Tampa man dreams up Foursquare Day

Krissi Bates-Billings, Nathan Bonilla-Warford and Bill Cason discuss how to promote the idea of Foursquare day, a holiday in honor of the popular social networking tool, at Bonilla-Warford’s optometry practice in Westchase on Thursday.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Krissi Bates-Billings, Nathan Bonilla-Warford and Bill Cason discuss how to promote the idea of Foursquare day, a holiday in honor of the popular social networking tool, at Bonilla-Warford’s optometry practice in Westchase on Thursday.

TAMPA — The eye doctor sat at his desk between patients, Twitter page open.

"Because that's what I do."

He lives in cyberspace and works in Westchase. He is a social media aficionado, a Twitter devotee, Facebook user and lover of Foursquare, the latest mobile sensation to storm the globe.

He thought about the name Foursquare. Four squared. Four times four. Hmm.

April 16 should be Foursquare Day.

He tweeted his baby of an idea.

What happened next was the living, breathing beast of connection.

• • •

For tech neophytes who want to run away screaming, here are the basics.

The concept of Foursquare is simple. With an application on your phone, you tell people where you are. Going to the bank? You check in. Going to dinner? You check in. Going to court to fight that speeding ticket? You check in.

When you go somewhere often, you build status. You can become mayor of Costco, mayor of the airport, mayor of the gym.

You compete with others. You leave tips (2-for-1 at Drinkey's McPub, try sitting on the deck!). Some businesses offer discounts and specials to Foursquare users who come frequently and flash their phones.

Enter Nathan Bonilla-Warford (Twitter handle, NateBW). He is 36, bespectacled, married with two kids and a fish. He owns Bright Eyes Family Vision Care in Westchase.

In college, he made fan sites for bands, played online role-playing games and used Internet Relay Chat, a social networking dinosaur. The forum changed through the years — AOL, Geo­cities, MySpace, Friendster, Facebook. Now he has 550 Twitter followers and is writing an electronic book that teaches optometrists to use social networking.

Foursquare was a natural leap.

"I was really intrigued by the whole game aspect of it," he said. "As a business owner trying to use social media to promote my business, I saw the value in it. It just seemed like such a perfect application."

NateBW checked in at his YMCA spinning class. He became mayor of TGI Fridays. He fought with an old classmate to become mayor of the Starbucks by his office.

He always loved nerd holidays like Pi Day and Star Wars Day. His birthday, Oct. 23, falls on Mole Day, which lauds a chemistry measuring unit. His idea of Foursquare Day was a funny concept, something geeky to make numbers people chuckle.

But nothing dies online.

Several people retweeted his tweet and praised the idea. Sensing interest, he wrote a blog on his optometry Web site. That set off a stream of blogs and tweets, then a Web site and a Facebook page and more tweets.

It took off.

Dennis Crowley, one of Foursquare's founders, left a message on the Foursquare Day Facebook page: Hello from Foursquare HQ in NYC! We're 100% in on this! And on March 26, this appeared on the official Foursquare Twitter page: BTW, we're officially declaring 4/16 as 4SQ Day! 4 squared = 16 = 4/16, get it?

People in cities from Atlanta to San Diego to Hamburg, Germany, announced plans to host Foursquare Days of their own.

NateBW marveled at what happened. He was proud. New York and Chicago and London get all the attention. Maybe Tampa Bay, not typically praised for innovation, was underestimated.

"The crazy thing is, every time I think I'm thinking at a high enough level, I'm not thinking big enough," he said. "That's part of what's absolutely exciting. You just don't know how far it could go."

• • •

The Foursquare Day team checked in at NateBW's Westchase office Thursday night. Members set up shop next to the Opti-Free and the magnifying mirror. They plunked away on iPhones and Droids and BlackBerrys and laptops.

That meeting drew a dozen people, double the first meeting. They were all ages. One had blue hair (missdestructo) and another wore khakis (the promotertv). One wore a shirt that said, "I'm Internet Famous" (ikrissi).

They had all met on Twitter.

They oohed over the new Foursquare Day Web site, presented by Jessica Barnett (red headjessica). They delegated people to use connections, to reach businesses, to call even the mayor of Tampa, Pam Iorio.

"Mayor Pam is already on Twitter and Facebook," said Simon Cousins (illuminant ceo). "Once the mayor signs on, everything falls into place."

They discussed alerting the old-fashioned media.

"This is social media, this is the new thing," said Allison Barkley (thatgirlallie). "You need to pay attention."

They firmed up plans for April 16.

Anyone can play. People will check in at their usual locations and, with luck, explore businesses offering Foursquare Day deals like Three Birds Tavern and the Florida Aquarium. NateBW will sell his glasses frames for half-off. A "swarm," which happens when more than 50 Foursquare users visit one place at a time, is planned at the Hyatt in downtown Tampa.

The Foursquare Day Facebook page has more than 1,000 fans. But it's hard to say how that will translate on April 16.

"We have no idea how many people are going to show up," said redheadjessica. "Literally, no idea."

Exactly.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

>>FAST FACTS

About Foursquare

What is Foursquare?

Foursquare (foursquare.com) is a location-based social networking tool that encourages people to explore their communities and check in where they go. You can download the application to your mobile device. Founded in 2009, more than 500,000 people use it now.

What are badges?

You earn badges by checking in. They appear on your online profile. You can get a badge for being mayor, meaning you go someplace more than any user. Other badges include Trifecta, Swarm and I'm on a Boat.

What local businesses are participating in Foursquare Day?

Three Birds Tavern in St. Petersburg, Bellisimo Ristorante in Westchase and the Florida Aquarium, to name a few. Organizers will release more deals as the day nears.

Where can I learn more?

4sqday.com.

Tampa man dreams up Foursquare Day 04/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 3, 2010 12:15am]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...