Gadgets & Apps

Checking Out The Market With Foursquare

On a rainy, Thursday afternoon here in Washington, D.C., I ventured out to check in on Foursquare at two local farmers' markets.

CNN Foursquare Healthy Eater Badge

Check in at two farmers' markets on Foursquare and unlock the CNN Healthy Eater badge. Screenshot/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Screenshot/NPR

Foursquare, for those who need a reminder, is a location-based mobile phone application that allows you to leave a digital footprint as you explore a city.  Friends and three million other users can see where you've been and what you have to say about your destination.

So I set out to explore what the CNN Healthy Eater badge was about.  The limited-run virtual reward began September 23, and two visits to farmers' markets unlock it.

The question on my mind:  Besides amusing myself by playing around on my phone, what would be the benefit of attaining such a badge?

My first stop was the Freshfarm Market-Penn Quarter.

I spoke with Elizabeth Dunn, Freshfarm Markets' market master, who was unaware of the Healthy Eater badge, but was very knowledgeable about farmers' markets.

They go as far back as Ancient Rome, she said. "Everyone gathered — not just the upper classes — but everyone shopped at the market."

I made my first check in on Foursquare, and purchased a chocolate chip cookie from Quail Creek Farms.  (So much for healthy eating).

"Are you going to the White House next?" Dunn asked me.

It sounded so official.  My chocolate chip cookie and I were going to the White House.

The Freshfarm Market by the White House opened in 2009, and was dubbed the "White House" farmers market because of its proximity to the president's residence and because Michelle Obama shopped at the opening.

I checked in, and simultaneously received an e-mail announcement: "You just unlocked the CNN Healthy Eater badge!  Hooray!" And at the same time a red emblem appeared on my Foursquare profile.

I could hear the cheers from the crowds at the Colosseum of Ancient Rome.  At this point, I joined the some 10,000 people who have checked in at farmers' markets across the country.

I asked Carmen Wong, Freshfarm Markets' EBT director and market master, if she knew about the Healthy Eater badge.

She didn't.  And beyond that, she couldn't believe that anyone needed more incentive to come to a farmers' market other than access to fresh, locally grown produce, flowers, meat, cheese, and baked goods.

I explained that Dennis Crowley, Foursquare's CEO and co-founder, believes that social media can be used to mobilize people.

Case in point, I came out in the rain just to see how the Healthy Eater badge worked.

I then explained how the Foursquare "leave a tip" feature worked.  I read her a tip "Heather," the mayor — meaning Heather is the person who checked in the most times in the last 60 days at this location — had left:

Bread, cheese, meat, fruit, veggies, MORE! Open Thursdays from 3- 7 pm, May 6 thru Nov. 18, 2010.

"And everybody can see what you write?" Wong asked me.

"Yes," I replied.  "Maybe I'll write about the wonderful chocolate chip cookies from Quail Creek Farms."

"No," Wong said.  "Tell them we take EBT and debit."

She's a quick learner.  Five minutes earlier she didn't know that Foursquare existed, and now she's ready to give out tips.

As for me, two hours earlier, I wondered why anyone bothers collecting badges on Foursquare.  But my curiosity led me to learn something new, and to learn a way to tell other people something useful.

That is social media in action.  People hear about something in the digital world, and then act on it in the real world.

To answer the question of why bother with Foursquare or a Healthy Eater badge, Dunn summed it up best:  "Urban and rural areas are too far separated.  Farmers' markets bring city and country together."

Kind of like Foursquare brings people and places together.

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