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Playing the social media game with Foursquare

Do you enjoy running into friends and hearing their opinions about the latest nightclub or social scene? Or are you a budding food critic, dying to let the world know where you can get the best sushi or mocha frappuccino?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, chances are you already know all about Foursquare, an up and coming social network that has caught the imagination of potential investors along with its more than one million users.

Foursquare is perhaps the most prominent of what observers are calling "location-based" social networks. Once you register on the site, it allows you to "check in" at various venues using either text messaging or a downloadable application on a smartphone. When you check in, your Foursquare friends are notified where you are, allowing them to meet up with your personally or read your "Tips" about what to do – or not to do – at that particular location.

But as well as being a social network, Foursquare is also a game. Points are awarded for each check in and users can earn badges for repeated check ins, or for dubious distinctions like "checking in after 3 am on a school night" or being out 4 nights in a row. If you have checked in to a place more than anyone else, you are crowned "The Mayor" of that venue.

Some businesses have begun rewarding Foursquare users' loyalty by offering discounts or other special treatment. One of the main goals of the Foursquare founders is to energize the business community and encourage their participation.

There is a popular misconception that by signing up for Foursquare you will be constantly tracked and your whereabouts will become public knowledge. That's not the case. Foursquare will only reveal where you are when you check in at one of their listed sites. Unless you check-in, there is no current record of your location.

However, there are privacy concerns. Anyone who comes across you on the site or who knows your username can view your individual profile page and see your badges. They can also see your "Mayorships", which are the best indicators of where you spend your time. While this isn't a problem for most people, it might not be ideal for single women or individuals trying to avoid leaving a trail.

Foursquare does have some privacy options. You can take yourself "off the grid" when you check in, and leaving your e-mail address and phone number off your profile ia always a good idea.

However, if you are too concerned about online privacy, then Foursquare is not for you. Like other location-based social networks, Foursquare is intended for users who like to proclaim: "Here I am and this is what I am up to!" Based on its increasing popularity, it appears thousands of people love to do just that.      

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