Foursquare 2.2 (for iPhone)
I have a smartphone. I have social networking accounts. I want something that can join the two, enabling me to connect with friends and leverage location-based communication to better navigate my surroundings. Throw in a little competition, and I'm hooked. Foursquare 2.2, available for free on just about every mobile platform—iPhone, Android, Palm, Blackberry, and more—delivers on all accounts. Check in to locations, leave tips, and read tips from your cell phone. Unlock coupons. Win points and badges with use. Compete for the distinction of "Mayor." The whole thing is silly, but strangely addicting. And unexpectedly useful.
Google Latitude is great if you want to Google Map your friends. Facebook Places brings location-based networking to the largest social network on the planet. However, it's the earliest service, Foursquare, that delivers the goods for those seeking a refined and comprehensive location-based social networking service for the mobile phone.
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I adore Foursquare's simplicity. Setup time is almost non-existent. Foursquare enables you to add friends from a myriad of sources: The mobile app scours your personal address book, Twitter, and Facebook; you can even search for friends by name or phone number. And with over 5 million users, you can build a network quickly.
Once you add friends, follow their activity from the "Friends" tab. You can sort them by time added (Recent) or proximity (Nearby). My favorite mode, however, is pinning them to a map, a la Google Latitude. I thought this was useful because I could see people in relation to me, which means that if I feel like grabbing a cup of coffee and Iyaz is nearby, I can drop him a line. Even if it's Iyaz, it beats drinking alone.
As much as I like the social aspect of Foursquare, I'm most interested in locality. Places reveals Foursquare's utility. From this tab you can scroll through a list of nearby landmarks, some annotated with "specials," which I'll return to in a moment.
When you visit a nearby landmark, check out Foursquare. Why? Foursquare serves up tips. This is particularly useful in new places. Let's say I'm in Penn Station and my train is delayed—is that redundant?—and I'm looking for a place to eat. As anyone who has ever had the misfortune of visiting Penn Station can tell you, there are corridors of dubious options. Wouldn't it be nice if you could find out which restaurant was least toxic, which public bathroom contained the fewest homeless people bathing in sinks? Foursquare's tips can help you make prudent choices in unknown spaces.
In addition to declaring your location, checking in helps unlock deals ("specials") at select locations. The more you use Foursquare, the more deals reveal themselves. For example, there's a lounge near PCMag, which, after four check ins, grants you and two friends a free round of drinks. Drinks for clicks. Not a bad deal in this town.
Enticed by libations, I tried to game the system by checking in aggressively. No dice. I received the message, "Whoa, that's a lot of checkins! To keep it fair, there are no points or badges for rapid fire checkins." There went my happy hour.