Posted on August 28, 2014 by: Barron Swope, Project Manager
A few weeks ago, the popular social check-in app Foursquare unveiled a major redesign of its app. Like thousands of others, I, too, was not thrilled with the changes, but I’ve spent the last several days experimenting with Foursquare and its new counterpart, Swarm. Let’s take a look.
Before I get into the new platform, I’d like to provide a little history and explain why I’m a fan of this app. When Foursquare launched in 2009, it received some negative buzz. Sites such as pleaserobme.com were launched to poke fun at users sharing where they are at all times. The app was groundbreaking in a sense, as this was the first time people could easily share their check-in status and location with friends. Competitor app Gowalla had a similar check-in functionality, but never had the same magnitude or user base as Foursquare. Facebook acquired Gowalla in 2011.
Foursquare allows me to have an easily accessible record of everywhere I’ve checked in for the past five years. Whether it be day-to-day activity, traveling, photos or reviews – it’s all right on my mobile device, and I can cross-share this activity through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram if I choose. I can’t count how many times I’ve referenced my list of check-ins when speaking about a restaurant or venue I visited at one point, or how many times I’ve read the reviews and browsed the pictures of a place before arriving. The point of the app is to help users explore a new city while sharing your location with friends. The app is set up in a game type of way so users earn points as they check in, and you have the opportunity to become the “mayor” of a location. Badges are also earned; this is basically your flair (think Jennifer Aniston in “Office Space”). It’s also a very valuable tool for bar or restaurant owners who take advantage of its offerings.
That was the old Foursquare.
Let’s talk about the new.
You can no longer check in using Foursquare. Doing so inside the app will prompt you to download a new app called “Swarm,” which is where the check-in feature has been moved. Yes, you now need another app to do what Foursquare was strictly for. This is another instance of large social media companies dismantling their features into new spin-off apps. For instance, Facebook recently announced it will separate in-app messaging, and LinkedIn is now a suite of six apps instead of one.
The new Foursquare is a completely different experience, so I hope you weren’t emotionally attached to the old look. The company has worked with a New York-based design studio, Red Antler, to overhaul the app from strategy to design, and it has unwrapped a completely new visual identity and user interface (very similar to what we do!).
After opening the new app, users are shown a screen asking you to set your “tastes.” These blue and pink bubbles include options such as “bagels,” “massage,” “BYOB” or “live music,” for example. Foursquare uses the selected terms to give you better recommendations. Your tastes can be changed at any time.
After navigating the app for a few minutes, it’s quite apparent the functionality is very similar to Yelp. More on that later.
The new Foursquare knows your location (just as it did previously), and the main home page displays suggestions for breakfast, brunch, lunch, coffee, dinner, dessert or nightlife based on the time of day. Categories for shopping, fun and sights are also present, but the main focus is on food.
The app suggests places based on your check-in history, if your friends have ever checked in there, user reviews and ratings, recommendations and, of course, your location. Once you’ve selected a place, you’re taken to a page displaying photos, maps, menus, tips, hours of operation and general contact information. I salute Foursquare on this as they’ve done a great job with the individual establishment pages.
Moving Beyond the Check-In
Users are still able to open Foursquare to check in. By clicking the “Here” button in the navigation or by clicking the “Check-In” button on an establishment’s page, the app opens Swarm, allowing you to check in and promptly return to Foursquare.
Since Foursquare launched in 2009, it’s collected a massive data pile consisting of 6 billion check-ins, 55 million tips, 65 million places and millions of photos thanks to the Foursquare community. The company maintains an open API on which over 65,000 apps rely. Popular apps such as Uber, Untappd, Vine, Worldcam and Instagram use the Foursquare location data API. Instagram was acquired by Facebook in 2009 and continues to use the Foursquare API instead of Facebook’s own Graph API.
Because of all this data, Foursquare is able to launch a new app that poses a threat for Yelp, whose app has dominated the local business review market. Both apps have their differences (for example, Foursquare has “tips” while Yelp has “reviews”), but for the most part the apps are focused on the same thing. When comparing the two, I find Foursquare much more aesthetically pleasing and overall more useful than Yelp, and since I rarely use Yelp, I now have an excuse to delete it.
How About Swarm?
Swarm has not had a welcome reception from the Foursquare community. After launch, Foursquare experienced a backlash of users upset about changes to an app to which users have become accustomed for the past five years. Swarm currently holds a 1.5-star review rating on the Apple Store, and there’s even a Kill Swarm Twitter feed.
Swarm has a new feature called “Plans,” which I have yet to see any of my friends use, and, frankly, I don’t expect them to. It’s an open-ended suggestion area for any of your friends that want to gather or meet up.
I’m not a big fan of the layout. The check-in button is awkwardly placed in the top right corner, rather than the previous placement at the bottom center in the old Foursquare. Throughout my 1,300+ check-ins on Foursquare, I’ve accumulated 59 badges that are nowhere to be found in Swarm (I worked hard for that Hot Tamale 10x badge!), and my “lists” of saved places, well, those are in your Foursquare profile, not to be confused with your Swarm profile. And what happened to mayorships? There was a time when being the mayor of a place meant something, such as reserved parking (Google “Foursquare reserved parking” if you think I’m kidding). Without the “game” aspects that the app once held, it will struggle to gain traction.
Being an avid Foursquare user, I was originally opposed to the change. I think check-ins could have been retained in the main app, but I also understand the reason for splitting it up.
It’s a risky move for Foursquare to enter a new market, but I feel it was necessary to stay afloat. If the company kept Foursquare strictly to check-ins and put everything that the new Foursquare is now into a new app, it would never take off. The Foursquare name has enough presence that it all makes total sense. I urge any longtime users opposed to the new app to give it a try – you might like it. For any Yelp users looking for a change or anyone looking for a great mobile app to help explore a city, look no further than the new Foursquare.