I was an early Four Square adopter and have used the service for a while now.
It perplexed me at start and now I know that the reason for that is the fact that it has a very poor user experience.
Here are my highlights of why I think so.
No clear core use case
This list usually starts with where I am, even though I am not a friend of myself and I usually know where I am, so I don’t need that replayed to me on screen.
The places where my friends are located are not denoted as cafes, pubs, office buildings, so I don’t know if they are in work mode or relaxing mode.
My friends are usually quite far from me, so this view usually never shows me anyone very near by, so I’m not sure what to do on this page and always have to move away from it to try and do something useful with Four Square on another view.
What is the core use case for Four Squre?
I’m not so sure.
Is it to enable me to check into places?
If so, that should be a starting view that enables me to easily do that for a particular location where I currently am.
It should know that I don’t drink and don’t eat pork (for example) and it should also know that I am mad coffee addict and love all things technological.
It can pick these signals and facts from all over the web, but if it can’t, then it should ask me to determine these things, as I would be quite happy to share them with Four Square.
However, most ‘Recommended’ views have never thrown to me anything that I would be immediately interested in, so I’m having to usually ‘work through’ this screen to find anything particularly useful.
The repeating sentence of ‘This place is popular on foursquare’ looks like a big of some sort and somewhat redundant and confuses my mind.
It’s a view of generic nearby places which are within 30m (does this mean 30 miles) from me. This is not very ‘nearby’?!
Notice how the third entry is further away from me than the fourth entry? Why is that?
Notice also how we have all sorts of spots in this view also and very little contextual information on what they are, other than the icon and to some extent the title.
Not very engaging!
Twitter have just demoted lists down and Facebook ‘lists’ have not been very much used traditionally.
So Four Square have propagated into the top level of the app a feature which adds little to no value.
When viewing this page, I don’t really have an insight into what these lists necessarily are all about, so I am having to poke around in order to find out, which is cumbersome and time consuming.
Again, I am wondering how to use this to add value to my life and cannot think of anything.
My to-do list
One of my favourite discussion subjects.
I would love to have these organised in a meaningful and sensible way, so that an app of a sort can help me complete tasks as I move around places.
On Four Square in your to-do list you are only going to find a list of places …
What do I do with those places!?
What should I do in those places?
What can I learn about myself from my profile that I didn’t know before?
On Four Square I can find out that this week I have earned just under 50% of points from my most ‘checked in’ week ever.
What does that mean?
I simply don’t know.
What value does it add to my life?
None, whatsoever, other than that it implies I have not been checking in as much this week and that’s probably because I haven’t been out much, which makes me feel slightly sad and depressed about my life.
It also shows me that I am not doing well against my friends, trying to create some sort of a competition around some sort of a ‘game’, which I don’t necessarily understand what it is supposed to be.
How about if this profile view was able to show me a breakdown of how much time I spend at train stations, coffee houses, restaurants and at work?
How beautiful and useful would that be?! Amazing!
Friends on a map
In this case my ‘friends nearby’ are nowhere near to be seen on this map, hence I am seeing just an empty view.
Could the map not have zoomed out to the nearest friend at least?
Also, when the map does show me friends, it usually just shows their pictures and does not show me what kind of a place they are at, so I don’t necessarily get any value out of this map view even when it’s populated with some data.
I was truly excited.
I switched it on immediately and had great expectations from the feature and was glad it was really highly featured from within the first view.
I was then expecting Four Square to make me aware of very good coffee places, restaurants, musical events and other similar interests near to locations where I hang around.
At best, what radar has been able to ‘help’ me with is to remind me to check into my work place … once!
So I haven’t got a clue on how this feature is supposed to work, why it works so randomly and why it doesn’t do what I expect it to do.
I blame all this just on shoddy and buggy implementation, which must be the case as Four Square app tends to crash regularly on my iPhone.
Friend’s check in
So I would expect Four Square to make an art out of ‘check-in social engagement’.
However, a typical check-in from a friend looks like this: ‘Joe Bloggs, Place name, Address line’.
I’m then expected to comment against that, not knowing what they are doing there and why I should comment.
The context here is missing almost totally and the page is essentially an empty canvas, which does not invite me to want to comment on it at all.
So I don’t and the whole canvas is left …. empty.
So a typical spot on Four Square shows me an icon of what the spot is predominantly about, plotted on an abstract background of a map, which just wastes space on the page.
I don’t know anything else about the spot other than its name and first line of address, but I’m invited to ‘Check In Here’ which should not have first letters capitalised (most probably).
I have no clue why this place would be fun, interesting, scary, boring or anything else.
Occasional visitor comments can be fun, but unfortunately require another tap for me to properly get to them, which makes browsing multiple spots for insights a real bore and high friction experience.
Four Square are arguably the first major brand that has introduced the concept of badgification to the user interface and user experience design.
A concept of ‘we will gamify the experience by giving people badges to collect and achieve’.
A closer look at these badges shows that they are never all going to be achieved by me, so as a user I will always be left … sad, because I hate Skiing and any badge to do with Skiing is not going to be achieved by me.
However, the fact that I have achieved a Coffee or Pizza related badge, ought to open sub-games for me to explore.
How about ‘visiting all coffee places in London’ or ‘post 5 tips in coffee houses’ and so on.
Much more relevant, engaging and exciting for me to explore.
The badges, coincidentally also sit tucked away deep down in the user interface and are rarely surfaced up as any sort of motivating factor.
I hope I have made some constructive user experience related points to do with Four Square and my experience of using the service.
Maybe I am weird.
Maybe I am stupid.
However, I have spent many hours playing around with Four Square so far and have been increasingly more and more disappointed with the service.
It adds very little to no value to my life and it does almost nothing to what I expect it to do.
It still has a very long way to go to achieve serendipity and nice experience.