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This article was published on June 17, 2010

Why Foursquare Is At Risk Of A Spam Epidemic

Why Foursquare Is At Risk Of A Spam Epidemic
Martin SFP Bryant
Story by

Martin SFP Bryant


Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-qualit Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-quality, compelling content for them. He previously served in several roles at TNW, including Editor-in-Chief. He left the company in April 2016 for pastures new.

The sign of a successful online service is when spammers get on board. We’ve seen this most prominently in recent times with Twitter, where spam is now part of everyday life. Could Foursquare be next to succumb to an avalanche of spam?

Foursquare spam is still a minor problem but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. As a service with a fast-growing but relatively small userbase, true spam on Foursquare is difficult to find. However, it is there if you look hard enough.

David Kitchenham is one person you might describe as a ‘Foursquare spammer’. In order to help promote the launch of his new startup, he has been pushing himself to the top of the Foursquare leaderboard in Manchester, UK through frequent checkins.

His username (the same as the name of his business) has been sitting on top of the local leaderboard for several weeks.  Meanwhile, check the Tips at a number of popular locations around the city and you’ll find advice like this one at a railway station:

“Please do not leave parcels or packages unattended. Use a service to send them like otherwise they will be severly (sic) dealt with by the security services.”

While Kitchenham doesn’t describe himself as a spammer, he does confess to actively using Foursquare to raise awareness of his service.

“Yes it is a deliberate tactic for marketing”, he tells me. “The spam issue is a contentious one, I have simply changed the name of my Foursquare profile to I am a naturally (borderline OCD) competitive person so I would still be highly active on Foursquare so we are talking about a simple name change.”

“I have been restrained in the leaving of ‘tips’ as this could really annoy!”

One person’s innovative marketing strategy is another person’s spam and were Kitchenham’s tactics to be repeated by many more businesses, users of the service would be likely to get highly irritated.

There’s evidence of spam in other parts of the world too, especially in the ‘Tips’ and ‘To-do’ lists for venues. Just look at this example on the entry for Apple’s Cupertino HQ, for example.

A handful of cases doesn’t make an epidemic, but if it’s happening in the places we found, it’s probably happening elsewhere too. Indeed, the company’s support forum shows complaints of spam going back several months.

Foursquare’s growing at breakneck speed according to the company’s own figures. It’s now got over 1.6 million users who are meeting in increasingly large numbers, in the last week its Android app was downloaded 50,000 times. We’ve seen it before with email, Twitter, Myspace, Facebook and many more services over the years; as user numbers increase so does the level of spam.

That doesn’t mean Foursquare wont be able to deal with the issue if it grows, but it’s definitely something for them to monitor closely.

[Image: Freezelight]