Badge of Dishonor

I “bought” my first smart-ish phone approximately two years ago. I use the qualifier quotes because the purchase price was heavily subsidized by promising not to switch services for the next two years. For the first month, I was elated. The future has arrived! I now had a wireless computer constantly connected to the Information Superhighway that fit in my pocket. My mind reeled at the implications of this.

Not as smart as he looks.
Not as smart as he looks.

The honeymoon ended pretty quickly. First, after installing a number of applications (“apps”) I discovered the available RAM was less than adequate. After installing Maps, Twitter, and a feed reader, there was precious little space left over for less essential things, like games. Not that it mattered a whole bunch since the phone was grossly under-powered. Unable to make my Angry Birds fly in smooth graceful arcs, I attempted to console myself that I could at least access Wikipedia whenever I needed to prove someone wrong. But even that fell flat when it turned out my highly touted unlimited service was difficult to find, and web pages loaded slowly when I was lucky enough to pick up a signal.

All of this had led me to reconsider this whole smart phone thing until I stumbled across Untappd. At its core, Untappd is a beer-themed social networking app. There’s a large, crowd-sourced database of beer listed. When you drink a beer, you search for it in the database and check it in, à la Foursquare. In fact, you can simultaneously check in the location of where you drank said beer. This essentially announces to the world, “I have drank. And it was good. (Or bad.)” Once checked in, the beer appears in your activity feed where your friends (or anyone else, for that matter) can look at it, “toast” (read: “like”) it or post short, Twitter-length comments. There are options to include a rating of between one and five bottle caps and you can even include a picture if you’d like.

I’ll stop right there because I just realized you, the reader, may not understand how this appeals to beer snobs. In case you don’t know any personally, beer snobs are inherently collectors. They collect bottles and cans (both empty and full), tap handles, bottle caps, drinking vessels, serving trays, can coolers, neon signs, it doesn’t matter. If it’s related to beer, there’s a snob out there with a storage space filled with them.

Of course, not every snob collects everything. Most of the time they have a specialty. This is no different than any other sub-culture. But the one thing all snobs collect is drinking records. This is because the barrier for entry is so low. In the Olden Days, folks would  carry around a small notebook and literally write down every beer they drank.

Perhaps they would include some notes, including, most likely, comments about the nose and the beer’s lacing. Maybe even a score so that they could compare this beer, numerically speaking, with others.

I know. Very primitive.

Once the web started worming its tendrils into people’s homes, whole websites dedicated to this phenomenon started to spring up, namely Ratebeer and BeerAdvocate. To compare these two is a holy war for another day. Computers made keeping track of all this stuff much easier and more efficient, but the limiting factor was you still needed a computer. These, as you may know, have only recently been made small enough to carry around with you—say, about the size of a small notebook.

Enter Untappd. In addition to all the “fun” features mentioned previously, Untappd also cribs the idea of Badges from it’s ancestral Foursquare. Badges are like goals, Achievements, if you will. For example, drink six beers at the beach, you get the Beach Badge. Or maybe, drink three hefeweizens, now you’ve got the Hef Badge. So now the concepts of “progression” and “winning” have been melded with drinking beer. And I couldn’t be happier.

It’s at least the third most important app on my phone behind Maps and Email, and it could easily be the second.

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