Is Foursquare the Future of Friendship, or Just Dumb?

Foursquare is a new mobile app that helps you follow your friends (and helps your friends follow you) when you go out. It that sense, it's not so different from other legal-stalking apps like Google Latitude, which lets your friends track your location on a Google Map through their smartphones. The catch is that Foursquare adds a funky layer of gameplay. If Foursquare sees that you're spending a lot of time at one bar, it names you "Mayor" of that watering hole, and so on.

Is this a dumb idea or a really good way to check if your friends happen to be a few blocks away? I wasn't sure myself, so I debated the issue with Government Executive's Madeleine Kennedy, who alerted me to the article. Here's a transcript of our conversation:

Derek Thompson: Would you use this?

Madeleine Kennedy: Yes, I think I would use it. I think it's a nice, easy way to track where your friends are without having to call or text. And if you're just hanging out in a neighborhood and happen to notice a friend you may not have seen in a while, why not go say hi? Would you?

DT: I absolutely would use it. I read about a lot of people who have these bizarre, almost Orwellian fears about being followed by social media programs. They think Facebook is stealing their identity and cell phones are following them. But I really don't. Maybe that makes me an unprivate person, but often I would love my friends to know where I was after work and on the weekends. And if I didn't want to see some person, I would just turn it off.

MK: I feel the same way about privacy. You can be as open or reserved as you want to be. But I think Foursquare is another example of new media that seemed to have been founded for fun, social reasons but is quickly being used as a business tool, kind of like Facebook.

DT. Good point.

MK: As New York magazine post suggested:

"When Foursquare first came out, it actually blocked users from checking in during weekday work hours. That sentence would be more truthful to the real world if you changed "Starbucks locations" to "bars owned by the same people" and "free coffee drink" to "free Maker's Mark." Which is how Foursquare is going to probably do very, very well."
And so when I was looking at the foursquare feed on their website, I saw things like "Phil W. in Richmond: became the mayor of The Martin Agency." That isn't particularly cool or interesting... that guy probably just works there.

DT: Wow. Mayor of The Martin Agency. His mom must be really proud.

MK: More embarrasing: "Kyle D. in Boston: became the mayor of Spangler Dining Hall." I'm sorry, I dont want to be the mayor of my school cafeteria.

DT: I would prefer this thing without the whole badges and mayors things. Although a part of me wants them to go whole hog with it. Like who's the president of Spangler Dining Hall? Who's the Secretary of the Interior? If I've only been there once, can I be a cultural attache?

MK: That would certainly be more entertaining. But businesses see this this badge/mayor thing as a way to make money like some are rewarding their "mayors."

DT: Yeah, so maybe just do it like credit cards. a sliding scale from silver to gold to platinum for recurring members, where platinum status gets you a free drink, and maybe a crown.

MK: But that adds a kind of competitive dynamic, and it no longer is about meeting up with friends.

DT: So I think we agree that it's a good idea but the competitive aspect is a little weird, or perhaps the germ of an even more weird and wonderful system where a single bar's patrons are organized according to a democratic hierarchy?

MK: I think that's fair.