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Nothing But Net: Going Places


I’m not a boxing fan. Apart from having the wind knocked out of me when I was pushed by John Roberts into the radiator in Mrs. Lein’s kindergarten class and angering some a**hole at Premier Diner because I held the door for him and his two daughters and said “You’re welcome” after he didn’t say “Thank you,” I’ve never been close to fighting someone.

(Sidenote: If someone holds the door for you, say thanks. No you didn’t ask them to, but it requires no energy and if you don’t, you look like a d*ck.)

I like the part before the match, when they list stats comparing the two combatants and how they stack up to each other. This guy is an expert in muay thai and capoeira, but that guy is known for his fusion of shorinji kempo and gojukai karate? Whatever, man, I have no idea what any of those things are but I’m psyched to watch two adults beat the sh*t out of each other.


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The early stages of one such brawl were set this week, when Facebook announced Places, a geo-locating addition to the social network that allows you to show people where you are and who you’re with, as well as show up in a sort of location-based hub to anyone nearby. If that sounds revolutionary, you’re probably not familiar with Foursquare, a very similar offering that deals exclusively with “checking in” at locations.

It’s a David-and-Goliath clash (*puts on tuxedo, grabs vintage microphone lowered from ceiling*):

In this corner, weighing in at 3 million users with just under a year and a half of experience under its belt, led by newcomers Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai, appearing in its first main event—Foursquare!

And in this corner, tipping the scales at more than 500 million users, in the game for six years and counting, helmed by wonderboy Mark Zuckerberg, no stranger to this sort of high-profile match—Facebook!!!

Foursquare is one of many location-based social networks (LBSN), which, in addition to event-based social networks (EBSN), is trying to become the Pretty Young Thing (PYT) of the social network world. Naturally, Facebook would take it head-on. Facebook itself was the PYT in ’05, when MySpace was the hottest thing on the planet and the enigmatic “Tom” had a gazillion friends. Facebook won that tussle and has done its best to remain on top, fleshing out privacy settings over the past few years as an answer to MySpace’s reputation as a sex offender’s paradise and adding status updates and the “Like” button in an attempt to thwart Twitter’s ADHD-fueled rise.

So far, Facebook has delivered a TKO to MySpace and at least taken away any edge Twitter had. Will it do the same with Foursquare? In all likelihood, yes. Foursquare is very niche (by design, but nonetheless) and the idea of location-based social networking doesn’t really make sense by itself. That would be like having a social network solely for poking people—it’s just waiting to be integrated with a bigger service.

On top of that, there’s a bigger problem for Foursquare—Foursquare sucks. Have you ever used it? You go somewhere, open the Foursquare app on your phone, “check in” to wherever you are, and immediately uninstall the app because it’s stupid and you hate yourself for wasting time doing what you just did. You can earn badges by going to certain places or frequenting a place multiple times and, if you have a penchant for one locale, become its “mayor.” I guess it’s good encouragement to get people out of the house and away from the stationary computer screen, but it’s only to get them to a different place and in front of a mobile computer screen.

The one selling point for Foursquare isn’t of benefit to users, but to businesses. If I check in to the Walt Whitman Mall, I can be served ads for Foot Locker, California Pizza Kitchen, Starbucks and other establishments there. That’s a huge opportunity to target ads, which is something Facebook has not been able to do very well. But using Places to combine your age, sex and likes with your location? They might as well just charge your credit card now, because that’s a step away from Inception.

Foursquare’s Crowley has said a few things about Places: “It’s not that great or interesting,” is “pretty boring” and is missing “any incentives for users to keep coming back and telling their friends where they are.” In fairness, that’s what you expect a guy whose social network is about to be decimated by the Facebook machine to say about his competition, but let’s be objective: Places isn’t going to fail because it doesn’t award badges for going to a gas station or make me mayor of McDonald’s because I’m there five days a week. Rather, it’s going to succeed because it doesn’t have that crap and instead leverages an insane user base to make lots of money.

Ring the bell, this match is over.

Follow me on Twitter! | Twitter.com/BradPareso
I guess Twitter is part of the LBSN thing by virtue of people often using it just to say,”I’m at Target! They have picture frames on sale! Holy sh*t!” Yeah, I’m guilty of announcing my whereabouts, but whatever, getting the far right stall in the bathroom is a big deal.

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