Making Foursquare's Radar less creepy

I'm no power user of Foursquare, but I'm pretty keen on the service - I think it's one of the most interesting startups around at present, but when asked why, I've never been able to clearly explain why this is the case.

Recently though, I think a recent change to how their service works, has given me the final push to think hard enough to come up with a (hopefully) coherent explanation for my fascination.

Foursquare is changing how people relate to the built environment, (or if we skip such hoity-toity language, places), by adding the closest thing I can think of an usable, open API, to physical places, where we can poke and prod at what we see as socially acceptable, or desirable, in a social environment mediated by smart phones.

For instance, I've taken to checking in to places for three reasons:

a) to help create a trail of mementos around the world that I can look back at later on b) to increase the likelihood of serendipitous encounters with friends or acquaintances c) to see what I can learn about a given place, by seeing who visits there, and what they say about it

These reasons alone are enough to make the service compelling for as a user, but what really makes me want to write about it, is how they keep experimenting with ideas that walk in that blurry space where useful turns into creepy.

Checked in by a stranger

For example, earlier today, after heading into town to fix a coffee grinder I stopped off at Shoreditch Grind to get a coffee, (largely because Benugo was closed). I checked in, and about 3 minutes later, I was sent a message from Foursquare, asking me if I wanted to check-in, like so:

At the time I had forgot I had switched Foursquare's Radar on, so I was guessing that this was based on my GPS coordinates, and me being in one place for a given amount of time, but I didn't know any more than that. I can see how this would be useful, but if we imagine a spectrum running from comfortable to creepy, it was definitely closer to the creepy than comfortable.

How to make this less creepy?

Here's an updated screen I put together in Pixelmator, that would put make this whole interaction feel much more respectful:

The two principles I'm following here whenever something is introduced to a platform that may change your relationship to it:

  • show me your working
  • give me an off switch

In this revised version, when you get a message like this, if you're not sure why you're getting this (or in my case, you've forgot about Radar), then there's a way to find out about why you're reciving these notifications (I'm using the same way to denote a link to further content in the app already here), where presumably there was a way to switch Radar on or off, like you can on your Foursquare home screen.

How would you make a feature like this more approachable and friendly? I'd love to find out.

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