Impending Location-Based Promotional Trouble?

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Does anyone else get the overwhelming notion that it’s only a matter of time until these location-based promotions hit a wall?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Foursquare (and the like) will not only benefit tremendously from these real-world business partnerships but in fact have always depended on this sort of thing happening to secure some amount of actual success for their service.  But I’m not sure they’ve really dialed it in yet.

For starters, without the guarantee of nigh-perfect location fetching on any one of a number of supported mobile devices, Foursquare is understandably unrestrictive when it comes to allowing you to check in to a location.  This makes sense from a UX perspective, and it’s worked fine for however many months so far.  But now that there are serious, measurable rewards in place for performing certain checkin-based tasks at a given location, isn’t this going to be a problem?  I live near a sub shop that offers a free sub for every 10th check in (this is the new punch card, in many ways, isn’t it? Only to get a “punch” on this digital card, not only do I not have to purchase anything, I don’t even have to be at the actual place.)  It shows up on my list of places from my house, so if I’m feeling hungry and am a little light on cash, why don’t I just sit on my couch, pull up the app, check in 10 times over the course of however long, and then head over and claim my free meal?  I’m sure the sub shop doesn’t mind too much, since I’ll probably still buy a drink and maybe some chips, but what if I start doing this regularly?  And what if all my friends catch on?  Seems like trouble.

Another impending issue seems to be that of the prized “Mayor” status.  Conceptually, this was a brilliant idea; every location deserves to have its most frequent customer/visitor recognized.  Now partnered businesses are tapping into the concept and embracing people’s natural sense of competition by rewarding its own mayor with certain freebies.  While conceptually great, is this really measuring and rewarding the right metric?  Most cumulative checkins are undeniably an important stat to register and be able to check, but how would someone adopting the service 6 months later than someone else stand a chance to challenge an early-adopter for mayorship of a venue they both equally frequent?  With over 347,000 checkins registered a day now (http://bit.ly/9FyUO9), the concept of a Mayor needs to evolve.  Perhaps a Mayor can only serve a term?  A Mayor only can sit in “office” for 2 weeks before the race starts over?  All-time totals can and should still be collected, but perhaps associated with a different title and rewards structure.

All of this is really only an issue because services like Foursquare are actually starting to get it “right”; these business-partnerships are absolutely the way to go and provide tangible benefits to a virtual service.  Location is going to be a hot topic in 2010 for reasons like this, but I have a feeling we’re going to see some fundamental changes to the existing services before long.