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Now you can play Foursquare anywhere

Mobile location-sharing service was only open to users in a few dozen cities, but has now opened up to the world at large--giving it an advantage in the hot "geo" market.

Attention, suburbanites: You, too, can be the mayor of your local Home Depot.

That's because New York-based mobile location-sharing service Foursquare has made a subtle but big improvement. It's no longer restricted to a list of a few dozen cities in North America and Europe, which means that people anywhere in the world can use their mobile phones to "check in" through the service. (Foursquare currently has applications for the iPhone, Palm Pre, and Google Android, as well as a BlackBerry app in development and a mobile Web site.) The new feature is considered to currently be in a soft-launch phase; in new locations, Foursquare will have to rely on users to add venues to build the directory of local spots themselves.

You no longer select your Foursquare 'city' from a drop-down menu--it can be set to anywhere in the world. Foursquare

This is a big deal for Foursquare as it continues to compete with Gowalla, an Austin, Texas-based app with a slicker design, a bigger treasure chest of venture capital, and the ability to "check in" anywhere in the world. Both services also feature a game-like interface, with Gowalla stashing virtual items that you can "pick up" when you check into places, and Foursquare encouraging members to earn "badges" based on habits and become the "mayor" of venues where you've checked in more often than any other users.

Play-by-play between the user interface and functionality of the two apps tend to end in a toss-up. There are also plenty of other companies in the space, like Brightkite and Loopt, so it's still a hotly contested market.

As for your Foursquare friends list, which used to only display friends who were also signed on in the same designated Foursquare-approved city, the service now displays friends who have checked into locations in the same metropolitan area as determined by a given radius. Badges that are specific to location, like New York's "Animal House" badge for checking into too many NYU beer-pong bars, remain city-centric, but badges that are awarded for general check-in habits (like the "Crunked" badge for checking in four times in a night) are now available everywhere.

Foursquare, co-founded by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai, launched last year at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, a few months after Google shut down its predecessor Dodgeball, which Crowley had built as a grad-school project and sold to the company in 2005.