Why the Hell Should I Use Foursquare and Google Buzz?

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The editor of The Rumpus sits down with Anthony Ha, senior technology reporter for VentureBeat, to try and understand Foursquare and Google Buzz.

Anthony Ha: Hey.

The Rumpus: Hey. I thought I’d be able to contact you through iChat.

Anthony: Didn’t work huh?

Rumpus: I guess not. You didn’t get a thing from me? How do I save this chat when done in Gmail?

Anthony: it should just show up in your inbox, in a separate section called “chats”.

Rumpus: I’ll just cut and paste.

Anthony: Yeah, and then cut and paste.

Rumpus: Alright, are you ready to represent?

Anthony: Yeah. What are we doing this for? The Rumpus?

Rumpus: Yes, The Rumpus.

Anthony: Rad

Rumpus: Remember, these people probably have no basis. Not unlike myself. We need a tutorial. Let’s start with Foursquare. What the fuck is Foursquare?

Anthony: Well, basically Foursquare is a way to share your location with friends. Like, if I were to go to a reading at The Makeout Room. I could go into this application and “check in” at the Makeout Room and my friends would know that I was there. And I could also add a message, like, “Hey, I’m here for the Steve Elliott reading.”

Rumpus: I have Foursqure on my iPhone, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work.

Anthony: Which part of it did you get tripped up on?

Rumpus: OK, I turn it on. It doesn’t ask me where I am. I just pressed the button that says, “Check in.” And it says “we can’t find anything nearby.” I’m in the Ritual cafe.

Anthony: Yeah the system isn’t all that great yet. It also varies in different parts of the city, like in the Mission, iPhone reception is just generally shitty so that affects Foursquare’s abiltiy to figure out where you are.

Rumpus: I’ve checked in!

Anthony: Congratulations!

Rumpus: It says David A. is the mayor of Ritual Coffee, which is bullshit.

Anthony: Yeah, if you go to locations where there aren’t a lot of Foursquare users it’s really easy to become the mayor. Like, I spent two months as the mayor of Buffalo Exchange

Rumpus: So all my friends, people who I’ve allowed to follow me, they know I’m at Ritual now?

Anthony: Yes.

Rumpus: I see two other Foursquare people are also here. Nick K. and Ed C.

Anthony: Right … Personally, I think that’s less interesting than seeing where the people I know are. Like, if I were walking down Valencia right now and I saw that you were in Ritual then I might say, “Oh cool, I’ll stop by and bug him.”

Rumpus: Nobody I “know” is checked in anywhere. I wish my ex used this thing.

Anthony: Like most social networking services it’s pretty worthless if you’re not connected to a lot of people The main reason I joined was because everyone I knew from work was on there.

Rumpus: How many people do you know who use Foursquare regularly?

Anthony: Well, it’s still a pretty niche product. Apparently it has 275,000 users. I’m guessing they’re pretty concentrated in New York and San Francisco and LA. I have 70 connections on Foursquare. I’d guess about half of those people aren’t very active.

Rumpus: So now that I’m checked in at Ritual, what do I do?

Anthony: Well, when you leave Ritual and go somewhere else then you’d check-in there too.

Rumpus: Do you actually find things to do and people to hang out with using Foursquare?

Anthony: Yeah … not necessarily all that often … I’d say the two most common scenarios are: 1) When I check in somewhere and one of my friends immediately texts me and says, “Hey, I’m across the street. Let’s hang out.” and 2) If I see three or four people check-in at some event, and I text them to see what’s going on.

Rumpus: How often do those two things happen to you?

Anthony: Maybe once a week? Once or twice.

Rumpus: How often do you check Foursquare?

Anthony: Usually I try to only open it up when I’m checking in, because I found that I was checking it too often. Sometimes, if I’m bored on the weekend I’ll also open it up to see what people are doing. So there’s a lot of variation. There are some days when I don’t check it at all. There are some days where I’ll check it 10 times.

Rumpus: Do you think Foursquare will persist? It seems to be struggling. Or maybe it just seems that way to me because I’m old.

Anthony: What gives you the perception that it’s struggling?

Rumpus: Very few people I know are using it. And since I got the application a few months ago, very few of my friends have added it.

Anthony: Yeah, I think it’s at a challenging point right now where it’s trying to go beyond the core techie audience and I’m not sure that they’ve succeeded yet. But I mean, 275,000 users for a product that’s less than a year old seems pretty good.

Rumpus: Maybe they should merge with Twitter.

Anthony: I’ve never spoken to the guys who run Foursquare, but I suspect they want to remain independent for as long as possible.

Rumpus: Why do they want to remain independent? Couldn’t Google release Gsquare and put them out of business tomorrow?

Anthony: The thing about Google releasing Gsquare is that it has taken multiple stabs at something like this before with Dodgeball and also with another product called Latitude, so Google Buzz is (at least) their third attempt.

Rumpus: Aha! So maybe now we should move to the second part of our conversation, Google Buzz.

Anthony: Yes, yes, indeed.

Rumpus: What is Google Buzz? I saw it in my Gmail account, which I don’t access very often since I download my mail, and it just seemed like a mess.

Anthony: It’s a little overwhelming right now. I’ve played with it a little, but it seems like wrapping my head around it requires more of a serious commitment of time than I’ve had yet.

Rumpus: But you’re a tech reporter.

Anthony: That’s true. It took me six months after becoming a tech reporter before I joined Twitter.

Rumpus: It took all of us a long time to join Twitter, and then we all joined at once.

Anthony: Basically I think the idea behind Google Buzz, that it’s trying to be “Facebook in your Gmail”, is somewhat accurate because it’s like, “Yeah, that seems easier!” But then once you see it in Gmail you kind of think, “Hmm, maybe I liked having those things separate.” Which is why everyone was freaking out about privacy stuff last week.

Rumpus: And not everybody has Gmail.

Anthony: Yes, that too.

Rumpus: But everybody has Facebook.

Anthony: I think the number is like 175 million users now for Gmail compared to 400 something million for Facebook. So there are definitely more people in Facebook, but both have a lot.

Rumpus: So, it’s “like” Facebook in your Gmail. And yet it’s really overwhelming, and it feels like people are reading your email. Also, I already check Facebook and Twitter.

Anthony: Yeah … although I find Facebook really overwhelming too. I realize I’m kind of in the minority here, but I think Facebook is a huge drag.

Rumpus: I also don’t like Facebook but I have no choice. People really respond when I post a link on Facebook. Much more than when I post a link on Twitter.

Anthony: Google is talking about possibly doing a version of Buzz outside of Gmail. Presumably it would just be a separate website that you log into, like Facebook or Twitter.

Rumpus: But why would you add a third site if you’re already on Twitter and Facebook?

Anthony: Well, there’s a bunch of different reasons but I guess the short answer is that it’s an easy way to share stuff. Like, it’s an easy way for me to share any cool articles I find in Google Reader or funny videos from YouTube or to share my location the way I might in Foursquare but without the gaming component that a lot of people seem to find annoying.

Rumpus: But you can do all of that with Facebook or Twitter.

Anthony: It’s (mostly) true that there’s not a big list of revolutionary features in Buzz that you wouldn’t get in Facebook. But the same is true for Twitter.
One of the things that I think is promising, which hasn’t really happened yet, is that Buzz is supposed to adjust the kinds of content you see based on your interests.

Rumpus: What does that mean?

Anthony: So, for example, if I find updates that you post of your articles from The Rumpus to be boring Buzz might figure that out and then minimize those items in my stream.

Rumpus: That would never happen. Anyway, doesn’t Facebook already do that?

Anthony: Not very well. There’s still so much random shit in there that I don’t care about. And I’ve found Facebook’s controls to be pretty obtuse. So everytime I want to adjust my different news filters it takes me five minutes to relearn how to do that so I never want to do it.

Rumpus: What’s going to happen?

Anthony: Well, I am pretty skeptical that anyone could overtake Facebook at this point, unless Facebook fumbles pretty badly. I could see both Buzz and Foursquare becoming Twitter-sized services though, or in that order of magnitude. Both of them have a long way to go before that happens.

**

Anthony Ha writes for VentureBeat.


Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books, including the memoir The Adderall Diaries and the novel Happy Baby. He is the founding editor of The Rumpus. His feature film debut, About Cherry, was distributed by IFC. His second movie, based on his novel Happy Baby, is forthcoming. More from this author →