Gaming The System: Cheating Your Way To Mayorships On Foursquare

On the day that Facebook Places went live, Foursquare gained the most new user signups in their history, and given Facebook has a platform to teach 500 million users how to “check in”, it’s no wonder they saw such exponential volume in new users. The new wave of integrating game theory into social networks has captivated millions of people and will continue to do so for times to come, however just how vulnerable are these location based social media services that reward users through social currency?

After trying up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, select, start,I realized that classic cheat codes to skip to the head of the Mayorial line aren’t too far off from the realities of these platform exposures. In fact, according to a recent Slashdot submission, Foursquare can be gamed in 9 Perl statements, and invites readers to “submit more succinct versions of the code to game the system.”

Think “Social Phreaking” is going away? Think again. Yesterday a similar post was written regarding Facebook’s Places and how to spoof its location based services features.

What Does This Mean For Marketers?

In my opinion, the implications are obvious. As advertisers and retailers integrate incentives into “check-in” related activities, the audience they think they’re targeting may become discouraged if they know they may never make it to the top of the leaderboard. This becomes incredibly relevant at a hyper-local level where personal relationships with local retailers may even further impact and subsequently damage relationships between brands and loyal consumers.

The reality is, is that not a single piece of software in market today doesn’t have some level of security flaw. This however, the crux of Gowalla, Foursquare, Booya, and Places amongst future companies, will become more troublesome as word of mouth carriers the issues that could impede a positive experience amongst their user base when value exchanged for loyalty is compromised.

We’ve seen just how transient social communities can be – from Friendster to Myspace and beyond. There is no reason to think history won’t repeat itself if poor user experiences aren’t fixed quickly.

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