The original title of this blog was "Why Untappd is Killing Craft Beer", but I would rather offer my view and have you offer yours, if you desire. I think Untappd is unintentionally killing craft beer culture with a three pronged approach:
1) The time it takes to check-in and the impact that has on conversation
2) The usage of the app to check-in beers during festivals and provide a quick rating
3) The braggadocious attitude that the app encourages via social media
Point 1: The time it takes to check-in and the impact that time has on conversation
When Untappd launched, I was excited. Partially because four weeks before they launched, I mentioned to a few friends that I was considering an app that was "The Foursquare for Craft beer". Problem solved. The issue that I quickly realized was when I was dining with a friend and went to check-in the beer I was drinking. As we are constantly reminded in PSAs regarding texting and driving, humans can only process visual and audio using one channel in the brain. Therefore, to check-in, I had to stop the conversation we were having, search for the beer I was drinking, and check-in. I made a few more attempts when I was out with beer drinking friends, but the result was always the same. I was picking an app check-in and interrupting the flow of conversation with my friends. Which, to me, is what beer should be; a conversation.
I know that there have been improvements in the database response time by using the native phone apps, but I have recently challenged a few drinking friends to check-in while we discussed a beer they were excited to try. They eventually gave up trying to check-in when the conversation stopped and silence festered.
Point 2: The usage of the app to check-in beers during festivals and provide a quick rating
Point 1 carries into Point 2. In my opinion, beer festivals are time to spend with friends trying new beers, talking about the beer (and life outside of beer), and asking questions to the brewery reps (until you fail to form logical sentences). Therefore, interrupting that conversation with a higher frequency than getting half-pint pours at your local bar, bothers me.
Point 2 is specific because 2-4oz pours are proven to be a terrible volume to rate a beer. Additionally, the average drinking palate is good for maybe the first ten samples and then it is fried (Gross generalization, but you get the point). Therefore, the remaining 20-30 samples that you are attempting to take quick notes on, and assign a star value to, are not going to be memorable nor correct. It is not fair to you and it is even less fair to the brewery. I have never seen someone add, "This was beer 15, so my palate may have been off, but..." to a review. There was a reason that the original version of Untappd had a time cap on how quickly people could check-in beers. Sure, part of it was technical, but my hope is that they wanted to prevent this use.
Point 3: The braggadocious attitude that the app encourages via social media
Point 2 transitions into Point 3 when all 40 festival check-ins are also shared on Twitter. Typically, this happens in rapid succession once you are able to get data service after you leave the fest or the crowd thins. Bonus points are when the festival is on Saturday and the stream of check-ins happens on Sunday morning. Not only does that action say, "I got so drunk yesterday that I couldn't operate one of the most simple apps that exists." it also says, "I feel the need to brag about all the beer I drank yesterday." To me, if you live in Indiana and are drinking Pliny the Elder (or Blind Pig) at Russian River in Santa Rosa (Or Toronado in San Francisco), that's awesome. Check it in. You made it to one of the beer meccas. But, if you had a sip of Dark Lord from your buddy's 2oz pour, don't check that in. That is annoying.
The main part of Point 3 that bothers me is the following scenario: You're taking it easy on a Friday night and scanning twitter when the same rare beer gets checked-in by a number of accounts. It is bad enough that I can visualize everyone on their phone racing to check-in, but the back-to-back check-in from a person using multiple accounts is just atrocious. Second, you're combining Point 1 and Point 2 in this post because you are taking time to tell people that are not present about the beer that you just drank 2-4 ounces of and you probably will never have again instead of enjoying the beer and discussing it.
In no way do I hold the guys from Untappd responsible for the use of their app. For two guys to get an app to 1 Million+ check-ins and 500,000+ users averaging 70,000 tweets per month in three years is incredible. I just think that the app is a vehicle for the degradation of craft beer which, to me, should be about sharing some beers with your friends and talking about what you like and dislike.
I agree on all of your points Jake.
I actually think that Untappd is a pretty cool idea to track the beers you've drank quickly and easily. From what I've read from the two founders, I don't think they thought it would morph into what it is, but nothing ever does. I just want to expand on one idea and add another of my own.
Untappd's slogan is drink socially. I would contend the App is making people extremely unsocial in social situations. This is in complete agreement with Jake's points above. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people with phone-in-hand as the barman hands them a pint of something or the number of people that are taking the time to create news beers at Beer Festivals on their phones. It is a beer festival people! Put down the fucking phone and talk to the people around you. There is a reason that beer is the greatest social lubricant every invented. It helps to encourage conversation, but all I tend to see is the warm glow of a lit up phone and the people behind it are staring into like a 14 year old boy about the time they first discovered internet porn.
The braggadocious attitude that Untappd drives in consumers is beyond me. When you have people with multiple twitter handles that take the time to post Untappd check-ins under multiple screen names, and then tell Untappd to post it to Twitter and Facebook, that isn't about beer culture anymore. That is about trying to make yourself look cool while drinking beer, but honestly if you are doing all of that you have already lost. People have turned Untappd in a virtual pissing contest, but to be fair that isn't Untappd's fault, but the beer community that has sadly been shaping up over the last few years. All it takes to understand that people are using the platform to showoff is look at the beers that show up on Twitter and Facebook. I think 75% of the time they will be beers that are not easy to get or one off beers. You don't see many check-ins on other social media platforms that are house beers of brewpubs and breweries. If you want to post it to social media that is great, but Untappd posts what you are drinking and is normally void of any opinion or any actual beneficial information to anyone. If you want to post to social media I personally think you should just compose your own tweet and add value to the conversation and include your thoughts or personal opinion about the beer. That will drive at least a little bit of conversation I think. Some people I follow on twitter are at least good to provide an opinion with each Untappd check-in, but the vast majority do not. As my favorite Beer Curmudgeon put it on twitter: "But how will I get self-validation via beer elitism and exclusion if I don't post across multiple social media platforms?" The Beer Curmudgeon always speaks the truth.
My biggest issue with Untappd is that I believe is encourages binge drinking and overall disrespecting what Craft beer is all about. The founders of Untappd have repeatedly said they are not about binge drinking, but they load these badges into the system that for some reason people feel the need to obtain. Think about that for a second. People are drinking when they don't want to simply to get an electronic badge on the internet and then share it with their social media network. I don't fully believe they are not promoting binge drinking though. They put badges into the system that you get for 5+ check-ins for beers with ABVs above 10%, a badge that encourages people to check into 5 beers in a single day, a badge that toasts you with "drinking your paycheck badge," one that encourages drinking 10 beers from the same brewer in 30 days, one that encourages three check-ins after 8PM, and an entire assortment of badges that can only be obtained on a single day by drinking a beer. Untappd has helped turn craft beer into a drinking contest, and that isn't what I think craft beer is all about.
I've had people say "Well, what about multiple check-ins at tastings?" Let's not kid ourselves here: Tastings is another word for day binge drinking with like minded people that won't judge you for it.
TL:DR: Don't be a douche-bag with Untappd. It isn't a competition or pissing contest. If you post to social media add some value to the conversation, and please leave the check-ins far away from social situations.
Those are our thoughts. What are yours? Of course, not all of us at Hoosier Beer Geek are of the same mind. For a HBG counterpoint, read Jason's response to this post.