NASA's Curiosity Rover Checks In on Foursquare, Aims To Be Mayor of Mars

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 3 2012 3:28 PM

NASA's Curiosity Rover Checks In on Foursquare, Aims To Be Mayor of Mars

Mars Curiosity rover check-in Foursquare
"One check-in closer to being Mayor of Mars!"

Screenshot / Foursquare

One small step for NASA's social media team, one giant leap for Foursquare.

In a rather brilliant publicity stunt, the Mars Curiosity rover on Wednesday joined the location-based social-media service and checked in from Gale Crater, where it has been snapping photos and poking around the rocks and soil for clues as to whether Mars ever supported life. At around 2 p.m. Wednesday, it posted a picture of its own shadow in the crater with the caption, "One check-in closer to being Mayor of Mars!"

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For the uninitiated, a Foursquare user can become "mayor" of a given venue by visiting it and checking in via smartphone more times in a two-month period than anyone else. For businesses, it's a way to make customer loyalty into a game. A local coffee shop, for instance, might reward its Foursquare mayor with a free cup now and then. In this case, Mars probably isn't going to offer NASA any special discount offers, but it's a clever way for NASA to engage with Foursquare's youthful user base as the Curiosity mission wears on.

It's an even bigger boost for Foursquare, a New York-based startup that has long been hyped as "the next Twitter" but is just as often dismissed as boring or annoying. Relying on short messages tied to updates about a user's location, Foursquare seems like an ideal way to keep up with the Rover as it makes its way across the red planet. If only people's check-ins on earth were this interesting, I might actually join.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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