For those who don’t know, Untappd is an app that allows you to track and rate the beers that you drink.
It also helps you discover what beers are available nearby or at certain venues, so you can hunt down the rare whalez when they hit town. On top of which there are some rudimentary social media elements: you can friend people and ‘toast’ (like) or comment on their check-ins. But really it’s the tracking and rating that lie at the core of the app users’ activity.
This is all gamified by the awarding of badges – so many badges – and prominently displaying the count of beers each user has logged. The unspoken idea being that higher the number of unique beers logged, the more god tier your drinking must be.
I used to use Untappd, and logged beers relatively often. My aim was to create a record that I could go back and check if I wanted to remember what I thought of a certain beer, or find out whether or not I had tried one before. Only that’s not how it worked out.
Caught up in the numbers game
I checked in 727 beers with Untappd of which 669 were unique. This might seem like a fair amount but it’s actually not that impressive. Untappd has been active for a few years now. It has plenty of users who are well into four figures. And the ridiculous thing is that I was caught up in competing with them. In some small way, this meaningless number mattered to me.
I was aware it was ridiculous but that didn’t stop that unique count pulling on me, and encouraging me to drink more beers. I was subject to a constant push-pull of wanting to build up this number and being annoyed and frustrated with myself for caring about something so transparently pointless.
Turning beer into a chore
On nights out I faced an awkward choice: should I log the beers right away and interrupt my fun?
Pretty quickly I found that logging the beers became a pain. It was fine at home, where I had time to mull over my thoughts and compose notes at my leisure. But if you’re buying into an app like Untappd it only really makes sense if you use it all the time. I wonder how many of us drink at home all the time. I know I don’t. On nights out I faced an awkward choice: should I log the beers right away and interrupt my fun? If I decided to catch up later I risked relying on sometimes hazy memories – particularly when I’d sampled a few very similar beers.
The rating of beers is a huge subject. Do you rate to style? Can you presume to know the brewer’s intention? How much should you try to account for the subjective nature of the whole endeavour?
I won’t go into this in depth, but I will mention it as another source of my frustration with the app. Even though I had a scoring system, it only worked for me. Other people couldn’t necessarily rely on my ratings nor me on theirs. And so, after a while, it all feels somewhat arbitrary.
Don’t look back…
After using the app for a while I realised that it didn’t even work for the original aims I had in mind. I rarely if ever checked back in my past ratings. And anyway I was never really assiduous enough at logging my beers, so the records were patchy at best. In fact as time went on there were more and more beers that I didn’t bother to log – even the sought-after ones that would have brought in plenty of imaginary internet points and kudos in-app.
So what then was the point?
In the end there was no point for me, and so I simply stopped using it.
This is not to say I don’t think others should use it. Or that taking notes of beers you’ve drunk is a bad idea – quite the opposite: I encourage that and want to do more of it myself. It promotes thoughtful engagement with the beer and a deeper appreciation. But there’s a time and a place – and that’s not in the pub with your friends. Too often this is where Untappd can feel at its most intrusive.
If you use Untappd, or used to and have stopped like me, then I’d love to hear what you think about it in the comments below.