Location-based social networking services like Foursquare, Gowalla and SCVNGR are increasingly popular, particularly among young people. Could game dynamics and technology be used to increase civic engagement and participation among them? Some intriguing tweets by the founder of Foursquare and an interview with the co-founder of Gowalla suggest that civic badges and other elements might be coming soon.
Here's the story. Last week, Boston-based IBM consultant Eric Andersen (and Foursquare super-user) caught my notice with a simple tweet:
And guess what? Dennis Crowley, the founder of Foursquare, was listening:
I replied: "Given how you research game theory & social media, I'd posit it's you reading minds."
Dennis wasn't the only person with his ears on, either. Twitter VP Katie Stanton chimed in:
Uber-blogger and director of Expert Labs Anil Dash was listening as well:
I remained focusing on voting: "While the volunteerism Anil Dash mentioned is important, I'm especially curious about game mechanics with young people in elections."
Dens replied to all of us:
Katie had a suggestion:
And agreed with Crowley:
He mused about a specific mechanism for Foursquare:
And Dash made another good point:
I agreed with him on that, since that's an important note on the accessibility of venues. He also reminded me of his post on Ability Maps, #Deaf Mayors and $1000 Strollers, where he made an intriguing suggestion about location-based services:
Let users of a service like Foursquare log in to a site and identify themselves by any accessibility concerns that they have. A user could log in with his social network identity, check a box that says he's visually impaired or has difficulty climbing stairs, and then give the site permission to log his check-ins to various venues. The terms of service could specify that no individual information would ever be shared, only aggregated data. Once a few users had signed in and check-ins started to be recorded, it'd be possible to ask "Which venues in this area are popular amongst people who've identified themselves as blind?" If there's a restaurant with a disproportionate number of check-ins from blind diners, then odds are, they're doing a decent job of accommodation. Found a theme park that's popular with patrons who use a wheelchair? It'll probably be suitable for other folks on wheels, too.
So will Foursquare roll out anything like what Dash described? Or integrate the service into elections? Well, the story got more interesting Friday. As noted in ReadWriteWeb's post on a "Recommendation Engine," Foursquare announced a partnership with CNN, which will give a "healthy eater" badge to anyone who checks-in at one of 10,000 farmers markets.
Might civic badges be next? Keep on eye on Dennis' feed. And in the meantime, watch Gowalla. As my interview with the Gowalla co-founder Josh Williams on social media for citizen engagement at today's AMP Summit showed, that location-based social network already has moved into this space.
Will Fourquare match Gowalla's moves, sending a million updates that "I voted!" into Twitter in November? Stay tuned. If the companies decide to compete around catalyzing civic engagement in millennials, it could be a win-win for the grown members of the services and for the country.