Riding the orgiastic iOS 5 debut, Foursquare's pushed out Radar. And it's a gamechanger, quite literally: It upends the basic social contract of Foursquare and harbinges the near-future of location-based social networking. And it's going to be weird.
Luckily, this geolocational minefield can be navigated without ruining your friendships (or dinner). Let's get out there.
So, what's different in Foursquare 4.0?
It works like this: Foursquare Radar tracks your whereabouts as you mosey through town, Find My Friends-style—i.e., even when you don't have the app open—and tells you where you might want to check in. Are you near a coffee shop you've been to before? It'll tell you! Theoretically. This could be useful! Theoretically. But it's also tracking your friends, and making checkin suggestions based on where they are. Without you. This could get very awkward!
What the hell! Why is Foursquare making me feel bad about myself?
It's not intentional! But it could happen. Foursquare is now designed to tell you when your friends are gathered together as you're walking near them. The idea is to get you in on the fun—Hey, Sean and Lauren are eating pizza! I'll go eat pizza with them! (And on a more fundamental to shift from saying where you are to predicting where you will go, which is part of the ick factor.) But it's not an invitation—it's a notification. And there's a big difference. Being told that your friends are doing something without you—unless it's their taxes—is going to make you feel excluded.
If they wanted you there, they would have invited you there. And then maybe you'd check in.
What do I do if I get Foursquare-excluded?
It's going to be weird. But you have to keep in mind that this would have happened even before Foursquare. Friends have been hanging out with you since you've had friends. They probably still like you! But sometimes friends like to hangout without including literally everyone else they know. It just happens. The modern age is one of infinite connections and shares and likes and links, and without the armor of privacy and disconnection strapped on, egos get bruised more often. This is one of those cases—it sucks, but don't take it too personally. Blame the app, not your friends. Don't throw a fit, don't leave a passive aggressive comment.
And most importantly, don't "drop by."
"Oh.. hey man! How's it going? Weird seeing you here...!"
"Haha yeah I know! Well actually I was walking down the street and my iPhone told me you guys are all here so I figured I'd come sit with you."
If you really want to hang out with your friends nearby, drop them a text, and ask them what's up. They'll probably know you saw them on Foursquare. And if they want you to come hang out, they'll invite you.
How can I avoid this digital horror?
You can't, unless you turn off Radar. Foursquare's pushing the change from active to passive—and it's a substantial shift. Before, checking in was something you chose to do, an active choice—a button you pressed to send out a broadcast, a window you chose to open. I'm here! Check it out! Come on by! I want to be noticed! or I wonder where my friends are at, lemme look. Now, it's a passive activity—the phone suggests a checkin based on Foursquare's algorithm, your past activity and where you friends are at, and all you have to do is walk down the street, staring into space. The effort is taken out of checking in. There's a big difference between going out of your way to say YES, WORLD, I'M HERE or checking up on your friends' latest Eater 38 conquests and acquiescing to Foursquare's passive social prodding. It's no longer something you do, it's something that happens to you, is always happening to you, invisibly.
If you dont want your phone making awkward pseudo-plans for you, turn off Radar. It's one click. You'll enjoy Foursquare just as much as you did before.
You can keep up with Sam Biddle, the author of this post, on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.