Foursquare Raps by the Go-Bang Mayor
I look back on a forgotten age in social media, when you checked-in to a place 100 times and took photos of your huevos rancheros 🍳 ☕
I recently had occasion to write about Foursquare, the once popular location check-in app. I’d been emailed by its PR firm about a potential Machine Learning story. In her pitch, the PR rep had called Foursquare a “location data platform.” All this piqued my interest as a tech journalist, as I’m currently writing a series of articles at The New Stack about machine learning and its impact on web development. I was also curious what Foursquare, one of the trendiest apps of Web 2.0, had turned into over the past decade.
I replied to the email and set up an interview. You can read the resulting article if you’re interested in what Foursquare is now, but in this Cybercultural post I want to reminisce about what it was like in the old days, through the lens of my regular check-ins to Go-Bang Expresso, in Petone, New Zealand — my favourite cafe at the time.
Go-Bang Expresso flat white, my coffee of choice.
Before I did the interview, I must admit I didn’t even know if Foursquare still had a check-in app. Turns out, yes it does — two of them in fact. I’d long ago deleted the original Foursquare app from my phone, but after checking the iOS App Store, I saw that it has two current apps: Foursquare Swarm (its “lifelogging” check-in app) and Foursquare City Guide (for “restaurants and bars nearby”).
I re-installed the apps and discovered that Swarm was the one with all my old photos (77 of them), along with the short check-in posts I would often write. I’d done roughly 400 check-ins in the past, the bulk of them between July 2010 and June 2013 — so, a 3-year period where I used the app about 11-12 times per month on average.
There were plenty of people at that time who used Foursquare much more heavily than I did. But still, it was an app that I used regularly. Especially when I walked down to my favourite neighbourhood cafe for coffee, as I did most days of the week when I wasn’t traveling.
Swarm tells me that I checked into Go-Bang Expresso 137 times over the three years of my Foursquare prime. It was enough to be the mayor of that establishment for most of that time, starting in August 2010. A “mayor” in Foursquare was the person who checked into a place the most; a completely meaningless designation, except that everyone else who checked in would see your name beside a little crown icon. It was a simple example of “gamification,” as it used to be called in Web 2.0 — a way to keep users from doing otherwise pointless things on social media, like checking into a cafe 100 times.
Looking back on my Foursquare usage, the mayor badges I received obviously mean little now (I was also the mayor of “Petone Foreshore” for a period). But reading all the check-in notes I made back then and viewing the photos…well, it’s a nice memory-jogger. For instance, it reminded me that I was known as “the medium trim flat white guy” by the young staff at Go-Bang. That was the coffee I always ordered, not a description of what I looked like back then!
Starting in October 2010, I began to liven up my Foursquare check-ins to Go-Bang by composing mini rap rhymes. Here’s the first one, dated October 15, 2010:
Checking in at Go Bang
Thinking up some new slang
Brother don’t diss me
U don’t get my rhymes till later?
Yo, put it in Instapaper
I didn’t say they were good rhymes 😛 I think I was listening to a lot of Wu-Tang Clan at that time…
Also in October, I began to use Foursquare to document my travels — including checking-in to airplanes. Eating seemed to be a continuing motif, though:
Some of my check-in posts during this time were vaguely poetic and diaristic, e.g. this from November 21, 2010, back once more at Go-Bang:
_House hunting again. Sprawly, cold winds outside. Taking shelter in my fave cafe for huevos rancheros and trim flat white.
Again, it’s a nice personal memory from that time period — and place, since I now live in Wales, halfway across the world. Also, Go-Bang sure did a wonderful plate of huevos rancheros!
Go-Bang huevos rancheros, Dec 2010. Clearly I hadn’t yet started my low-carb diet!
So why did I post these diary-like entries and silly raps into Foursquare? I could’ve done the same short posts on Facebook or Twitter, or even Instagram — which I’d started using in October 2010 (as I wrote about in my previous Cybercultural post). I think it was that I wanted to somehow celebrate the places that I went to and enjoyed, and to let people know that they were a regular part of my life. I wanted to show I was at Go-Bang not only because it served great coffee and eggs, but that it had a vibe that said something about me.
It was like posting about a favourite band on Twitter (or more likely Tumblr, at that point), or rating a book on Goodreads. I wanted folks to know I loved this thing…this place, in the case of Foursquare. Also, in Web 2.0, we were still working out how to use social media — hard to believe now, but it wasn’t all about voicing your opinions back then. What you put on social media was often a reflection of your broader lifestyle; I visit these places (Foursquare and/or Flickr), I listen to this music (Twitter and Tumblr), I watch these tv shows (AllConsuming), I’m friends with these people (Facebook).
I think we’ve lost much of this, for want of a better phrase, lifestyle aggregation in social media. Okay, I still occasionally post on Facebook about a place I’m at — especially if it’s part of a holiday. But my motivation isn’t to advertise my lifestyle, rather it’s to create a kind of family diary to share with real-world friends.
Perhaps my family focus on Facebook says more about my age than anything else. But even for the trendy apps of today, such as TikTok and Instagram, they’re mostly used for entertainment purposes. When you go to a cafe in 2023, chances are you’re watching little looping videos while drinking your coffee. If you do happen to compose a silly rap, maybe you perform it for TikTok. Nothing wrong with any of this, by the way, I’m just saying it’s different to how social media was used 10-15 years ago.
Let’s get back to Web 2.0…
I started to ramp up my Foursquare usage in 2011 with photos. Oddly, Foursquare did not let iPhone users upload photos until December 2010! So I wasn’t late to the party on photos, it just hadn’t been an option before this time.
My first photo check-in was that December, probably while I was consolidating my mayorship of Petone Foreshore:
It took me four more months to do a photo check-in at Go-Bang. It was a view from my usual window seat, looking outside.
In June 2011, I was in New York and making smart aleck tourist check-ins:
Back at home in July 2011, I finally did a photo of an actual trim flat white (and behold, nostalgia fans, a newspaper!)
My tech-flavoured raps were getting…er, a little better? This from August 2011, the middle of winter in New Zealand:
Petone still chillin’
My fingers ain’t feelin’
This swipin’ and pinchin’
Yo, my phone needs voice recognition!
Another thing I loved about Go-Bang was the cool, but not too hipsterish, music they used to play. From an October 2011 check-in:
Warm, still day in Petone. Thank goodness that battering wind is gone. Johnny Cash in the background at Go-Bang…
Fast forward one year, and I still loved visiting Go-Bang for my afternoon coffee and an occassional lunch. However, my love affair with Foursquare was starting to wane by this time.
It wasn’t fully over yet, though. The drive to stay mayor of this one small cafe in Petone was, apparently, sufficient motivation to continue using Foursquare for several more months. In fact, I continued on until June 2013 — but there were to be no further photos or raps.
I remember saying at the time that if there were real-world rewards for checking in to a place multiple times — a free weekly coffee for being the mayor of Go-Bang, for example — then I probably would’ve continued using Foursquare. But, at least in New Zealand, those rewards never eventuated.
I moved out of Petone in mid-2014, so I stopped being a Go-Bang regular at that point. Then, several years later, Go-Bang closed down and was replaced with a new cafe, called Origin.
I checked the new cafe out a few times. It was the same basic structure outside and layout inside, but it had been completely re-furbished. Gone was the weather-beaten light blue exterior, and in its place a black and charcoal paint job. Gone was the lived-in seating and the rickety tables in mottled red, brown and pale green; now the tables were all the same design (a light brown wood) and the seating had been upholstered in red, purple and frog-green “heavy velvet.”
The design of Origin was certainly more modern and there was no more peeling paint…yet it lacked the charming, vibrant character of Go-Bang. It felt a bit gloomy and I missed the bright colours of its predecessor. That said, the coffee and food were still good — it even had an excellent low-carb cauliflower risotto dish! Sometimes progress is a good thing.
As for Foursquare, the product seemed to fade away in the culture after about 2013. Checking-in as an activity is still alive and well, but it’s now just another feature in apps like Facebook and Instagram.
So what about my little raps? Thankfully they’ve been consigned to history, along with my Foursquare check-ins.
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