Foursquare last night quietly posted a set of “house rules” to their support site. They provide a good set of dos and don’ts for using the service, including what appears to be a provision against the popular but controversial practice of “jumping.” The big question, though, is will they enforce them?
The “rules” include some common sense “dos” like “find your friends,” “leave tips for others,” and “upload a profile photo.” They also include a series of “don’ts,” like “don’t check into someone else’s home if you’re not there” and “don’t leave tips with inappropriate language” (their rules go into much more detail, so I encourage you to read through them). They’ve banned nonsense venues like your car and stuck in traffic, while leaving users the ability to create equally nonsensical venues like Snowpocalypse (as long as they’re based around an actual social “event,” it’s OK).
Spamming in tips â€” the process of promoting completely unrelated websites and businesses on other venues’ tips â€” is now expressly banned. Foursquare warns that your account will be deactivated if you’re found to be infringing this rule.
The rule that will be most controversial, though, deals with “jumping.” It’s a popular practice, especially among Indonesian users (although there are still many based in the US and other countries). They “jump” around the world to earn badges that aren’t available in their area (and, strangely, some that are). Many of them have 150 or more badges, which would be impossible to achieve naturally, especially since several of the badges are for very limited events where the badge wasn’t announced in advance (ie., PK/JG or Team Coco Bonnaroo). Here’s how the rule is worded:
- Donâ€™t check in when youâ€™re not at a place. Check in when youâ€™re actually at a place, and only check in one time when youâ€™re at a venue (remember: only one check-in per day at a venue counts towards Mayorships!). If you check in more often than when youâ€™re actually at a place, you will see the rapid fire check-in error message. Checking in across the globe is discouraged–we know you love badges, but itâ€™s only really fun if you earn them fairly. [emphasis mine]
Foursquare users who dislike the practice of jumping will be disappointed to see the word “discouraged” here instead of “prohibited.” Foursquare has turned a blind eye to jumpers in the past. Indonesia is a huge potential market for any social networking site and banning a popular practice would almost certainly upset users there. So, the question is, will this rule be enforced?
Enforcement would have to take place on a case-by-case basis after the fact. Given foursquare’s open API, preventing jumping before it happens is nearly impossible. Many users have called for foursquare to shut down their mobile website, but that would merely slow jumpers down. There are plenty of ways that location can be faked that would be undetectable with foursquare’s API, which must trust the latitude and longitude passed to it by the app. Foursquare has put in place checks that prevent checkins that couldn’t reasonably happen by calculating flight time between two venues, but jumpers have built travel-time calculators (no, I won’t link to it) to help determine how fast they can check in to earn badges.
It remains to be seen, then, how foursquare will enforce this rule. Will they start disabling accounts? Removing badges? Only time will tell.
Should foursquare ban jumping? How should they handle users who violate this rule?