- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 9, 2012

BRANDON, MISS. (AP) - It took a return to the South to get me back on Foursquare.

Months later, I’m still not sure why I need it, yet I can’t seem to stay away.

Foursquare, of course, is a social network that lets you tell friends and family where you are _ whether it’s a bar, a park or an airport. Through a smartphone app, you broadcast your whereabouts, or “check in” to those places.

Until I began my break from Foursquare about 15 months ago, I was diligent about checking in to places, mostly around my home in New York.

Friends made fun of me for taking Foursquare so seriously. I even stopped several times during a half marathon in Brooklyn to post my whereabouts, until I saw walkers starting to pass me.

I got points for checking in and competed with friends and strangers for bragging rights _ and that’s really all it’s about. If I checked in to, say, a drug store more often than others on Foursquare, I’d become “mayor” of the venue, at least until someone dethroned me by checking in even more often. Foursquare also awarded badges for such milestones as visiting five airports or going out four nights in a row. It was all exciting.

And then it wasn’t.

On Feb. 13, 2011, I checked in to Pat O’Brien’s on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street after indulging on its specialty drink, the Hurricane. A friend grabbed my phone to add, “Having the time (of) my life.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my last check-in for 11 months. Restaurants and laundry facilities I frequent in New York suddenly seemed routine and boring. I began asking myself, “What is the point of Foursquare?”

I decided to give Foursquare another shot during a visit four months ago to Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. It wasn’t likely that I’d be back there anytime soon. I figured it was now or never.

My Foursquare obsession quickly returned.

In the time I was away from Foursquare, the service made a bunch of changes. There are now more opportunities to earn points _ I got three simply for checking in on Martin Luther King Day and four for visiting new states. An “Explore” feature offers recommendations based on where you and your friends have already been. I don’t know what Foursquare was trying to tell me, but many of those recommendations seemed to steer me to more places to eat.

Foursquare also got better at offering deals simply for checking in. Sadly, I missed a 10 percent “Newbie Special” discount at Zoes Kitchen in Houston because I didn’t check in until I had already placed and paid for a food order.

My 43 check-ins as part of that trip gave me 306 points, nearly three times the 109 points earned by a co-worker and closest competitor. She was in California at the time and hadn’t been as aggressive as I was about checking in. I managed to check in separately to a rental car center, a shuttle bus, a food court and Gate E3 at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, for instance. I became mayor of two hotels and earned badges for visiting enough airports and movie theaters.

The bigger test was whether I could maintain that interest once I returned to my routines back in New York.

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