When Foursquare first hit the scene, it seemed like all the cool kids were using it — checking into places, becoming mayors, and earning badges. I wasn’t inclined to join immediately, despite wielding a capable iPhone with an unlimited data connection and penchant for getting out of the house at least once a day. Seemed kinda creepy to tell people where I was at any given moment — which, in turn, would also let people know where I wasn’t. The security risk, alone, was enough to keep me from signing up.

A long while later, I cleaned out my Facebook “friends” list and opted to set up a Foursquare account. “Location Based Services” weren’t going anywhere, and I was curious to know which discounts surrounded me on the go. That’s the reason I finally signed up, if you want to know the truth. Otherwise, what value am I delivering back to myself for taking an active part in a social network that does more to benefit someone else? Lo and behold, I found that very few of my frequent haunts were occupied by any of my local connections and that, worse still, nobody else seemed to care about where I seemed to go.

I mean, they may have cared that I checked in at a hair salon — but I was the only one who had ever checked into this well-established brick and mortar. I’m not exactly in the boonies, either.

I never connected my Twitter account to Foursquare, chiefly because I didn’t want to broadcast to the world that I wasn’t sitting somewhere in my home. I never leave the house without implementing various security precautions, but would rather err on the side of caution. Beyond the logic, it just didn’t seem all that smart to flood my timeline with pointless updates that benefited absolutely nobody other than the establishment in which I checked… in.

When Facebook and Yelp turned on similar-to-Foursquare functionality, I was running through the routine — in three separate apps — for weeks on end. Then, I got tired of the rigamarole and cut my activity back to using Foursquare (even foregoing a quick scan to see if there were any Facebook check-in rewards). It’s convenient to open an app and swipe over a couple of switches, but it… was tedious. It still is tedious, but I’m getting to that in a few more paragraphs. If this article were a movie, this is still the establishing shot. Or the opening montage with an old Blood, Sweat, & Tears song as a bed.

Foursquare is a Waste of TimeThen, I finally joined Instagram (yes, long after its release as well). I’m an early adopter, but I don’t have a short attention span like some of ’em do. Instagram didn’t seem to be fulfilling any more needs than PixelPipe handled well enough on its own, but PixelPipe continued to be hopelessly buggy with every release. I’ve been a happy-enough Instagram user for the time being — and, through its connection to my Foursquare account, I’ve performed most of my check-ins with associated photos. Seems smart enough, easy enough, and I don’t take images of everywhere I go. I let my security guard down a bit, though I tend not to share images until after I’ve left a location.

So, after starting to trip into town to take meetings and pick up a daily doppio espresso at a local Starbucks, I started to rack up a few check-ins. When Empire Avenue (yes, the social network which provides the second-highest, targeted engagement for me by way of rewards, second to YouTube) flipped on Instagram and Foursquare support, I was more inclined to use the combo more frequently. Before I knew it, I was several days away from becoming mayor of “my” Starbucks!

Wow! What would this mean? Would there be a parade in my honor? Demand for a recount? Some random scandal involving a photo of my nipples? Would I get any special deals? Would I be treated like royalty? Would I make the manager happy? Would I be given a key to the building? Free treats?

I found out when I stole the title of Mayor from some unlucky sap who wasn’t as caffeine addicted as I was. Only took me 54 check-ins to get there. Of course, the number of times I had gone to that Starbucks without checking in is anybody’s guess. This was it! I seemed to remember hearing that Starbucks mayors got something special at one time. That time had lapsed, and all I got was a lousy icon next to my name and some “points” that led to nothing special. I think I got a useless “Barista” badge at some point, too? But no discounts were at my fingertips, beyond that which I receive from being a “gold card” Starbucks patron.

Foursquare got me nowhere. Rather, it has gained me nothing of true importance. Maybe I’m going to the wrong businesses? Or, maybe too many businesses just don’t care about LBS? Or, maybe too many small business owners are doing it wrong? Or, maybe the incentives weren’t interesting enough? Or, maybe “checking in” is really pointless after all? I think my biggest beef is that for all that business I might bring to a business (free advertising), I’m not really getting that much in return. I use apps that give me things all the time, but… I don’t really care what my friends are doing at any given moment. Mind you, I’m also the kind of guy who just doesn’t care what song you’re listening to right now.

Maybe I’m the odd man out, here? I’m not motivated by achievements that don’t help me gain something beyond what I’m already gaining. Otherwise, I know I’d feel used. If someone gives me a likely attainable goal to achieve in conjunction with an added bonus (beyond simply achieving the goal), I’m more inclined to take the time to try. When I commit to a restaurant discount on Pirq, I know I’ll get up to 50% off on my bill when I check in. Does that incentivize me to eat at Pirq-supported restaurants more frequently? Absolutely.

Foursquare has promise, but for me, it’s largely failed to deliver.