Too square for Foursquare...

While I'm a big advocate for social media in archives, I have to admit that until recently, I have not been too impressed with one particular social media tool: Foursquare.

Foursquare is a location-based social networking service that encourages users to earn points and badges by "checking in" at locations through their smartphone with the Foursquare app. I'm most familiar with Foursquare through my Twitter followers who post updates on their current locations.

To be honest, my first impression of Foursquare was that it seemed to be a rather trivial use of social media. I really didn't think much of Foursquare as an outreach tool for archivists until I read an article entitled, "Archives on the Go" by Aimee Morgan, which was recently published in the Nov./Dec. 2011 issue of the Society of American Archivists Archival Outlook newsletter.

In the article (SAA member access only), Morgan highlights Stanford University Special Collections' outreach efforts on Foursquare. As Mattie Taormina, head of Special Collections at Stanford University, notes in the article:

"I worked with Foursquare staff to advertise limited-time 'specials' through their app." The 'specials' were one-on-one sessions with an archivist, who provided information about and opportunities to view some of the hidden gems of Stanford's collections."

It was an eye-opening article that is definitely worth a read. Inside this issue there is also an article entitled, "Facebook Me, Then Follow Me on Twitter: Documentation Strategies in a Social Media World," which offers strategies for archivists who want to capture and document social media activity in organizations, and utilize social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to make connections. If you're not a SAA member, beg or borrow a copy from a member and check it out.

But I digress... As computing becomes more mobile, I can see social media tools like Foursquare becoming more useful to archivists looking to expand their outreach beyond the box. Thinking more broadly, as smartphones become commonplace, archivists should consider the possibilities. Creating mobile apps for digital collections, and utilizing iTunes to share oral histories are just two mobile media applications that come to my mind as effective and informative outreach ideas.

So what do you think? Is Foursquare worth a try or just a passing fad? I'm curious to know what you think about this location-based social media tool and its potential for archival institutions.

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.