The world of social media connections opened up a little more with the introduction of Loopt to mobile phones a few years ago. Suddenly, mobile phone users were able to share with friends are they up to, specifically where they are on a map, just by updating their real-time, GPS-enabled Loopt profile. The idea took off right away and has been going strong ever since.

app-showdown-4sq-mytown

But Loopt came on the scene early in the iPhone game, and with the explosion of new apps in the App Store that has since taken place, users seemed to be looking for some sort of pay-off to sharing such privileged information. Enter: FourSquare.

FourSquare has been hailed the “next Twitter” or even a “hyperlocal Twitter,” as it allows users to share their locations via social networking tools like Facebook or Twitter. Show friends where you are by “checking in” at a place on a map, then earn titles, badges, and awards for the places you’ve visited. For many, it’s more like a competition, with friends competing to become the “mayor” of a place they’ve visited the most. And businesses have even gotten in on the action by offering rewards/coupons/deals to newly awarded mayors (excellent marketing plan, if you ask me).

So, naturally, with the success of FourSquare comes a competitor, which, for the time being, is looking to be MyTown, an app that plays along the same ideals as FourSquare, but with more of a Monopoly-style edge. MyTown functions more as a gaming app than a social networking one, with a goofy robot dancing about on your home screen and the addition of a money system that allows you to “buy property” and “rent” properties you own to others trying to “visit” (Monopoly, right?). Still, the idea is the same.

So which one is better? Time for an App Showdown.

FourSquare

Price: FREE

foursquare

img_0505

MyTown

Price: FREE

MyTown

img_0503

Concept

FourSquare: “Check in” at the places you visit in real life, then share these check-ins with friends via social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook. Rack up your check-ins to be awarded specific “badges,” like the “crunked” badge (which you can earn from visiting bars, of course), or the title of “mayor,” for being the FourSquare user to check in at a location the most.

FourSquare is definitely geared more toward folks looking to keep tabs on friends and maybe even meet new ones by competing with frequent visitors. Seeing it linked constantly on Twitter shows that users are using it for the social networking experience, and, not to mention, the deals and perks that can be gained from becoming an avid user of it (we’ll get into this more in a bit).

MyTown: Earn money and points by checking in at the places you visit in real life. Once you’ve built up a solid bank of cash and points, you can begin buying said places (“properties”) and demanding rent from other users who try to visit your newly purchased coffee shop (or what have you). Also use your money or points to earn perks like “power-ups” and gear to dress your avatar in. The avatar actually is just a funny-looking robot who dances around on the home screen of your app, and you can get him some ninja duds to make him get that much sillier.

I love the idea of playing a real-life game of Monopoly with the places I frequent. Why shouldn’t I be able to buy the coffee shop by work, or, dare I say, my workplace itself? The competition factor here is high, as the app feels much more like a game that doesn’t have much attachment to real life itself.

Winner:

FourSquare
MyTown

Sure, MyTown hasn’t quite built up the community that FourSquare has quite yet, but everyone loves a good game of Monopoly, which, I hate to say again, is incredibly similar to this app. Without getting into any of the details of how efficiently each app works, describing the concept of FourSquare out loud is just much more fun than that of FourSquare. And who doesn’t love a dancing robot avatar to dress up?


Design/Aesthetics

FourSquare: There isn’t a whole lot to the design of FourSquare. In fact, there really isn’t a “design,” per se. The app is incredibly simplistic, sticking to a gray background with white info bubbles and the FourSquare logo at the top. The app can run while you listen to your iPod, which is convenient, to say the least, and although you may have a few hiccups here and there with lagging loading of maps, it’s by and large an easy-to-navigate app.

img_0507

MyTown: First of all, like I said earlier, this is more of a gaming app than anything. So the design is expectantly impressive and colorful. The red/green color scheme, skyline drawing, and signage used throughout the pages of the app are fun and very game-like.

You’ll also notice the dancing avatar robot we mentioned earlier, as it makes little squeaks and squeals when you instruct him to jump or move around by touching him (sounds wrong, I know). Even touching the “check-in” or any other button comes with sound effects, which brings the idea that the app is a game full circle.

img_0512

But the major downside in the navigation of this app is that it really is like a game, in the sense that you can’t run anything else, like your iPod, as you open the app. This makes it extremely difficult to motivate yourself to check in somewhere, check on your points, buy properties, or actually do anything in the app because you’d rather finish this one song…

Winner:

FourSquare
MyTown

MyTown could have taken this category, hands down. Everything about it looks and feels better than FourSquare and really makes it feel like a well-rounded experience. But the inconvenience of halting the one million things you’re attempting to do at once on your iPhone is a major buzzkill to the aesthetics and design of the app.

 


Social Networking

FourSquare: Twitter or Facebook are not necessary to using FourSquare, but they are pretty big parts of it. When checking in at a place, you can “add a shout” to your check-in notice, which can mean anything from a shout-out to a buddy or a note about how horrible the service at the restaurant is. This is a great feature, but it becomes a fantastic feature when you add Twitter or Facebook into the mix.

The settings in FourSquare can be set so your Twitter and Facebook accounts are automatically saved, and you then have the option of alerting your Twitter followers and Facebook friends when you check in somewhere or earn a badge. On Twitter, when your check-in is posted as a Tweet, it looks like this: “[Shout, should you choose to have one] (@ [Place – Area] [Link to FourSquare map of your location]).”

img_0508

Even this small detail of just how your FourSquare information shows up on your social networking sites enhances the social networking experience. You can also add friends on FourSquare and see where they’ve been on your “Friends” page, which looks more like a Twitter feed, with times and places they’ve checked in at. Under the “To Do” page, you can also create a list of places to visit or things to do, view to-do lists made by friends, and see tips left on the pages for places nearby. You can see tips like “Order this item at this place,” which could come in very handy when you’re hankering for some good eats but aren’t quite sure about the places around you that haven’t visited before.

MyTown: When checking in at a location, you have the option of adding a “shout,” which can be posted to Facebook and Twitter if you have those options turned on. You actually earn more points when checking in if you add a shout, so this boosts your standing in the game aspect of the app.

But this feature is about it when it comes to social networking aspects of MyTown. And, to make matters worse, it doesn’t exactly work/do much. Sure, my tweet was posted, but only the actual “shout” posts to your Twitter or Facebook, without any other information that might clue your followers/friends into what said tweet is about. There’s no link to a map, no mention of “My Town,” or anything that makes you seem a little less crazy for tweeting, “Work!” when you check in at your office. Trust me, I had a few Twitter replies questioning why I was so thrilled to be working.

img_0526

MyTown has a leaderboard that you can check to see who is in the lead with points, but there’s no real rhyme or reason to it. You can’t click on the users in the leaderboard to see where they’ve been; you basically can only see that they’re kicking your butt on points.

Winner:

FourSquare
MyTown

There’s no real contest here, as the entire concept of FourSquare is about location-based social networking. However, that doesn’t excuse MyTown from its shoddy attempt at at least integrating some small social networking features to help users connect with each other–like most gaming apps can and do.


Locations

FourSquare: Before checking in somewhere, you have to first locate it. This can be done by either searching for it via the app’s search engine or by using the auto-locate tool, which is used each time you open the app, if you agree to it the first time. FourSquare will show you nearby favorite places, based on your location, and you can open said location to see details about it. For example, look at a small map of the place, see who is the current mayor and who has checked in there, see who is tweeting on Twitter about places nearby, look at the location’s page on Yelp (a user reviews site), and also see if any FourSquare users have added “tips” about that location (i.e. “Order the secret burger” or “Don’t anger the bartender”).

img_0527

Yes, this all sounds fantastic, but the real plus? Everything can be done inside the app, even looking at the Yelp reviews page. It seems like this would be a pretty simple request, but a certain other app apparently didn’t get the memo…

MyTown: Powered by CitySearch, the maps and location tools within the MyTown app are pretty weak. For starters, you can’t actually get to the location tools until you’ve checked in somewhere, when you can open a profile of the place you’ve just checked in at from your homescreen. From there, you can see the leaderboard of the location, comments about the place (which are actually just the “shouts” you added when you checked in), and then the info about the place. Under the info, you can see the place’s star ratings, the phone number (which you cannot click on to call straight from your iPhone), the address, and the options to view a map, more info, or reviews.

img_0521

Here’s the downer: Clicking on any of these last three options takes you out of the app and into your web browser, which goes to the CitySearch website. Last I heard, this was 2009, not 2003. In my opinion, CitySearch as a helpful web location tool pales in comparison to sites like Yelp and Google Maps. So besides the fact that these tools take users out of the app, one thing that will automatically turn away a lot of users, directing them to a crappy website is kind of the final straw.

Winner:

FourSquare
MyTown

I realize technology isn’t easy to develop, but, c’mon, MyTown! This decision could have been a little harder if there could just be some in-app support for location tools and maybe an easier way to access location information before checking in. Don’t say you didn’t have a fair shot…you came out after FourSquare, which seems to nail this one pretty well.


Rewards

FourSquare: Not only are there fictional perks within the app, but you can also score some pretty great specials and deals just by checking in and visiting certain places a bunch. The fictional perks are called “badges,” which the app awards you based on your check-ins. For example, if you decide to go on a bar crawl or visit many a bar one evening, you could earn the “crunked” badge. If you eventually become a constant FourSquare updater, you could also earn the “Super User” badge. There are many more, including “Adventurer,” “Explorer,” and “Gym Rat.”

img_0510

As for real-life deals, many businesses have realized the potential behind FourSquare and started offering rewards for customers who visit them often and check in on FourSquare. Places like WowBao in Chicago offer free “hot buns” to customers who are named the “mayor” of their local WowBao. Also, when you’re prepping to check in at a location, FourSquare will alert you if there is a deal or special nearby your location. It has been accurate every time I’ve seen it, even if I usually see the same deal over and over again.

MyTown: The whole concept of MyTown revolves around being the big money/point-maker in your town, so points and cash are the real rewards here. You can also earn extra points and cash for things like adding a shout to your check-in. Power-Ups, which can help you earn more cash and points when checking in somewhere or making upgrades to your properties, can also be earned from checking in. The cash you collect from checking in can be used to purchase a property, which you can then make tons of money off of by charging visitors “rent.” The more points you earn can also propel you into higher levels of the game.

img_0515

It’s all honestly a bit difficult to comprehend, and even more difficult to explain. There are no real-life perks, although that’s not to say there could be at some point. MyTown simply isn’t established enough to be at the point that FourSquare is in terms of earning real perks and discounts via the real world.

Winner:

FourSquare
MyTown

Besides trying to understand what the point is of the rewards in MyTown, actually figuring out how to earn and use them is difficult and arduous. The social networking aspect of FourSquare plays a large part in the rewards/perks features, as it propels users to keep coming back to the app–whether it be to earn deals at their favorite spots or just to say they beat their friends at something. MyTown just can’t compete on this level.


Final Scores

FourSquare:

Design/Aesthetics
Social Networking
Locations
Rewards

MyTown:

Concept

Winner:

img_0505

FourSquare

It’s a classic case of good concept, failed excecution on MyTown’s part, but FourSquare definitely takes the cake here. Social networking is where it’s at these days, and FourSquare has succeeded in almost every area, simply because it incorporate social networking into each process involved in the app.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to visit Wow Bao for the 20th time this week to collect my title of Mayor–as well as my free “hot buns.”