Ten years ago, the talk of South by Southwest Interactive was an app called Foursquare. Its creators had started with an app called Dodgeball, which used SMS to check people into venues and was sold to Google and left to die. When its creators left the confines of Mountain View, they started another company to do the same thing, only with the advantage of Smartphone Time. Turns out that built-in maps and GPS and enhanced data service make that a much simpler prospect than it was in the days of the RAZR.
Ten years on, Foursquare has built its own sort of map and social grid. And they’ve remained independent, selling aggregate map information to other companies rather than selling out to Google or Facebook or the like. And they did kind of screw up by splitting into two separate applications and messing with the whole check-in mechanism, ruining one of the most successful attempts at gamification in the smartphone era. And yes, I get nervous that there’s all that location data for me in there.
But it was extraordinary at the time, even if it was plainly meant for people ten years younger than me. It gave me a record of places I’d been, things I’d done, and the people I’d been out with. It was data that proved the existence of a social life, kind of sort of. Granted, most of the people I have friended through it no longer live near enough to me that we check into a place together, but that’s a broader issue. Instead, I can look back and see a stream of check-ins across Europe in 2010. Or Japan in 2015. Or Disneyland. Or see when I last visited some place that I hadn’t seen since 2011, in the case of one of the downtown wine bars. Scroll back far enough and you can see peregrinations around San Francisco back when that was a desirable thing to do. Or things that used to be, like Z Pizza or Dan Brown’s Lounge or Soarin’ Over California. Or things I forgot I did, like Vanderbilt happy hours or my 2015 ER visit for my back or the Sunset Festival.
I have more past than I remember. That’s what makes Foursquare – and this blog – important.