Recently, I made the decision to join Foursquare a location-based social network for mobile devices. The service came to market in 2009 and has steadily been growing in popularity with users internationally. However, despite the healthy growth of the service there has been a noticeable gap in the demographics, specifically women.
This raised the natural question, why? I used myself as a template for an introspective look at Foursquare. Why did I join it? Why did it take me so long to join the community? And did I have any apprehensions about using it? I joined out of curiosity. I was late at adopting it as I wasn’t sure I would be active on it, and speaking to the apprehension – I was initially wary but have since embraced the technology.
When you examine why women are hesitating to use the social network, there appears to be one singular issue. The issue is safety. How comfortable am I broadcasting to the world where I am at any given time when I check in somewhere? From an outside standpoint, I can agree with the hesitation to use the software due to that reason. This was the primary reason it took me quite a while to digest the concept before signing up. But here is the caveat to that thinking. You have control over who your friends are. If you are the one driving then you can make the decision to share this information with as many or as few individuals you want. In essence this cancels out the issue of safety and makes it more of preconceived notion vs. an actual issue.
But what if you ‘friend’ someone on good terms and it turns sour? How many people actually heavily monitor their social media profiles? I don’t monitor who is following me, does that make me irresponsible? I don’t think so, as at the end of the day, you control the situation. If you make the conscious choice to not manage your profile and it leads to an issue, technically it can be rooted back to the end user. The issue of safety with Foursquare is no different than using similar network software called Facebook Places. I frequently see updates from friends on their locations via this network. Doing that is really no different than the Foursquare concept.
For me, my Foursquare account is linked to my Twitter feed by choice. Whenever I log in, Twitter will broadcast it. I personally am not worried about my safety. When I do check-in somewhere, it’s always a public place and usually well populated. I am also in control of where I want to check in. For example, I never check in to my home address. Really, who honestly cares that I am at home?
If you strip away all the safety concerns, then what value does Foursquare bring to me? If I am the only one in my immediate social group on it, would I not be better off just calling my friends? I use the network because I actually like the functionality behind Foursquare, and for me it’s simply a novelty. I am all about the social game aspect of the network. When I become the mayor of a coffee shop I frequent or a spin studio I may attend I do have the momentary “that’s awesome” feeling inside, I admit it. For example, in my office there is an ongoing competition to see who can maintain the mayor status. Everyday, my co-workers and I all log in with the hope of ousting the current mayor and taking over. In my previous role, I was frequently on the road attending and covering events and it made sense to be on Foursquare so bloggers following me could either pipe up with questions on the event I was at or join me. But, how does this tie in to the lack of women wanting to be a part of the service?
I think it’s a combination of privacy and control. I think that most women, despite the reality that they do completely control the content, feel some level of hesitation. They are worried that they will encourage unsuspecting admirers to randomly show up or they simply don’t feel comfortable with the knowledge that anyone can know where they are at any given time. At the end of the day, the preconceptions about it are really quite nonsensical. You are the driver, you make the decisions.
For more discussion on the topic check out Why do women avoid check in services? from the Globe and Mail.