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Marketers use games to find your place

  • Santa Rosa designer Ty Jones "checks-in" with the Foursquare app on his iPhone before a meeting at Flying Goat Coffee. Foursquare broadcasts your location, which Jones hopes will remind people to consider him for a design job. (JOHN BURGESS/The Press Democrat)

Where are you?

Your answer, it seems, is the basis of a growing new genre of cellphone applications that turn a person's location into a game — and a marketing opportunity. Thanks to GPS-enabled cellphones, a growing number of people are voluntarily broadcasting their whereabouts online.

And marketers have taken notice. At Ridge Vineyards in Lytton Springs, visitors get a free $5 wine tasting when they broadcast their location to friends using one of these cellphone applications.

“Their friends might see it, and think, ‘Hey, I'll visit there, too,'” said Melissa Baker, tasting room manager. “It's another way of getting your name out there anyway you can.”

Ridge Vineyards uses a free program called Foursquare, which has grown rapidly in popularity with users because its basic premise is a game.

When a user arrives at a new location they “check-in” using the Foursquare application installed on their phone.

Checking in is easy. With a couple of taps on the iPhone, a person can broadcast their location to friends, or even to everyone on Twitter.

The person who has checked in the most times at a location is named the “virtual mayor” of that location, and is rewarded with various badges that distinguish their location habits.

Meet Ty Jones, the virtual mayor of Flying Goat Coffee in Railroad Square and several other locales around Santa Rosa.

“I like the gamey part of it. I'm kind of competitive,” said Jones, who is the co-founder of the annual Handcar Regatta art festival in Santa Rosa.

He also recognizes its power for personal branding. When other people check-in at Flying Goat, they can see that Jones is the mayor.

“It keeps your name out there,” he said. “It's kind of like a business card.”

Ten years ago, your location was a fact. Often times a trivial fact, or a piece of personal information that you would not want to share with strangers. Today, to a growing number of people, it is an asset.

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