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Archive for July, 2010

As an avid social media user i have started to notice the growing presence of new fad in online networking that i am rather puzzled by. My Twitter and Facebook feeds have slowly started to fill up with the most mind numbingly inane updates, normally reading something like “Scott has logged in to Limehouse DLR” or “Max, in Sydney Australia, has unlocked the ‘local’ badge”. These statements are not some strange trend in boring status updates, they are the latest player in an ever-expanding market of social media.

Source: foursquare.com

I first heard of Four Square months ago when i caught up with two friends who are key players in the food blogging community. They derided another Twitter user for the constant update of being ‘The Major of X cafe’.

The idea with Foursquare is that users ‘check-in’ at locations throughout their day, collecting points along the way. You can then ‘ping’ your friends to let them know where you are, as well as create to-do lists and make recommendations. The points are apportioned according to how many times you have visited and times of the day. With your growing points you can then earn badges and gain the coveted title of ‘Major of…’, which means you have collected the most points visiting that venue or move through the ranks as the expert in that area.

In theory this type of program sounds interesting. In real life i find it dead boring. Pocket-lint.com describes Four Square as “like Google Latitude meets a little bit of Facebook, a touch of Twitter, a dash of Qype and even a twist of World of Warcraft“. For me, it’s the combination of gaming and competition, in the collection of points and ranking system,  with the mundane of everyday life, that really turns me off.

The appeal of Foursquare for businesses is immediately obvious. You get instant exposure and access to, not only your customers, but potentially access to your customer’s online networks, an accessibility that includes a free advertisement, with links to your business and a potential rave review.

Source: blackberrycool.com

But whether we are irritated, or not, by the mediocrity of the Foursquare status, it is worthwhile to consider the potentially more sinister side of the internet that Foursquare exposes. The Age online recently ran an article titled How i became a Foursquare cyberstalker. In this article, author Leo Hickman explores the ease by which someone can search for nearby unprotected tweets and follows a random stranger simply by visiting the very same places the social networker has logged in to.

Hickman’s article draws you into the Foursquare world by picking a random stranger and to follow around London. With a few short key strokes and the power of Google, he quickly establishes her key personal details available on her public social networking sites. He follows her journey to a pub in London and uses Twitter and the pub’s live feed to make contact. Louise, his chosen victim, exclaims horror at how much Hickman has managed to gather about her, simply by using the social networking tools available to him.

Louise admits to him, it’s a “little unnerving, to say the least. I thought I was being very careful with what I was posting“.What Louise has missed in her Foursquare communication is that the site automatically tweets her location whenever she ‘checks-in’, allowing Hicks, who was not her Foursquare friend, to easily track her down. Combine that with an open and public Twitter account and you have a stalkers paradise.

For me, Foursquare is a prime example of why my social networks are locked down. Not only do i not want the people i follow to be aware of the very boring aspects of my daily life (Artcultcha has checked in to Flinders Street station),  but i prefer to be closely enough acquainted with my Twitter followers to recognise them in a pub if they ever walked up to say hi. Although a locked profile and tight privacy setting seems antithetical to the whole social media network, for me, it is the smart and safe option.

Source: thedroidgeek.com

Foursquare is not deaf to the privacy concerns of users. Hickman refers to Foursquare’s celebrity settings, in which the site allows plebs, like you or I, to follow a celeb without ever being given information about that celebrity’s specific location. A Foursquare spokeswoman quote in Hickman’s article stated, “We’re continually looking for ways to improve the sharing options that we provide, For example, we recently updated our user-settings page to create more opt-out options related to sharing user data“.

Well ain’t that nice of them! I wonder how many users were unaware, as Louise seemed to be, about Foursquare’s automatic update tweets about location? I always think about the argument for ‘opt-out’ versus the current position of ‘opt-in’ for organ donation. There is good reason why the organ donation lobby prefer the opt-out option!

According to Hickman, Foursquare is now pushing the 2 million user mark, which in the scheme of social media, is only a drop in the pond of the number of Facebook and Twitter users, however it was only three months previous that Foursquare was only at the 1 million mark. If it grows in the same way the other social networking sites have done in the previous few years it will soon be a force to be reckoned with, not to mention it’s potential for real earnings within the ever elusive field of profitable social media.

There will always be traps on the internet for those less diligent in their use of new media tools but i like to think what i lose in connectivity, i gain in safety. Yes, it’s a paranoid approach, but i would not be impressed if i was Louise, and was approached by someone who had used the clues left by me in cyberspace to follow me to the pub.

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Well after 6 months of floating around Melbourne hoping to find a shiny new arts job, i have given in and am heading back to University. Today is my second day of my first week back at Melbourne Uni and my first class for my Writing and Editing for Digital Media class. Every week i shall be blogging here about interesting things i have learned about blogging and the internet.

I enjoyed the readings for today’s class almost wholly because i read them on my iPhone on the train to Uni! Things have changed a lot since i first started at Melbourne Uni in 2001. Most excitingly what has changed is that i am sitting here in class on a laptop blogging as the class is going on around me. And this is encouraged!!

I hope you will enjoy my postings and please feel free to leave me feedback!

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