Foursquare: the influence of LBS on social media

Karen Cheng

SID: 470182220

Racheal’s class on Friday from 12am to 2pm



With the popularity and development of mobile Internet, various mobile Internet applications and services have been emerging rapidly, of which LBS, location-based service, is the basic technology for numerous social applications and mobile games. It refers to location-related information services by acquiring the geographic location of the terminal users, providing access to a wide range of information related to their geographic location at any time and any place, as long as there is a network. The prosperity of LBS has changed people’s behaviors and habits on the social level. Particularly, the convergence of LBS and mobile device redefined how people use social media and play mobile games. In this article, I would like to discuss the influences of LBS on social media by exemplifying the case of Foursquare.


The concept and development of LBS

Location-based service, supported by the mobile communication network and GIS (geographic information system) platform, allows mobile operators acquiring the location information of terminal users through the telecommunications network or external positioning and offer related value-padded services. In 1994, America scholar Schilit (1994) proposed the three objectives (3W) of location service: location information (where), society information (who) and information (what), which demonstrated the basic content structure of LBS.

This service first emerged in the United States. With the huge advantages in spatial information technology and network technology in America, LBS was introduced to many industries including public safety, transportation, emergency processing in 1990s, providing location information services for national security and the public. With the development of GPS and wireless Internet technology, there is a significant demand of location services. Since 2009, LBS has been widely used around the world, which creates a huge business market.


Related research about LBS

Compared with GPS which was quickly adapted for commercial use, locative mobile media were developed from an experimental and creative context (de Souza e Silva and Hjorth, 2009 in Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). The most representative example may be Foursquare, whose success dispelled the doubts about whether LBS technology is suitable for daily life, and also showed the significant value of the industry based on the geographical location and the unique functional needs from mobile users ( see source 1&2)


Case study


Foursquare is a geo-based social networking service company, which provides platform services that integrate location information, social networking and game elements. The basic business model of this social networking community is constructed on three concepts: LBS, SNS(social network site) and gaming.

The basic function of Foursquare is to allow users to sign in different geographical locations through mobile phones, and share the locations with their friends. Users who frequently check in different places can earn points, medals, and a “mayor” title for a particular geographic location. For example, those who sign in four different consecutive places in one night can get the “no drunk” medal, while uses with ten “mayor” titles will be rewarded a “super mayor” title (see source 3).

In addition to check-in, users are also able to evaluate the places they have been to and add relevant information to that location. During this process, these medals and titles are available for merchandise discount and services offered by merchants registered on Foursquare. At the same time, businesses who joined Foursquare can have a more accurate positioning of their customers, and use the incentive mechanism (points, medals, titles, etc.) on Foursquare to cultivate their loyal customers. This operation mode, which is mutually beneficial for businesses and consumers, has been a great success. By April 2012, the uses of Foursquare had reached 20 million worldwide with more than 100 check-ins per person and 750,000 businesses on merchant platforms (Kessler, 2012, see source 4).

The reasons why Foursquare is so popular are analyzed as followed:

Firstly, Foursquare meets the expression need of people in contemporary society. As the various kinds of social media platform arise, the contents produced by online users are actually about to the same subject:

Secondly, Foursquare provides a new way for social communication. According to Hinton and Hjorth (2013), the experience of using social, locative and mobile media can be seen as rehearsals of earlier forms of ritual and new forms of intimacy within different contexts. On Foursquare, users’ data will be added to the map, so people will be able to check which friends are in the same place with them or the people who share the same interest for particular places, creating opportunities for social activities with different purposes.

Thirdly, Foursquare serves as an informing function. As it mentioned before, users can add relevant information to one location. Through tips, likes, lists and pictures, users are encouraged to share their experiences and recommendations with other people, which offers user-generated content based on LBS (Raz, 2015).

Lastly, Foursquare integrates competition and integral elements by granting virtual titles, which induces people’s curiosity and the psychological of competitive, attracting users to participate spontaneously and inviting their friends to join (see source 5).


Critical insight

Before the birth of the network, the process of spreading and exchanging information is mainly based on communication in the real world. After the emergence of the network, communication activities began to taking place in virtual Internet space, which brings people a new sensory experience. Without the boundaries of territory, people are able to exist and as an anonymous identity in the cyber world beyond the limits of time and space. On the one hand, people in the virtual world are provided with unprecedented freedom and a relatively loose social discourse as they can speak and act completely differently compared with the image in the real world. On the other hand, people indulge themselves in the virtual space, and to some degree, even deliberately avoid the real situation experiences.

However, the emergence of LBS changed this phenomenon. On Foursquare, users are increasingly engaging with a reality in which the physical and virtual are merged to some degree, for places are redefined with certain meanings that are associated with them by users and their friends (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013).

From the physical space to the cyber world and then to the prosperity of LBS, the way of information dissemination has been changed from a single-tiered process to the combination of both layers ultimately. The dissemination in both virtual and realistic dimensions is an important characteristic of the locative-based social media.

When the Internet was invented, one of its greatest achievements lies in the epoch-making breakthrough on time and space. A large of businesses which were underdeveloped by the limits of time and space entered their boom times afterwards. The electronization of print media and the rising of online shipping are two examples of this process. Nevertheless, after the expansion and development of the Internet, mobile media began to localize, and LBS became the key portal for social media localization. People began to realize that he basic needs are always decided by the city where they live as the living and social circle of someone is confined by geographic locations. As a result, the application of LBS provides platforms and opportunities for the development of localized communications.



  1. Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Social, Locative and Mobile MediaUnderstanding Social Media (pp. 120 – 135). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
  2. Schilit, B.N., Adams, N.I. & Want, R. (1994). Contextaware computing applications. Proceedings of the Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications, pp 85-90. IEEE Computer Society, Santa Cruz, CA
  3. Raz Schwartz, 2015, Online place attachment: exploring the technological ties to physical places, available at: https://books.google.com.au/books?isbn=1317677757
  4. Kessler, S. , 2012, Foursquare tops 20 million users. Mashable, available at: http://mashable.com/2012/04/16/foursquare-20-million/
  5. Jessica Torrez-Riley, What It Means To Be The Mayor: The Social Influence of Location-Based Check-ins, available at: http://www.torrezriley.com/projects/foursquare/
  6. Al Sacco, 2012, Check it: One in Ten Adults Check-in on Foursquare, LBS? available at: http://www.cio.com/article/2371408/mobile/check-it–one-in-ten-adults-check-in-on-foursquare–lbs-.html

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