How to become a mayor with shoe leather and a smart phone

Foursquare declares mayors of businesses, monuments

The rock band XTC sang about the "Mayor of Simpleton." On the adult cartoon series "Family Guy," former "Batman" actor Adam West, playing himself, is mayor of fictitious Quahog, R.I. And now social media service Foursquare lets users become "mayors" of locations they frequently visit.

On Foursquare, users "check in" when they visit specific locations, with Global Positioning System devices verifying they're really there. The member who has checked in to a given location the most times in the previous 60 days is named its "mayor" on the site.

Savvy marketers have already picked up on the craze, reports the Wall Street Journal: "Marketers see a way to encourage visits and reward their best customers," writes WSJ reporter Katherine Rosman. "The MarketFair Mall in Princeton, N.J., has designated a prime parking spot as 'Foursquare Mayor Parking.' On the first Wednesday of the month, the mayor of the W Montreal hotel gets valet parking, a spa treatment or a night's stay at no charge."

Foursquare members, however, take it as a game. Many participants angle for prizes and awards from plugged-in merchants, but many sites that don't offer special premiums rack up visits as well. The Wall Street Journal article named Dustin Davis, an IT specialist at the Pentagon, as mayor of the Pentagon, the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery and the Oval Office.

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FRIDAY FEATURE: XTC: Mayor of Simpleton

Davis is still mayor of the Oval Office on Foursquare.com, with eight check-ins, but Rob R. from Beziers, France, is mayor of the White House, with 47. With 40 check-ins, Desiree M. of Washington D.C., is mayor of the Washington Monument. Elizabeth H. of Washington D.C. is mayor of the General Services Administration headquarters at 1800 F St. NW, while Steven H. of Stephens City (Va.?) is mayor of the GSA Willow Wood facility in Fairfax, Va.

To find who is the mayor of a given location, just go to Foursquare and search for the location by address or name.

So what does all this mean? As a practical matter, nothing at all. Other than a coupon or another premium a company might offer, being mayor of an address on Foursquare is meaningless. On a social level, however, it represents another step down the road of privacy erosion. As more people become willing to tell people where they are moment by moment, it will become more and more the expected norm.

Some users take it far too seriously. Others find the businesses they'd like to gain premiums from have little idea what Foursquare is. The Wall Street Journal wrote about Gary He, a 26-year-old photographer from Brooklyn, who became Mayor of the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan mainly because nobody else who frequents the restaurant uses Foursquare.

"He explained the game to Alex von Bidder, the restaurant's managing director," Rosman reports. "'I had no idea what Foursquare was and still really don't,' Mr. von Bidder says. When bartenders learned Mr. He was mayor, they brought him a plate of free cookies. 'To the victor goes the spoils,' Mr. von Bidder says."

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