose that is? Because Foursquare is good for driving foot traffic and helping to restore our ailing economy. If you believe that giving others a "mutual uplift" can be good for your own business, right there is a good reason to become a Foursquare fan.

    Lamar Morgan

  • Mike Smith

    Recently went to Phoenix and Foursquare was somewhat helpful in identifying restaurants unique to the area and helped avoid chains. Your stages very are helpful, I think!

  • J.J. Sullivan

    Not sure where this fits into your stages, but I recently travelled to NYC and found foursquare to be really useful there in finding interesting places to eat and insightful tips on places I already wanted to go to. There is more content on foursquare than badges and locations, the tips and to-do's just don't seem to be as interesting to people as they go through the addiction stage. I'd like to see more rewards (badges or otherwise) to inspire people to truly start sharing more insights about places... might help fend off the dreaded apathy.