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New location app a boon for Charlotte business? Check in, even become mayor with FourSquare

By Austin Light

CHARLOTTE — FourSquare, a location-based game/application on the Internet, came to Charlotte in late November as part of a 21-city expansion. The application is being billed by some, including CLT.blog and local social media strategist Jason Keath, as the next Twitter, or at least the next application to see Twitter-like success.

The difference? Twitter asks people what they’re doing, whereas FourSquare asks people where they are — and where they are could have an impact on local businesses.

The application works like this: Users create a FourSquare account at FourSquare.com, then use the online, iPhone or text message application to “check in” at various locations in the city. Users are encouraged to leave details about the place they are checking in, like the best dish to order at a certain restaurant, or a special deal at a local clothing store.

Users earn points and badges for a variety of things: checking in at multiple spots in a day, checking in at the same spot several days in a row, etc. The user with the most check-ins at a particular location is declared its “mayor.”

FourSquare’s creators bill it as a way to increase traffic in area hot spots and create a friendly competition.

The service links with Twitter so check-ins can be shared throughout a user’s contact list. It also allows users to create to-do lists — places to visit, products or businesses to try — as well as a top 12 list of check-ins.

The main page for Charlotte shows newly appointed mayors for several locations. Clicking on a mayor’s name brings up a profile showing badges they’ve earned, locations they have checked in, and other stats.

The University of North Carolina in Charlotte was the first school in the country to use FourSquare to share information with the announcement of its FourSquare promotional program on Dec. 3. The university’s Auxiliary Services blog had this to say:

“What that means for FourSquare users is this: checking in at UNC Charlotte may yield an electronic coupon to a nearby dining venue. If you’ve reached Mayor status, the coupon has even greater value.”

The idea of receiving coupons and promotions based on location could be a way for businesses to draw in customers, according to Keath. He discussed the application in a recent post on JasonKeath.com, detailing four reasons why he believes FourSquare will succeed.

“Any business can go in and watch the check-ins at their establishment. Offer promotions and discounts to anyone near their part of town. And interact with existing and potential customers in a new way. Some location based networks have been around for a year or two and still do not have these opportunities,” Keath wrote.

Matthew Vincent, a blogger at Minimumfailure.com, uses FourSquare but isn’t convinced that it’s the next best thing. He points out that FourSquare doesn’t increase communication between users, like Twitter or Facebook. Though it allows users to connect and “friend” each other, the communication takes place through other networks or in person, Vincent said.

“It just seems like another tool that’s really interesting for marketers researching consumer behavior,” he said. “You can connect with people and see where they have checked in, but it’s totally not communication.”

Vincent said it’s still unclear which community is going to embrace a service like FourSquare. What has kept people away from geo-networking services in the past is a desire to “not appear like a stalker,” he said, describing an unintended side effect of knowing where everyone is at all times.

Right now, the service is comprised of fairly tech-savvy users who are accustomed to adopting and toying with new technologies. As the service grows and businesses or marketing executives begin to use it — something both Keath and Vincent predicted — the service could look like something else entirely.

“UNCC is doing coupons, so will this eventually be embraced by the coupon clipping community? Will the first place they go be FourSquare?” Vincent said. “When you mix advertising and socialization, some people call that pollution; some call it a natural progression.”

With financial backers and supporters from popular sites like Twitter, Digg, Delicious and more, FourSquare is poised to make progress one way or the other.

Creating a FourSquare account is free at FourSquare.com.

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