(Update – This post went long, so I’m writing another post about the rest of the morning at Big Omaha. To read posts about Day 2 of Big Omaha, click here for the AM post and click here for the PM post.)

I’m still buzzing from this morning. It’s too bad some people couldn’t come this morning (or didn’t come), because it was phenomenal. Speaking this morning were Dennis Crowley, Melody McCloskey and Tony Hsieh. There was also a panel with Justin Shaffer, Alexa Andrzejewski and Matt Galligan that was moderated by David Hauser.

Of course, the real action may have been on Twitter after a remark made by Melody during her presentation. Dennis got a taste of it when he tweeted this. (One of the first things Dennis did was apologize for his crack about going to a “fly-over state”.) Speaking of Dennis…

Dennis Crowley
One of my favorite things is Foursquare, which was co-founded by Dennis Crowley. (It’s a game/social network that I’ve had a lot of questions about from friends, and a lot of then can’t seem to figure out why people use it. Still, people are using it more and more. Including, a good friend of mine who refuses to get on Facebook and Twitter.

Dennis was told repeatedly that the idea behind Foursquare was stupid. Wonder what people would think now after Yahoo! offered 125 million for it.) His first iteration of Foursquare, Dodgeball, he created on the side because he was bored with his job at the time. Then, the tech market crashed and everyone he knew, and him, lost their jobs. This was 2001. Dodgeball started off as a “selfish thing” between Dennis and his group of friends during this time.

During his time of unemployment, he traveled and did various activities, but then he ended up at grad school. While there he created technology that was based on Dodgeball. He added tech to a foosball table to provide real-time stats of the players. This was called Big Brother Foosball. He then created another location-based software called Scout for the Palm Pilot. It was amazing for Dennis to go around New York City and see people using Scout.

From this, he went back to working on Dodgeball. (Dodgeball 3.0) It was about making the city smarter.  He then thought to himself (the first time), “OMG! We’ll never be this big again”! Around this time, Dennis also developed Pac-Manhattan when he had the idea that NYC was laid out like the Pac-Man game. He turned the city into a game. Through this development Dennis realized, “OMG! We can turn Dodgeball into our jobs”!

Dodgeball was purchased by Google, and he thought (for the second time), “OMG! We’ll never be this big again”! Unfortunately, it never worked out at Google for Dennis and Dodgeball. He left the company and someone gave him a shirt that said, “Google is the crusher of my dreams”.

He continued to ponder how to use game elements that overlap real world stuff. He had a bit of an epiphany when he posted on Flickr his itinerary to Sweden and asked for places to visit. He received tons of feedback, and realized this type of crowdsourcing could be something.

As he continued to think through his location-based ideas, he was accused of being a “Johnny one-trick pony”. However, he didn’t care. He called it his “destiny”. He knew who he was, and his strengths, and went after them with a passion.

He continued to get ideas from real life, like when he was jogging one morning and went over a sticker of a Super Mario Bros. 1-Up mushroom. He thought to himself he should get something for that. He then mapped out his jogging routes as a sort of Super Mario Bros. level. It became a game. At the same time, he was inspired by the work of Nicholas Feltron and the real-time stats provided by Nike+.

Dennis realized that life is a game, and this thrusted him into development of Foursquare. He threw the “kitchen sink” at its development.

In March of 2009 there were 0 users and check-ins. One year later? There are 1.2 million users with millions of check-ins. And, Dennis says (for the umpteenth time), “OMG! We’ll never do anything bigger than this”! He realizes that this will never be the case, that something will come along and be bigger.

Life should be more like The Legend of Zelda. We should get excited when we find stuff that helps us, like Link from Zelda is. I can’t recall what it was Dennis found recently, but he said, “S—, that’s my boomerang (from Zelda) for the day”!

Foursquare provides people with data. It makes people’s days brighter. They build and develop Foursquare for people who really like what they’re doing. Foursquare has turned life into game.

The bigger question is can we use game mechanics to make people do things they normally wouldn’t do? It’s a topic I discussed with a few people after Dennis’ talk, and with some on Twitter.

Dennis was one of those presenters I could’ve kept listening to. He has a great story, and I like his approach to work and life.

After his talk, Dennis was sitting against the wall in the back of the room. I went up to him and introduced myself. I thanked him for his talk, and then asked about leveraging Foursquare for non-profits. We talked about it briefly. He told me it’s something he’s been thinking about it, and then he said if I had any ideas I should send them to him. He handed over his card to me. Needless to say, I spent part of the afternoon coming up with ideas of how to leverage Foursquare in the non-profit world. I’ll be sending them off to Dennis next week.

(Click here to see my profile on Foursquare.)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s