In the world of Foursquare, mayors reign supreme, icon-like badges are pursued with fervor and, unless you've "checked in" to tell your friends (and the world) where you are, you might as well not even be there.
How it works
Foursquare, a location-based social network with free web and mobile applications (foursquare.com), is captivating Long Island users who check in each time they visit venues such as bars, restaurants, grocery stores, post offices or even churches.
The service markets itself as "a cross between a friend finder, a social city-guide and a game." To some, it's a fun diversion - a way to explore town, discover new places and meet other players who happen to be there at the same time. For participating venues, it's a way to establish customer loyalty and attract new business.
About 1.3 million people worldwide are playing, winning virtual points and badges along the way. There is, for instance, the Bender Badge, which goes to anyone who checks in four nights in a row, and the Starbucks Barista Badge, awarded after logging visits to five different Starbucks.
The fiercest competition is the pursuit to be crowned "mayor" - the person who checks into a place most frequently and is privy to discounts and other perks. There's nothing like the thrill of ousting a current mayor, some users say. Meet some of Long Island's top Foursquare players:
Suzanne Spinella, 43, Huntington Station
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom and certified webmaster
Number of check-ins: 509
Best perk: "Mayor" discount of $1 off any Starbucks frappuccino; three ice cream scoops for $3 at Ben & Jerry's
Why she plays: "It gets a little more fun when I go out of town, or when I see friends checking in when they're away in a different city," Spinella says. "I like to see what people are up to, and it's like an electronic diary of where I've been."
Becky Kopprasch, 31, Smithtown
Occupation: Graphics and Web designer
Number of check-ins: 333
Best perk: Nothing tangible yet, but while traveling recently, she benefited from Foursquare tips on how to navigate security lines at the airport and where to eat dinner.
Why she plays: "It's fun to do. You get the badges, and it's like a game, but it's so much more than just checking in somewhere," she says. "When you check in somewhere, it tells you who's already there - so it definitely gives you a way to meet people when you're out at a new place."
Reid Fishler, 34, West Babylon
Occupation: Sales director at an Internet services company
Number of check-ins: 1,422
Best perk: A personal "Welcome, mayor" note from a restaurant manager
Why he plays: "It's fun and allows me to keep tabs on my friends," Fishler says. "It's a harmless bad habit."
Nathan King, 31, Bellport
Occupation: Art director at an advertising firm
Number of check-ins: 101
Best perk: King, too, appreciates the tips users share with each other. During a recent visit to San Francisco, he checked into an Indonesian restaurant, and a fellow user recommended dishes on the menu he should try.
Why he plays: King designs social-media strategies at work, so he wants to "learn the ins-and-outs" of how companies can use FourSquare to attract customers.