College Rivalry Prank Goes Digital on Foursquare

What all started as some innocent Foursquare fun turned into a not so funny prank this past Saturday. Allow me to first introduce myself, I’m Watson Jones and I’m a student at UGA. As many of us know, the weeks leading up to the start of college football season in our great state are marked by anxiousness and excitement. It goes without saying within the state of Georgia that the rivalry between UGA and Georgia Tech is one of the fiercest in the entire nation. Year in and year out the football (and basketball) rivalry that has been come to be known as Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate polarizes our state with victory leading to year long bragging rights.

As classic rivalries go, also go classic pranks of yesteryear such as UGA students stealing the Ramblin’ Wreck and Georgia Tech students stealing a bulldog statue from a building on the UGA campus. For obvious reasons, you do not hear very much these days about students undertaking criminal acts to one up their school’s biggest rival.

The emergence of Foursquare has expanded rapidly as a popular social networking tool on college campuses. With it, the race to collect badges has made Foursquare a fun way to compete amongst your friends for the most elusive badges. Among the most elusive of all Foursquare badges is the coveted Super Swarm badge which requires a minimum of 250 people to be checked in to the a venue at the same time. Who knew that this might have been the motivation that led to Saturday’s shenanigans.

As a lifelong UGA fan and devoted Tech hater, I thought it would be a funny idea to leave a, let’s say pro-UGA comment in the tags section of the Bobby Dodd Stadium venue page a week or so ago. I originally got the idea from browsing around various stadiums of MLB teams where rivals would leave tags or tips that supported that team’s rival. Of course, someone from the North Avenue Trade School faithful spotted it, deleted it and then posted an anti-UGA tag on the Sanford Stadium venue page. Being the responsible superuser that I am, I saw that tag on the Sanford Stadium venue and promptly deleted it. This went back and forth throughout the week ending a few days before UGA’s first game Saturday against UL-Lafayette. What happened next definitely upped the ante from the tag war that was going on the days before the game.

Before the game Saturday, someone moved the marker for Sanford Stadium to the Athens Ben Epps Airport, 4.5 miles from the stadium’s location on campus. Luckily, someone created a another venue for Sanford Stadium that morning for people to check in to on Saturday, but of course this just creates confusion since some people did search for the correct venue and checked in there as well. The combined total for the two venues ended up being around 180 or so which isn’t too bad considering the opponent UGA was facing on Saturday. As a temporary show of retaliation, the marker for Bobby Dodd stadium was moved to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport after Foursquare users in Athens caught the Tech prank.

One question that came to my mind after all of this was what if some superuser decided to move a bunch of markers temporarily when the venues are being used the most? An example that comes to mind is any big sporting event like the Super Bowl for instance. What if a team of rogue superusers decided to move markers all evening for the venue (and even the subsequent duplicates that would popup) and merged them so that no users were able to unlock a Super Swarm badge for an event that would clearly qualify for Super Swarm status. Food for thought for the Foursquare team as their product starts to attract more mainstream exposure.

One could definitely argue that this new digital rivalry was sparked by Foursquare. Now, I don’t think the students at Tech were expecting a Super Swarm at their game this past weekend (the total check-ins were approximately 125), but I’m willing to bet they were definitely thinking about preventing UGA from possibly unlocking the first Super Swarm in Georgia and the first Super Swarm at a NCAA football game. Ironically enough, Tech students and fans no doubt played a large role in contributing to the Super Swarm unlocked later that day at Dragon*Con 2010 in Atlanta.

Hopefully, this exposure for Foursquare will lead to increased usage across both campuses. As for my friends at Georgia Tech, we look forward to seeing (beating) you between the hedges November 27.  This time let’s play nice and leave the stadium venue where it is supposed to be.

Post by: Watson Jones – Find Watson on Twitter and Foursquare