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Worth Another Look

Why use Foursquare?

We love sharing details of our lives online, like what we're feeling, what we're eating, and what the sunset looks like from our bedroom window. But, many draw the line at sharing their exact location at the exact time they're there. Sometimes it's a matter of privacy -- no one needs to know when you're at the pharmacy, after all -- but some have concerns regarding stalking, and others just don't see the point of it all. However, the most famous of these location-sharing apps, Foursquare, has privacy protections, and a lot of benefits you may not even be aware of -- benefits that make shopping, dining, and socializing much easier.

Foursquare is a service that allows you to "check in" at any location, broadcasting your status to friends and generally creating a record that you were there at a certain location at a certain time. Though Foursquare has a website, you can only check in using the app, because the original mission of Foursquare was to get people to go out and about. Points are awarded for each check in, friends are matched up on leaderboards, and checking in at particular venues can award you "badges" on your profile.

Foursquare has privacy options

Your check-ins are not publically visible; the only people that can see them are your friends. If you don't like someone knowing where you're hanging out, don't friend them. If you do friend someone and there's a particular location you don't want them knowing you're at (like say, you head to a jewelry store to buy an engagement ring but don't want your potential spouse to know), you can actually make a check-in completely private by flicking 'off' on the switch that says "share with friends." This creates an "off the grid" check-in, which will still give you most of the usual benefits of checking in, but it won't be broadcast to any of your friends.

As for people who aren't your friends? While they can look at your profile and see tips you've left, pictures you've taken, and the mayorships you hold -- all information that's public across the site -- they can't see where you've checked in. Your badges are visible, but the site won't tell them where and how you got them, just that you have them. So situations like the one on the HBO drama Newsroom, where Maggie tracks down a girl by looking at her Foursquare profile, aren't really going to happen (appears at about 1:00).

Unless you share your information on Twitter or Facebook, that is. Foursquare allows you to share your checkins with your followers (and anyone else who can see your profile), but if you use Foursquare a lot, this can get annoying. It also puts you at risk, not just by telling people where you are, but where you're not: at home. Checking in at an airport and posting it to Twitter is essentially telling potential thieves that you're going to be out of town for a few days, so think twice before sharing certain types of check-ins.

You can meet up with friends

One of the original purposes of Foursquare is to let you know when your friends are nearby. Like, if you're hanging out at a bar by yourself, and you open up Foursquare and it shows that two of your friends are at a bar a block away, you can always go join them there, or send a message to meet up somewhere else. Or maybe you're really late for a dinner party and think everyone's done eating already, but when you check Foursquare, you see everyone else was running late as well. Or maybe you're just checking in at the grocery store to let your wife know you did, in fact, remember to buy milk and bread on your way home.

You can keep track of where you've been

One night, after a nice time at the movies, you turn a few corners and find yourself at a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place. You order enchiladas and they're the best you've ever had. But you later forget the name of the restaurant, and you even forget where it is -- so how are you supposed to go back? When you check in via Foursquare, you can look it up on your "History" page. All you need to know is the general location, or the type of place it was, and your "History" page is easily searchable.

Each venue also has "tips" which are meant to advise other users, but you can also use them to remember your favorite -- or least favorite -- parts of the place, like good coffee or slow service. While Foursquare doesn't do full reviews à la Yelp, they do let you "like" or "didn't like" a place, and assign a score accordingly, so at a glance you can find out if a place you're at, or thinking of visiting, is worth your time.

Get travel advice

If you haven't been somewhere before, Foursquare can be really useful for planning where you want to go and what you want to see. Tips and ratings provide valuable information, and Foursquare's app is designed to put that information at the forefront. The "Explore" feature will tell you what places are good nearby, and you can get specific recommendations by category. It even figures out what time the place might be open based on when people check in.

Foursquare also allows you to make "to-do" lists, bookmarking places for later and awarding you extra points when you check in. You can also make special lists along any theme you want. Taking a trip to Austin? Make a list of barbecue places you want to visit. Heading to Chicago? Bookmark specific landmarks you want to see.

Save money

Checking in at certain venues can unlock a "Check-in Special," which is usually some perk the venue grants to its customers. Specials range from discounts, like 5 or 10 percent off your order, to outright free items, like a free glass of champagne at a wine bar. They're not huge perks, but they are a nice thing to have that encourages you to try a place for the first time, or to keep coming back.

Some companies also offer bonuses if you connect your Foursquare account with their services. Topguest is a program that gives you extra hotel or airline points for checking in at affiliated venues. And American Express lets you "sync" your Foursquare account to your AMEX credit card, which unlocks specials that give you cash back on your statement (usually about $5).

It's fun

Foursquare is named after a game, and rightfully so, because it is fun. Each check-in earns you points so you can compete against friends on the leaderboard, and the badges you win for check in at certain venues are prominently displayed on your profile. Visit a lot of parks to get the "Great Outdoors" badge, or win the "Hot Tamale" badge for indulging your love of Mexican food. Though they're generally silly and don't win you anything, it's a nice perk to have, and it encourages you to explore the city in which you live more.