Does Foursquare Have A Douchebag Problem?

With Foursquare seeing fast growth and starting to be embraced by elements of the mainstream (like their new deal with Bravo), it might be decision time.

A popular part of the gaming element of the service is gaining badges, virtual tokens that show you’ve done a certain task on the service. Most of these are clever, like the Photogenic badge when you check-in to three different places with photobooths. But some are a bit more risqué, like the Douchebag badge. As Foursquare keeps growing, will there be pressure to get rid of these?

Increasingly, this issue is being brought up on Foursquare’s Get Satisfaction page. As one user wrote yesterday in the forum:

Has it occurred to the too-cool-for-school hipsters at foursquare that unlocking a “douchebag” badge for your fans because they check in at places like Barneys might:
1. Be insulting to your users, especially if have chosen to share their badges with friends and
2. Might also be insulting to your future customers and business partners like Barneys?

Total FAIL, guys. Who are you to judge what your customers like and don’t like?

Another user follows that up with:

I agree, it is also offensive to me and I suspect many others. What’s next, “Asshole” and “Dickhead” badges? At a minimum, users should be allowed to delete/block such an offensive badge in their profile.

A week ago, another thread was started raising the same issue:

I’m surprised to have unlocked the “douchebag” badge by checking in to a trendy hotel and must admit that I find the badge name rather offensive. What’s the point of it and why use such a crude name?

Editorial comment: If you’re trying to build a service that’s going to be appealing to more than just the uber-geeky among us, don’t y’all think that, just maybe, you should screen some of the words involved with the service?

That actually ties in very well with what Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley told Bits today while talking about the Bravo deal:

Bravo’s shows really overlap with our users and a new mainstream audience that we want to reach. I don’t think check-ins are a nerd-only experience. It’s about sharing content and experiences with others.

While the Douchebag badge may have been fine for the “nerd-only” crowd, they’re clearly starting to move beyond that, and some users are getting upset about it.

And while you might not see why this is much of an issue, coincidentally, I ran into this issue last night. I have my Foursquare account set up to auto-tweet out when I unlock new badges. Last night, I happened to be at a bar tagged as a “douchebag” bar, so when I checked-in, I unlocked the badge and it automatically tweeted out to all my followers.

For the record, I think the Douchebag badge is hilarious, and couldn’t care less that it tweeted out. But I certainly can see how that could be an issue for some people. To a lesser extent, the same is true with the Crunked badge (4 or more stops in one night, implying you’re drunk — which is probably true) and others.

Also, what happens when a venue doesn’t like that they’ve been tagged as a “douchebag” place?

This brings up an interesting dilemma for Foursquare: do they abandon some of the fun, quirky things that made the service what it is, in an attempt to go mainstream?

[thanks malachi]