Agency venues popular on Foursquare despite no sponsorship

More than 15,000 users visited the app's unofficial Washington Monument venue

Many federal agency officials may not be aware that buildings and facility locations they manage are being listed and tagged as venues on Foursquare’s popular “check-in” mobile applications, which are used by more than 11 million people.

For example, more than 15,000 Foursquare users had checked in while visiting the application's Washington Monument venue as of Aug. 12. Foursquare listed no venue manager or sponsor for the monument, and there was no reference to the National Park Service, which manages the monument.

“Do you manage this venue? Claim here,” Foursquare asked on its Washington Monument venue page.

The same lack of official sponsorship applied to many other public federal facilities appearing as venues on Foursquare, including the U.S. Capitol, visited by 14,888 users, and Lincoln Memorial, visited by 14,346. Neither had a venue manager or sponsor listed.

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That also applied to lesser-known federal facilities listed as Foursquare venues, including the General Services Administration's headquarters, visited by 691 people; the tunnel between the Library of Congress and the U.S. Capitol, visited by 47 people; the U.S. Capitol Republican Leadership office, visited by 23 people. None listed a venue manager.

The situation occurs because any user can create a venue on Foursquare, said Charles Birnbaum, a business development executive at Foursquare, who spoke at a GSA Web Managers University webinar Aug. 12.

As a crowdsourcing website, the goal of Foursquare is to allow users to explore their communities and share tips about various locations. To do that, the users create the venues, visit and check in, and share tips about venues. In some cases, the venue owners are involved, and in other cases, they are not, Birnbaum said.

Users who check in frequently earn badges and are recognized as “mayors” of venues, and they often compete with friends to identify and visit the most interesting locations, Birnbaum said. “We wanted to leverage game dynamics to shape behavior,” he said. The goals are to encourage users to explore their communities and to show loyalty to venues they especially enjoy, he said.

It was not immediately clear what effects unsponsored federal agency venues on Foursquare were having, or whether unclaimed venues had created any problems or risks for the agencies, or confusion for users.

Presumably, there could be risks to a federal agency’s public image or security if an unauthorized entity claims a federal venue on Foursquare without the agency’s knowledge, or if any tipsters provide incorrect information that is not corrected. Birnbaum declined to respond to a request for comment.

Once a Foursquare venue is created, it can attract users who “check in” at the venue while physically present at that location. The owner or manager of a venue can claim or sponsor the venue by notifying Foursquare. After a venue is claimed, its sponsor’s Twitter handle is listed on the venue website.

For example, the National Archives and Records Administration is one of the most active federal agencies on Foursquare. It has claimed its own headquarters, which has been visited by 4,283 users, as well as other NARA facilities. Its Twitter handle is listed on its Foursquare page.

The National Archives also have been sharing hundreds of tips about historic sites in Washington and several other cities as a social media outreach program. At the Washington Monument, the archives’ tip is a link to a photograph of workers building the monument.

“Being on a network like Foursquare, where users are already engaging and participating, was a good fit,” Jill James, director of social media initiatives at the national archives, said at the webinar.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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