A few months ago, I acquired a new tic: As soon as I tune in to a TV show, I reach for my phone, and I “check in” on GetGlue. It’s a sort of Foursquare for entertainment, but instead of checking in when you enter a museum or restaurant, you do so when you watch a movie or TV show or read a book. More and more of us are tweeting or chatting or emailing with friends as we watch television, and GetGlue builds on that notion of entertainment as a social medium. There are some people who could never be convinced to announce their location or their viewing preferences to the world, but a growing number of us want to tell strangers where we are and what we’re consuming.
When I asked GetGlue’s CEO Alex Iskold why anyone would use his product—rather than Twitter or Facebook—to yak about the latest episode of Gossip Girl or True Blood, he outlined a few of its advantages: Unlike Twitter, which has a strict 140-character limit, there’s more room to talk in GetGlue—and because the screen that opens immediately after a check-in is a conversation about that particular show, there’s no need to use precious characters to identify what you’re talking about (no #madmen or #projectrunwayallstars tags). And you can return to these conversations easily: Whereas Twitter is constantly moving on to new topics, GetGlue discussions continue after the show is over.
Twitter is still my first choice of second-screen applications. I’ve spent time putting together a list of people on Twitter who give good TV talk—a mixture of industry people, critics, TV scholars, and opinionated folks with similar tastes to my own—so I can filter out some of the service’s noise when I just want to focus on television. But discovery can be a challenge on Twitter; if I hadn’t found those sympatico types, I’d be faced with an overwhelming flood of opinions. On GetGlue, there are no barriers to interaction: The conversation tab immediately introduces users to other people who watch the same shows. (You can also choose to follow other GetGlue users in standard Twitter fashion, but it’s much easier to form spontaneous, TV-centric networks than on the big, general-interest social media sites.)
Earlier this year, GetGlue announced that it had raised another $12 million of venture capital funding and that it has signed up more than 2 million users. Although it still has competition from Miso, most of its entertainment-check-in rivals have thrown in the towel (though some networks are trying to launch their own discussion forums, like Showtime Social or the USA Anywhere app). How did GetGlue triumph?
With a very old-fashioned reward system: It won over its users by plying them with stickers. Most check-in services reward users with badges. Unlike the Boy Scouts’ merit badges, they are purely virtual; my Foursquare badges only exist on my Foursquare profile page. When GetGlue users earn stickers by checking into shows, they can request that physical versions be sent to them. They arrive in the mail, and you can stick them on the envelope when you pay your cable bill. Many of these stickers are designed by the TV networks that air the shows.* GetGlue hopes to one day earn a profit from advertising, from the networks and other companies. Coca-Cola spends a lot of money to get its product and logo on American Idol; it makes sense that it would also want to be part of the social chatter around the show. And, of course, the stickers, and all the attention they drive to the GetGlue site and app, draw attention to the shows. Matt Stein, the vice president of promotions and creative services at BBC America, described GetGlue stickers as a way to reward digitally savvy, socially engaged viewers. When users check in to a show like Doctor Who (which was the No. 8 show of 2011 as judged by GetGlue check-ins), they’re promoting the show to their social media networks, and the stickers recognize that buzz promotion.
And now I have a confession to make. There was an inaccuracy in the first sentence of this post. When I first started to use GetGlue, I would check in whenever I sat down to watch a show. Then I got my first set of stickers in the mail, and I learned to become strategic. You can order stickers once a month, as soon as you’ve “unlocked” 20 of the blighters, and each monthly package contains 20 decals. If you “like” a show and check in five times, you receive a Fan sticker; check in 15 times and you’re a Superfan—but you don’t want to eat up your allocation of 20 stickers per month with these generic decals. It’s much more exciting to get the kind of limited-edition pieces that are generally available when shows first air. You can only unlock these stickers if you check in within a couple of hours of the first broadcast, which means I often check in to shows hours or days before I actually watch them. (I don’t think I’ve ever sought out a sticker for a show I don’t watch, but if it were cool enough, I probably would. I don’t have a lot of sticker scruples.)
After a couple of months, I learned to be even more selective. Not all stickers are created equal—some shows get a bit lazy or random. (I love Homeland, but I’m not so keen to add this to my collection.) When I got this month’s package in the mail, I couldn’t identify some of the stickers. (Who was this random dude or this mystery bunch? Fortunately, the GetGlue website reminds me that they are a character from a November episode of Happy Endings, and the cast of Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, respectively.)
Now, I’m playing all the angles. (Actually, I’m sure there are many more; if you have any GetGlue sticker tips, please post them in the comments.) At the start of a TV-viewing session, I check out the “Limited” stickers tab on my phone’s GetGlue app; these are the ones I’ll check in for. I try to avoid stickers that are too text-y, ugly, or crowded, so I don’t check in to those shows. (Since the decals are just one-and-a-half inches in diameter, group scenes aren’t very compelling; the characters are too small to see.) It’s impossible to control exactly what stickers you receive—it’s not always clear what combination of check-ins will unlock some of them—which is all the more reason to be picky.
All this may seem demented—who am I kidding? it is demented—but in looking through the night’s potential rewards, I’ve often been reminded about shows that I want to watch, so something as inane as trolling for stickers does lead to more television viewing. It’s been a long time since I looked at a TV schedule grid—they’re far too big these days. GetGlue’s sticker page is more effective at informing me about what’s on television.
I spend at least five minutes a night with my GetGlue app, and staring at my stash of stickers a few minutes ago reminded me of several episodes and shows that I’d forgotten about. (There goes my effort to purge Allen Gregory from my memory.)
I’ve yet to affix any of my GetGlue rewards to a piece of paper. Some are works of art—my favorite is the Parks and Recreation Mouse Rat logo, though the cartoony artwork for Archer and Portlandia is hard to beat—and besides, I’m a bit of a hoarder. Or perhaps I’m so fond of these little stickers because they’re the only concrete reward I’ve ever received for watching television.
* This post originally stated that TV networks pay for GetGlue stickers. Some are designed by the networks, but they are paid for by GetGlue.