As Foursquare goes mainstream, some subversive segments of the tech community are using the social-networking software to turn its fundamental conceit — that it helps you hang out with your friends — upside down. San Francisco–based technologist Jesper Andersen last month designed a site called Avoidr, which allows Foursquare users to select the "friends" they want to avoid. By showing where those "friends" have checked in, users know where not to go.
According to Andersen, the site has been used by around 20,000 people, with around 2,500 active users.
The idea came about when Andersen watched a lot of his friends go through breakups: "It was an emotionally resonant feeling — you don't actually want to go to this bar because your ex is there."
He says Avoidr has also been used by people with stalkers — they allow their stalkers to "friend" them, never check in themselves, and use Avoidr solely to steer clear.
On a somewhat less serious level, Andersen sees Avoidr as an intermediate stop on the way to defriending someone — it's a kind of defriending-in-training. "I'm not against Foursquare," he says. "It's more that social networks should take into account that friendships ebb and flow."
Other "anti"-Foursquare sites are more stunt-oriented. In February, a group of Dutch programmers designed Please Rob Me, which showed when people had checked in on Foursquare from another city — indicating that their home had been left unattended. And in April, Hot Potato engineer Matt Langer launched nosquares, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek site that tells users where not to go if they want to stay away from Foursquare users.
Please Rob Me and nosquares weren't intended to be used long-term; they made their point about the dangers of oversharing. Please Rob Me is on hiatus while its founders decide what to do with it next. And Langer says that nosquares was "mostly just a playful joke ... we were going through this furious crunch time at work, pulling twelve-plus-hour days seven days a week trying to get ready for a big release for SXSW, and I didn't want my co-workers to see me going out for a drink after work."
On the other hand, Andersen sees Avoidr as a kind of first step in a kinder, gentler social-networking world, and he hopes that future iterations of Foursquare will make it less socially awkward to hide or block people. "It's so formal to unfollow or unfriend someone," he says. "Though it definitely has a passive-aggressive bent."