Gentlemen, we have a crisis.
That social media upstart, FourSquare, is so hot right now. Let's face it, all the cool kids in Austin are checking in everywhere but milk rehab. With multiple write-ups in the New York Times (who they conveniently got to partner with at the Vancouver Olympics), their popularity is on the rise. Just look at the ingenuity evidenced by wheretheladies.at's use of gender based location filtering to create the Holy Grail of nerd dating: an app that tells you where tech savvy women are.
Not only are the barbarians at our gate, they are on our lawn. And they won't get off it.
Before you accuse me of being a "luddite," let me tell you I get it. Loction based services like Foursquare are cool because of that "sixth sense" vibe you get. When Twitter first hit, people said it was like having a telepathic connection with your friends. For those of us who had friends on Twitter back in '07, they were right. Foursquare and its ilk kick that feeling up a notch. Even better: for those who find the process of coming up with 140 characters too tedious, Foursqaure's auto-generated tweets are just the thing. Twitter is so much harder to interact with than Facebook, after all. There’s no “like” button to do all of your speaking for you. Heaven forfend one has to construct a sentence. (Note to self: Retweet later.)
But I don't need to know everywhere my friends go. Especially since I’m not planning on robbing anyone anytime soon (though in this economy we can’t rule anything out). Finding out about a new taco place is neat, but it’s natural to get concerned if someone has become Mayor of Hipster Dive Bar three nights running. I dunno. Maybe it’s a not-so-silent cry for help, but I don’t feel qualified to organize an alcoholism intervention for someone with whom my deepest connection is a love of Russian Lolcats. And even though I love keeping up with my college buddy @repulsemonkey, if he were to start "checking-in" at pizza joints all across Brooklyn, it would only spotlight the space between us. Social media works best when it strengthens the bonds between friends, not when it rubs our noses in the fact that we're staring at a screen filled with abstractions of reality. (Mr. B- I know you'd never do this, it's a hypothetical, m'kay?)
So why come at you two? Why not take this up with the Foursquare founders? Because I'm your core customer. You guys are getting better and better at making Twitter ubiquitous-- @Anywhere, anyone? You've wisely kept Twitter open so that others can come in and find unique uses for the service. I've come to think of Twitter as the web in miniature, and for that I'm grateful. Yet there are days when I turn on Twitter and just want to "hear" Twitter. It can be as simple as filters that allow us to choose when we see all the auto-generated updates, the same way we can choose who we see retweets from.
Guys, I’d even pay for it. There’s a “freemium” model here leaving money on the table. You guys should have it.
We need nuance in the way we manage social networks. Becasue it's not just the new hotness of FourSquare that's the problem. As you broaden the user base, those of us who use Twitter to help make sense of our world are going to need help making sense of Twitter.
Eternally Your Zombie,
Noah J. Nelson, professional hypocritic and writer/editor for @YouthRadio, can be found every day on Twitter in his secret identity, which we revealed above. He would love to trade links with you, and has always enjoyed hearing about what people had for lunch, but couldn’t care less about what you’re watching on YouTube right now. And FTR: he knows wheretheladies.at is a joke, #thankyouverymuch.