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You Received a Hookup Badge: Why I Deleted My Foursquare Account

By Jason Grigsby

Published on March 17th, 2010


One of the recurring subjects of conversation at SXSW was the many competing location services. Attendees were using Foursquare and Gowalla extensively during the conference to help find their friends.

Fourquare's Hookup BadgeI decided to give them a try during the conference. That is until Foursquare decided to give me a “Hookup Badge.”

Apparently, the Hookup Badge is given to someone who checks in at two different hotels.

For anyone visiting Austin who doesn’t stay at the historic Driskill Hotel, there is a good chance you’re going to check in at two hotels during your trip. The Driskill is a must see and you will likely check in at the hotel you’re staying at.

That is what happened to me.

I checked in at the Driscoll Hotel when I met friends there. I purposely asked Foursquare not to tweet the check in because I feel like it is spam in my Twitter stream.

However, I didn’t remember that I had allowed Foursquare to post updates about badges that I won. Foursquare didn’t tweet the check in, but it did tweet about my “Hookup Badge.”

So part of the blame is mine. I shouldn’t have let Foursquare post to Twitter at all.

At the same time, I had no expectations that Foursquare would be posting inappropriate tweets. I’m a happily married man. Joking about hooking up while I’m on business travel is not funny.

Thankfully the damage was limited. A few months ago I disconnected Twitter from Facebook. Otherwise, my new “Hookup Badge” would have been shared with family members who would have no idea what Foursquare is nor understand Foursquare’s idea of a “funny” badge.

When I relayed this story with Péter Green of Finnish Mobile Association, he told me how he had received the “Hangover Badge,” and received many comments from his friends back home.

Those comments were funny, but imagine how quickly they would have turned into concerned or panic if the Hangover Badge was handed out to a recovering alcoholic who was half a world away.

I like the idea of gaming mechanics to get people to participate in a location-based service, but Foursquare seems to be making some big mistakes here:

  • The incentive structure in the game should be known instead of a surprise. For example, if you check-in more times than another person, you become mayor. That’s well known and easy to understand. The Hookup and Hangover badges use rule combinations that you don’t known until you unwittingly unlock a badge.
  • The badges indicate a lack of perspective on what issues they may cause for the people who receive them.
  • The overall impression of the service based on these badges is one that is designed for party-going twenty-somethings. It’s hard to take such a service seriously.

We’ve heard a lot about location-based services and cell phone logs getting people in trouble for their infidelity. There’s no need for services like Foursquare to create problems where none exist.

As far as I’m concerned, this was inexcusable breach of trust. I deleted my Foursquare account and will not use their service again.


aaronpk said:

I think you’ve more accurately pinpointed the problems of cross-posting updates across multiple social networks. This is not so much a flaw of Foursquare as it is sharing activity from Foursquare on other networks where the context of the update is not provided or does not exist.

You mentioned that it was unfortunate that Foursquare tweeted that you unlocked this badge. I agree completely. I don’t allow my Foursquare account to tweet for me at all.

Had your tweet been posted to Facebook, your Facebook friends may have been confused by the post because it would appear completely out of context.

By keeping your Foursquare activity within Foursquare, people who saw the “Hookup Badge” would probably just think it was funny, because they understand how badges work.

Jason Grigsby (Article Author ) said:

@aaronpk I don’t disagree that deciding to share outside of Foursquare was a decision that I made an error on and got burned by.

At the same time, there is a lot to be gained for application developers in providing mechanisms to allow people to share what they are doing with their social networks.

Facebook sharing is a great way to promote iPhone applications and Facebook has made this really easy to do.

So as an app developer, if you want people to share your app with others, then you have to make sure that if people decide to trust you to post to their account that you prove yourself worthy of that trust.

Yes, it is true that I will be more leery of cross posting in the future. Lesson learned.

At the same time, there are lessons for Foursquare and other companies that want to utilize social networks as well.

AdamD said:

The issue that comes out for me here is the lack of location-sharing use cases. We’ve pretty thoroughly worn out the bar-hopping example that Foursquare and its ilk are based upon. As FourSquare is today, it’s probably not a mainstream model. However, it may be the perfect tool for its most fervent users.

The use cases for those looking for social interaction while taking care of children all day are going to be much different from the club crowd. Frequent travelers who want to understand and connect with an unfamiliar city will need is yet another example that isn’t like either of the others. And there are many, many more. The question FourSquare has to answer is whether they can cater to everyone or whether they can be successful addressing only a subset of the use cases.

Jason Lander said:

This is an excellent post. Although I personally don’t mind my social networks mixing with each other I know a lot of people do. I have really been enjoying foursquare but agree that some of the badges that come as a surprise are somewhat obnoxious.