Evan Thornton is the founding editor of the Spacing Ottawa blog; these days he keeps up with Ottawa’s most interesting spaces by creating lists on Foursquare.
Does this scenario sound familiar to you? You’re out for a social visit at a coffee bar or a pub and the friend you arrive with breaks off the conversation to look down at their phone. “I just have to check-in” they say…and a long 20 seconds pass as they fiddle with their screen. Then, satisfied, a “there, that’s done” expression comes over their face, and they look up to cheerfully ask “what were you saying?”.
They act as if they have just done a useful thing and are even contributing to the social fabric. But what have they actually done?
It was launched in Ottawa back in 2009, so by now most readers will know that the app this friend has just used is Foursquare. This social media app connects people by encouraging them to ‘check in’ to a venue through their phones to gain points, thereby encouraging people to interact with real environments through the digital world. With enough check-ins your friend might be rewarded with a virtual “badge”, or even better, a “mayorship” of the venue he or she repeatedly visits.
So what do you need to know about Ottawa’s community of Foursquare users?
1. We know how to take revenge
Got a bone to pick with a business? Foursquare tips are forever – and they can hang around a business like a bad smell until the person who left them — that’s you– deletes them. Of course, most “complaint” tips often go like “not enough fries with the burger” or “someone needs to tell the barista how to make an Americano “ — relatively trivial irritants that most readers will read with a wait-and-see-if-it happens-to-me attitude, before judging the business on it.
But when it comes time to really call a bad experience out — and warn others — Foursquare’s revenge is sweet. For example, imagine this scenario: you take your dog to a pet grooming business and instead of him coming home clean and fluffy, you find he has actually acquired a bad case of fleas while in the shop. To add insult, when you look at the bill you see an extra $27 tagged on for a no-show penalty when in reality, you showed up for the appointment early.
That’s what happened to local blogger Mark Blevis this past winter, so he made sure to attach the above account as his “tip” to the business’ Foursquare entry, where it sits to this day, stinking up the business’s reputation. The groomers deleted his negative feedback from their Facebook page, but until they take steps to get right with Mark, his Foursquare comments are clamped around their necks like a leash on a Labrador. In fact, the tip has now attracted enough attention that the former owners of the shop have added their own comments to Blevis’s, talking pains to disassociate themselves — and taking a few extra swipes of their own at present management, which of course amplifies the original complaint all the more.
2. Big Media is Big on Foursquare — but Ottawa bloggers could take them on!
I’m writing this post for the hyper-local Apt613, so it pains me to to admit this next fact. Swedish-owned Metro News — now in 47 countries and counting — has put local bloggers in the shade when it comes to creating content on Foursquare. Metro might not be the first to discover that new wine bar everyone’s talking about, but they’ll still get to it before most – and their Canada-wide “tip list” runs to 350 of the most interesting diners, pubs, bistros, sandwich bars etc. — in the whole country. And they aren’t afraid to be negative, as in, for example, their reproach to well-known downtown sandwich destination Green Rebel: “the meat was unseasoned and the tomatoes mushy.” Ouch!
3. Food Porn: Ottawa Foursquarites love it
Gorgeous pastries, steaming bowls of pho from Chinatown; burgers oozing with blue cheese topping — it seems no Ottawa Foursquare user profile is complete until a mouth-watering foodie shot is in the mix. But the all-time classic Foursquare pic that truly IDs your location, just as surely as GPS? Our scan kept turning it up again and again: it’s your blurry 3 am snap of that ESD poutine, gravy glistening in the bright diner light. Pure Ottawa!
4. Our workplaces are on Foursquare
If you get busted checking your Foursquare activity when you should be doing work-related activities, tell your boss you are doing work-related activities. And because dozens of Ottawa businesses, NGOs, consultancies and even federal departments actually keep up their own Foursquare pages, there’s a good chance you’ll be telling the truth.
In fact, the Government of Canada even pays people to create Foursquare tips. For proof, check the Department of Foreign Affairs Foursquare tip sheet — short little advisories for Canadian travellers, across the Globe. Right now someone is probably sitting at desk at DFAIT, thinking more up – but they already are up to 80 Foursquare tips including nuggets from how deal with becoming a crime statistic in various place in Mexico and Argentina (have the Canadian consulate’s phone number taped to your wrist, basically) to why you should never try to land in Pago Pago if you are more than six month pregnant (you’ll be turned back). Someone probably got Communication Officer wages to write that stuff, too – I only wish it was me.
5. Ottawa has a major badge deficit.
Here’s a huge directory of Foursquare badges — over 900 of them — a not an Ottawa-based one in the bunch. Not only has our food and beverage sector been slow to work with Foursquare to create its own badges — the kind you can get in Austin or Chicago or New York, for exploring aspects of the city’s nightlife — but we don’t even have an official overall Ottawa City badge. And when even little Trois Rivieres can come up with one of its own, that really is slack of us.
But the good news is that Foursquare is just waiting for us to make enough of a fuss, and has a web form we can use to make the case for an Ottawa City Badge. But remember, Foursquare is headquartered in NYC, so don’t expect them to know what an ESD poutine is, without some backstory first!