When Hayden Kaehl walks through doors, his phone stays in his pocket.
It sounds like a modest accomplishment, but until recently, the junior hospitality major was in frenzied competition with his friends on the popular application Foursquare.
Kaehl received points on his Foursquare leaderboard every time he checked in to a location, pitting him ahead of his friends who use the application to check in as well. The leaderboard refreshes every seven days, so to stay relevant to the competition, Kaehl had to constantly check in everywhere he went. If he checked into the location the most, he became “mayor” of that place.
It quickly became addicting.
“Walking in through the door, you’ll race to get the points before them,” Kaehl said.
Kaehl recalled some of the steepest competition between his brother and his roommate, especially when checking in to a new place that gave him more points. You get three points for checking in to a place you’ve never been and two points if your friends had never checked in there previously.
When he would drive to a store with his brother, Kaehl was at a disadvantage behind the wheel. His brother had already whipped out his phone and checked in before him. Kaehl and his roommate also had competitions to become the mayor of their Lake Claire apartment, often while the other was in the same room.
Zenith Lwin, a junior majoring in biology, first downloaded the application after she saw it was a top pick on her phone’s application store and read a Yahoo! recommendation.
“I would check in to random places,” Lwin said. “Try to get every store in Waterford [Lakes].”
After three months, Lwin said the application became annoying.
“It kept coming up in my Facebook feed, and I thought it was creepy,” she said.
“I understand the aspect of competing for mayor of places, but it wasn’t between your friends,” Lwin said. “It’s between me and a random person that I’ve never met in my life.”
Lwin was also worried about her privacy because her not-so-common name was clearly visible to anyone on Foursquare. After she got a new phone last fall, Lwin didn’t bother to download Foursquare again.
Despite the issue of privacy, the application has seen heavy use on the UCF campus. UCF has a total of 19,024 check-ins alone. The UCF Student Union has 12,840 check-ins, and Classroom I. had a total of 8,388 check-ins, to name a few.
Businesses have started using Foursquare to lure customers in by offering deals for checking in to their locations. Hummus House near UCF gives you a free cookie with your purchase, according to its Foursquare page.
Kaehl said Chili’s would give him free chips and salsa with his check-in. He feels businesses see potential in Foursquare to garner more patrons.
“It is a target demographic for them because they want you to spend money,” Kaehl said.
Most of the places he checked into were retail stores, and Kaehl found he had to check in to more and more places to stay ahead. When he went to Disney, touted as the happiest place on earth, he was busy competing with his brother on Foursquare, checking in to every attraction in the theme park.
Looking back now after deleting the application, he regrets it because “we were walking around trying to compete with each other instead of just enjoying the park and having fun as a family.”
Kaehl’s decision to delete the application was ultimately driven by the issue of privacy, because the application pinpointed exactly where he was.
“It was a little odd,” Kaehl said. “It felt too strange for me that people could know exactly where I am.”
Since he deleted the application, Kaehl has felt more relaxed.
“Now that I don’t have to check in to Foursquare, I just leave [my phone] in my pocket and walk in,” Kaehl said. “It just seemed very pointless and stupid after I deleted it. The word that best described it is ‘freeing.’”
Patrick Burt, web communications director for UCF Marketing, said because UCF is such a big place, the university wants to see people engaging in social media like Foursquare and Twitter to encourage a sense of community and campus life. He said the application can be used for scavenger hunts and transmission of history.
“We thought about it for campus tours and other things. It is that aspect of social story telling,” he said.
For now, though, the application is better left to the students to leave their mark upon the institution.
“UCF is not an actual person; we’re the forum,” he said.
Despite its potential, Kaehl doesn’t foresee downloading the application again and is glad to be free of the Foursquare leaderboard lineup and the occasional jealousy he’d feel from seeing people check in to cool places without him.
“I know they’re still checking in, but I’m not worried,” Kaehl said. “I don’t view them as competition anymore. I view them as my friends.”