Home » Apprehensive about using Foursquare? Don’t be, and here’s why.

Apprehensive about using Foursquare? Don’t be, and here’s why.

Location-based social media is huge, but what if you’re one of those people who just doesn’t want to share where you are all the time? Well, fear not! You can still have fun AND stay private.

I first heard about Foursquare early last year, but I didn’t really give it much thought as something that was ‘for me’. At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around the whole issue of privacy, and why people would be so willing and eager to broadcast their exact whereabouts all the time. I guess I thought of all the same apprehensions that most of the naysayers have about it: “Open invitation to stalking/robbers/perverts, etc”. But like most things that generate a fear-based response, this was just due to my not really not understanding how it actually works.

When I went to the UnGeeked Toronto conference last fall, Katie Felten gave a fascinating presentation/discussion on Foursquare, and answered a lot of questions about what it’s capable of, how it works, and why Foursquare users love it so much. Katie’s discussion removed some of my negative assumptions, and I recognized that Foursquare did have it’s benefits, but ultimately I still wasn’t ready to give it a shot myself.

Then the other day, I had a simple, obvious realization: What if you just don’t add any friends? Foursquare will only broadcast your location if you specifically tell it to, and even then only to those people that you have added as friends. That’s the beauty of these new tools. They can be as social as you want them to be. There’s no requirement saying that you HAVE to add every one of your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers, or everyone in your address book as soon as you create your account. You don’t need to add anyone unless you choose to. Your Foursquare experience can be completely private, if you want it to be.

So, if you want the benefits of Foursquare, including deals and discounts at all kinds of local businesses, you can do so without anyone knowing where you are or where you’ve been. Create your account, skip the step where you add friends, and when you check-in just stay ‘off the grid’ (Foursquare slang for toggling the ‘share with friends’ switch off when you check-in). Just reap the benefits, and have fun while doing so.

So, I created an account, and began exploring it personally. I was immediately impressed by the quality of the ‘specials’ that were available in my local area. 10% off at a local clothing store, free song download at Old Navy, 15% off purchases at American Eagle, free appetizer at local restaurant, 40% off bicycle service at Mountain Equipment Co-op, etc. And all you need to do to earn these discounts is check-in at those locations. You don’t need to share any other information other than show your server/cashier your phone proving that you’ve checked in.

Not only that, but even without any friends added, you can also begin collecting Foursquare badges. These are simply fun little virtual badges you collect for doing certain things such as visiting lots of coffee shops, checking in at 10 different places, going to a gym, etc. They just add a tiny little incentive to get out and explore a bit more of your town.

Now, I’m sure that the Foursquare advocates out there will likely comment that it’s more ‘fun’ when you add your friends, and that a little friendly competition can help you get out there and experience all kinds of new things, and they’re probably right. But for those people out there who like the idea of scoring rewards for loyalty, or for being in the right place at the right time, but don’t want to lose their sense of privacy, there’s no reason that they can’t use Foursquare in their own way.

Your experience with location-based social media can be what you want it to be, and doesn’t have to be what other people tell you it should be. If you eventually get to the point where you feel like adding a few friends and maybe sharing a bit more, then great! If not, that’s great too. As long as you’re having fun with these new tools, that’s really all that matters.