A long time ago in a small town far, far away … I accidentally created a bike gang. And by bike gang I mean bicycle gang, and by I, I mean we.
Despite Foursquare‘s recognition for getting gamification right, creating an outstanding superuser program and constant innovation, I often have people looking over my shoulder commenting “Foursquare is still a thing? You still use that? Why?”
This isn’t an article on “The Top 5 Ways You Should Be Using Swarm & Foursquare to Level Up Your Life.”
This is my story.
A New Crew
In the spring of 2010, I started finally unlocking my own small community on Twitter in my hometown Bloomington-Normal. (Yes, I’m from Normal, Illinois. I’ll let you recover from that for a moment.) While not well known, we are listed among America’s 20 Geekiest Cities, America’s Techiest Cities and in Nerdwallet’s Best Places for Tech Jobs. That being said, it really shouldn’t surprise you that the force was strong with our #blono hashtag on Twitter.
Through that hashtag, I met my friend TK and we ended up coordinating a ride on our Constitution Trail, a 24 mile biking and running path throughout our twin cities, along with TK’s girlfriend Angie and Opie, another friend TK had met through Twitter.
— Sherrie Rohde (@sherrierohde) April 11, 2010
That one ride soon turned into so many Twitter handles per Tweet that we created @blonobikegang to help coordinate future adventures.
Anyone feel like biking tonight? #blono
— BloNo Bike Gang (@BloNoBikeGang) September 29, 2010
The Gamification Strikes Back
You’re probably wondering why I started out talking about Foursquare since all I’ve mentioned thus far is Twitter. Hang on to your lightsabers, I’m getting there.
As this was 2010, and Foursquare debuted in 2009, and all my friends were early adopters (go back to the America’s Geekiest Cities bit), we obsessively integrated Foursquare into everything we did. On the smaller scale, that meant things like ensuring we checked into places in the right order for all of us to end up receiving the Player Please! badge, downloading Waze to drive around town and unlock the Road Warrior badge, staying out at Flinger’s late enough to unlock the School Night badge and of course battling for mayorships of our favorite, or frequent, locations around town. On a larger scale, it meant planning trips and events around badges. First and foremost? The Babysitter badge.
Armed with Matter of Grey’s Foursquare Badge List, I discovered that to unlock this amazing slide I needed to “Checkin 5 times to the same “Playground” venue or to 3 unique “Playground” venues.” My inner five year old decided this was a great idea, so Opie and I spent the next few days, or weeks—it’s hard to say at this point, mapping out every playground in Bloomington-Normal:
We created Garmin GPX files for every stretch of the journey to create the most efficient route, made sure all locations were on Foursquare and tagged as playgrounds, designed a poster and set out to spread the word to all our friends as well as with bicycle shops around town. Since I worked at a screen printing company at the time, we also created custom @blonobikegang t-shirts for the adventure.
The fact that I’m telling you this story 5 1/2 years later, is probably a solid indicator of how impactful it was, at least for me. There were 16 of us (one freeloaded in a trailer and was too young to care about the mission) and I believe we all successfully acquired the badge. If you’d like to see a few more pictures, Opie put together a video from the day.
In addition the the Babysitter badge, we also went on a two day trip to Chicago in search of the Explore Chicago badges:
At the time we took this trip, Google Maps allowed you to add custom image markers when creating a map, so the translation is slightly lost here but imagine each of these blue pins being a Foursquare badge that the check-in would help unlock:
Not only did we unlock On Location, Celery Salt, Bravo Newbie, TLC Summer, Time Out Chicago’s Bar Hunter, Swarm, and others, but we learned so much about Chicago. We learned where different scenes of The Blues Brothers were filmed, how to find a good Chicago style hot dog, tips about different historic landmarks and probably quite a bit more that I’ve since forgotten.
Foursquare became a way for me to not only gamify my life but to connect with friends and create our own scavenger hunts together.
Return of the Fun
If you haven’t been following along in the world of Foursquare, they’ve evolved greatly since 2010. Much of what I’ve described above is now part of their second app, Swarm. While badges, mayorships and leaderboards disappeared for awhile, they’re back now. Badges are now called stickers, but the concept is the same and you can still unlock and level-up a variety of stickers.
As I mentioned above, this isn’t my list of “The Top 5 Ways You Should Be Using Swarm & Foursquare to Level Up Your Life.” It’s my story of how I’ve used Foursquare/Swarm to strengthen friendships, meet new people and have fun while exploring the world, learning new things and working together to unlock our goals.
If that sounds like your idea of fun, let’s plan an adventure!
(Oh, and if you see this, thank you Dens.)