My name is Philip Berne, and I cheat at Foursquare. I’m unrepentant and I have no remorse for my behavior. I will not stop, even now that my secret is out. What are you going to do about it?
I check into places I have not been. Sometimes, those places are far away from where I’m sitting. Before I ever visited Good 2 Go Taco, I checked in there on Foursquare. I was more than 10 miles away at the time. I did it to needle my boss, who was mayor of the joint at the time. I was threatening to steal all of his mayorships from him, and I knew that Good 2 Go was his most prized mayoral possession.
[Image credit: Nan Palmero]
A few days earlier, I had created a Foursquare location specifically for his office. Then I checked in. He checked in second. The way Foursquare works, if I checked in every day at that point, before he had the chance, I would quickly become mayor and hold that position indefinitely. I usually arrive at work before he does. I was mayor on day two, and held the title for a week or so, until a business trip took me away from my realm.
Sometimes I check into places long after I’ve left. Sometimes I check in before I arrive. Sometimes I check into a place that’s nearby, usually within sight, even though I won’t be going there. When I was in Amsterdam, I checked into a cookie shop across the street from the place I had stopped to get coffee. People can take a check-in to a coffee spot in Amsterdam the wrong way, so I thought it safer to mark my position using the cookie shop. I was mayor of that cookie shop for three months, even though I was only in Amsterdam a week. Apparently, Foursquare is not very popular in the Netherlands. Or maybe the cookies weren’t as good as they looked.
Why do I cheat? A couple reasons. First of all, Foursquare deserves a little cheating. The company, and the service, needs to get its act together. Some of my cheating is my own passive aggressive way of pointing out the obvious flaws in the system.
The distance checks are completely unreliable. Early on, the Foursquare phone app started using GPS or other location information to verify that you were near your check-in spot. But I’ve been denied plenty of legitimate check-ins because the app was gathering the wrong data. It wasn’t the phone’s fault. Google Maps found me with no trouble. But Foursquare thought I was too far away from Whole Foods to earn a check in.
So, I exploit that. Sometimes the app seems to forget to check your distance. This is how I managed a check in at a taco shop more than 10 miles away. I just searched for the location and tried to check in. A few times, it worked. A few other times, it did not.
Foursquare is also in serious need of some curation. I decided I wanted to become the mayor of my apartment complex. But when I started checking in, I found four or five listings for the same address. All of them had different mayors, even though they all pointed to the same address.
Pro Tip: Don’t really check into your home or building on Foursquare. There are obvious safety implications in telling people when and where you will and won’t be at a given time. I check into the apartment complex next door, and count that as a check in for my pad. When I lived in a house, I created a location with a nearby address. Close enough that Foursquare would find it, but not close enough that psychopaths would find me.
Foursquare also needs better recognition of the categories of the places you check in. I checked into a maritime museum and earned the coveted “I’m On A Boat!” badge. Then, when I actually checked in from a boat for the first time, there was no reward. It was a completely anti-climactic Foursquare experience.
I’d also like to know how many check-ins it really takes to become mayor, and how that works. I checked into a lunch spot in San Francisco two days in a row and became mayor. How could that be? It’s a very popular place (Gott’s Roadside). I can’t imagine my two consecutive visits earned me the mayor spot. Less than a week after I left San Francisco, I was replaced, but that’s only surprising that I held the title so long.
Nitpicking? Sure, but the confusion that Foursquare creates about the rules, and the inconsistency in their application, makes the game much less fun. And it is certainly a game.
So, I started to think about what I really wanted out of this game. Which brings me to the second reason I cheat. I don’t really care about winning at Foursquare. I just want to make myself seem more tech savvy than my luddite friends, who dabble in the game but can’t quite keep up. I want to use Foursquare as a power play in my own pathetic social life. I want to use it to rib and needle, to tease and brag. I like to mark my spots in a strange city so local friends can find me and distant friends can make recommendations. But most of all, I play the game my own way.
I certainly don’t feel bad about cheating. This isn’t Words With Friends, after all. I can’t tolerate cheating in Words With Friends. My friends think I’m a formidable player at Words With Friends because I used to be an English teacher, but my Scrabble skills are surprisingly mediocre. But what skill I do have is knowing exactly what vocabulary words someone does or does not know. After years of reading essays from 14 year olds cribbed directly from Wikipedia, I have a great idea of whether you really know what a Qat is, or whether you’re just randomly placing tiles.
The same folks who cheat at Words With Friends are the ones now beating me at Foursquare. Not because they’ve been taking trips to fascinating locations or racking up mayorships left and right. No, these are the folks who check in at the gas station, and the ATM machine, and McDonald’s, and their bathroom, and everywhere else they pause for even the slightest moment. The folks who earn astronomical Foursquare scores by marking their place at the most mundane spots in their lives. To me, those are the folks who are ruining my game. But I’m a cheater, so what do I know?