A little over three-years ago, I was on a business trip to China when I discovered the social media application, Foursquare. Foursquare is a geo-location, check-in application that has morphed over the past several years from not just one app, but two with the companion app Swarm. Since my first check-in, I have since amassed 8,670 check-ins, uploaded 1,450 pictures and up until yesterday had the maximum of 1,000 friends within the Swarm App. I even have bought a Foursquare tee-shirt, sweatshirt and my MacBook Pro is adorned with Foursquare stickers.

I recently became very excited again about Foursquare when I received an email indicating that Mayorships are coming back soon. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Mayorships within Foursquare, a user could become the Mayor of a location simply for a certain number of check-ins at a location. It was a nice touch to say that you were the Mayor of your coffee shop or dry cleaner and in-fact; many locations had specials for the Mayor. Then guess what happened? It all went away, along with leaderboards. You see, while Foursquare collects valuable data about our travel habits, where we eat and where we go, Foursquare also forgot that it was a game (hence the term gamification).

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There were countless times that I would be approaching my local coffee shop only to see that my Mayorship was just stolen by another patron. Therefore I had to go into my coffee shop and take back was rightfully mine. The Foursquare game was a lot of fun until I realized that I could check-in to my coffee shop in Minnesota from the beaches of Mexico. I also watched how many users would simply be on a train or subway, checking in at every possible location along their route. I imagine this not only to be taxing on Foursquare’s servers, but it also cluttered my Foursquare app with notifications of where friends were checking in, here and there and everywhere.

Then as Foursquare evolved and was widely reported to have declining new installations of their app and declining base of users, Foursquare released it’s Swarm App to a fair amount of buzz (get it, buzz, like a swarm of bees). But away went my sticker collection of tasks that I completed in the Foursquare game and away went all of my Mayorships, but what really shocked me was away went check-in specials from various locations. Honestly, this was one major component of Foursquare that kept me coming back for more and more usage.

There were many times when I was traveling in New York City and as soon as I would check-in to my hotel, I often saw a special such as, “Check-in three times and receive free Wi-Fi during your stay” or “Go to the rooftop bar, show this to the manager and receive a free cocktail.” Now I can only imagine how difficult it was to get “feet on the street” to sell the benefits of these check-in specials, but once these check-in specials went away, Foursquare was no-longer fun to play. There was no incentive for me to continue to be gamified; yet I continued to use Foursquare and Swarm App for quite some time.

The reason why I continue to use Foursquare and Swarm is because I am also a “Superuser” Level 2, which enables me to edit locations, suggest deletions of locations (such as the non-public “Johnny’s super duper pooper room) as well add Twitter handles of local businesses that I support. When I have a few extra moments, I will make some edits either from my phone or desktop, as well as will add new locations that perhaps have moved or are simply new to my geo-located area. To me, this is my social karma to help out those that can’t help themselves. But what really concerns me for the future survival of Foursquare, I that I rarely see Foursquare “Check-In Here” stickers as I enter a local establishment, such as a restaurant, but then again, when was the last time you heard a radio commercial saying “Like me on Facebook?” It seems lately it’s been “Follow us on Twitter” or use a hashtag of some sort to follow along a conversation. Why? Because the “reach” in Twitter is free as long as someone knows how to find you or easily search for you in Twitter.

Then yesterday I was looking at my Swarm App notifications and I have been “stuck” at 1,000 friends from quite some time. With nearly 150,000 Twitter followers, I get friend requests, but I cannot accept their requests. So I started to go through the 1,000 Swarm friends to see exactly whom I am a friends with. I looked at every single friend to determine the following:

  • Real person or bot
  • Active or inactive
  • U.S. or Foreign

I had also noticed that I wasn’t really getting that many favorites or comments on my check-ins, so I already had a suspicion that my friends were asleep at the wheel (well hopefully that wasn’t the real case), but after my painstaking review of my friends, I discovered that the vast majority were inactive accounts where there was no check-in during the previous 90-days. Well similar to one of my rules on Twitter, I un-friend/unfollow anyone that isn’t active within the past-90 days, because at the heart of anything social media related is that we need to be social and have conversations with one-another.

Many of my now former Swarm/Foursquare friends had thousands of check-ins as they played the game; however, at the end of my review and #FoursquarePurge, I went from 1,000 friends down to 202. Yes, almost 80% of my friends were either inactive, were from foreign countries (so I couldn’t understand their check-ins) or were simply bots. Trust me on the bots; I’ve a keen eye for spotting them.

So here I sit, with 202 friends, my engagement rate per check-in is higher than I have seen in sometime. Mayorships are coming back. My sticker collection is slowly starting to become available again. And what would be the icing on the cake? Collapse Swarm and Foursquare back into just one app, bring back check-in specials, and then all of my check-ins will be fun again. Otherwise, I fear that Foursquare will become a passing memory; just like the game of Foursquare I played long ago on the playground of my elementary school. By the way, when Mayorships come back, I’m going to recapture that crown as well and become the Foursquare foursquare mayor of that playground.