New in the Labs: Foursquare and Gowalla

-written by Tina Griffin

Foursquare is a social media game where users “check-in” to the locations that they visit. These locations can be almost anything: parks, restaurants, libraries, stores, public buildings, to name a few. By checking in they earn points and unlock badges.  If they check into a place more than any other person, they become “Mayor”; so there is friendly competition too. No one knows how many badges there are to earn, as the company won’t tell. Users can also leave tips for individual locations (try the veal!) and can create lists. You can make your list public, follow other peoples list (Top ten sites to see in Chicago!), and search lists if you are in a location you aren’t familiar with. Your account gives you stats on the badges you’ve collected, number of different placed you’ve checked into, and many more. Using Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, or Gmail accounts you can make friend requests and “see” where your friends are checked in. Also, there is a “wall”-like feature similar to Facebook that lets you see the stream of your friend’s check-ins. On the security side, you have options for limiting location services and contact information. There are also options for what type of notifications you’d like to receive.

While the game is fun and engaging, Foursquare can be used for practical purposes too. First, it’s a great way to get the inside scoop on places to go, restaurants, and entertainment in a city you are visiting. It can be a great way to check out a city and decide if you want to visit too. All of the venues listed in Foursquare are mapped. This platform is more often used as an app for smartphones and other mobile devices, making it easy to use on the go.

But all of this is on the user side of it. If you have Foursquare as a business account, making you the owner of a venue, you have the ability to offer “specials”. These are freebies, give-aways, or discounts that users can earn in the physical world by checking in. There is also a way to offer badges too. For the Owners, this is a great way to interact with their customers. Owners can post tips, create lists and post photos just like users can. It’s a great feature to advertize what they can offer to a visitor.

But what does this mean for libraries? Foursquare gives them a fun interactive way to promote library events and services. There are a number of public libraries already using it in this way. Library staff post tips that include library events with website links included. Check out the Gale Borden Public Library for a local example of how this works. The New York Public Library takes it one step further with links for newsletters, other social media sites, an obtaining a library card right in their description.

David Lee King has a pair of well cited blog posts on whether libraries can use Foursquare. He mentions besides having the library listed as a venue, make sure to edit it and add tags so that it can be found easier. Also make sure to add tips and to do lists. Patrons get points for checking in and get points for performing the tips and to-dos.  Another recommendation is to make sure all of your events are posted to tips and lists, and set specials for the events as well. Specials could be monetary or non-monetary. Monetary specials could be a coupon for a free drink at the cafe, the bookstore, for copying, or to local establishments. A non-monetary special could be extending the loan period for books or materials.

For libraries to be successful at Foursquare, they need to stay engaged with the patrons who are checking in and participating. Content is key here. And tips from check-ins will sometimes reveal what isn’t working around the library. These things can be mentioned as positive changes in updates when they are addressed.

Similar to Foursquare, Gowalla is a social media site that markets itself to a location oriented crowd. Users create travel lists (places been, places to go to, bucket list, or create your own list), add highlights and tips to locations as notes for others, and can mark favorites and see who else has also marked favorites. They can also “follow” other users to see what their friends’ are doing on Gowalla.

The general organization of Gowalla is by city, and within each city’s guide is a list of locations to visit. There are user created lists such as Featured spots and Hot spots. There are category buttons for lists of restaurants, nightlife, entertainment, and shopping. Users can post pictures of the locations.

Gowalla was originally intended to be a site that occupies similar niche as Foursquare. Unfortunately it didn’t gain as much traction as Foursquare and floundered. They attempted to retool the website as a travel site, but it didn’t take either. Eventually, a certain amount of executive staff were offered a move to Facebook and they took it. As of this writing, Gowalla is now shut down, preventing a complete evaluation.

It remains to be seen if some of Gowalla’s features will be incorporated into Facebook. If it does, there might be ways for libraries to leverage this service. A French class, for example, could use this service to explore French speaking cities in tandem with the library providing resources related to that city, history, language, and culture through a custom list.

View the labs page for Foursquare

More changes coming to library website

Dominican University’s entire website will be undergoing a redesign and move to a different platform over the next few weeks. As part of this process, the library website will also change significantly in appearance, but not in function. The new platform will hopefully fix some of the issues remaining from our redesign a year ago and allow us to do more creative things with our existing content.

We will keep you posted on the exact date for the move, but until then please submit any comments you have here. Be aware that we want to everything we can to make the site usable for you, so the more constructive and specific you can be, the better.