Digital Travelling

Foursquare and Swarm: Neither Can Live While The Other Survives

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It is now almost two months since Foursquare split its famous app into two separate apps, Foursquare and Swarm. And its not a love story. 

According to the Verge and other sources mainstream adoption was an issue. One reason for this, Foursquare thinks, is the social aspect. It is supposed to become more social. 

We built Swarm because you’ve told us how often you still have to text your friends: “where are you?” and “what are you up to later?” 

Swarm is supposed to be the social one of the two apps, with the traditional check-ins (now also passiv) and engagement with ‘friends’ through likes, commenting and a new feature called ‘plan’, which I see no value in. 

In the near future, the Foursquare app is also going to go through a metamorphosis. Local search today is like the digital version of browsing through the Yellow Pages (remember those?). We believe local search should be personalized to your tastes and informed by the people you trust. The opinions of actual experts should matter, not just strangers. An app should be able answer questions like ‘give me a great date dinner spot’ and not just ‘tell me the nearest gas station.’ We’re right now putting the final touches on this new, discovery-focused version of Foursquare. It’ll be polished and ready for you later this summer.

Foursquare itself should be focusing on becoming a guide for the people looking for places. Thus, reducing the social location-based encyclopaedia by the social and the active location part.

In essence, Foursquare is supposed to become a source to lookup places, a guide, and Swarm is supposed to be the Social Platform with check-ins.  So far so good. This is actually understandable.



Where Foursquare (and Swarm) went wrong

  • The Social-part of finding friends, sounds great at first. But where exactly? For me, my friends are mostly ‘Far Far Away’. With low adoption, this is a truly pathetic experience in rural areas – even (at least in Europe) in bigger cities. And it makes things actually worse. The feature of the Internet, of digital, is to be (inter-)connected. Now Foursquare/Swarm wants me to show that I am all alone. Yeah, thanks so much.
  • The above point leads straight to another: If I can’t really interact with my friends (locally), why does take Foursquare the Mayorship feature away? At least in its current/previous form. As Felicitas Hackman adequately points out (in German), it’s tons of fun to battle with strangers over a Mayorship. It most certainly also is with friends, but that’s not the point. With more people joining mayorships might be harder to reach, but to keep the gamification, there might be other ‘positions’ or things to implement, like quality manager for most tips (just a stupid idea).
  • But the gamification also got lost with abandoning the badges. Yes, they might be silly, but they make it a little more fun. Plus, to take advantage of them, I’ve never understood why expertise, tips from coffee addicts (Fresh Brew Badge) at coffee shops for instance, never lead to a higher recognition. Gamification with badges and mayorship alongside the social aspect, seeing, liking and commenting on friends posts’ was the competitive advantage Foursquare had in regards to other directories like Yelp.
  • Switching apps: Travellers like myself surely liked the list feature. You can explore and put nice places on your trip on a list, or use an existing, public, list to find (new) places in a (new) city. Awesome. It still exists that feature. But if I want to be check-in in the future (via Swarm) I have to switch apps to consult or see lists. Poorly done. 

All in all, the, as Martin Weigert from/on Netzwertig (in German) put it, the soul of the app is gone

More social through collaboration?!

Let’s assume users really wanted the app to be more social. And the case is certainly strong. I could’ve definitely used some new features in that regards as well. But why do you need to split the app into an online (business) directory/guide and a social application? Is this necessary? 

The new Swarm feature ‘Making Plans’ seems like a great idea at first, but there’s no clear value.  It is like a monologue where I can tag (@-mention) friends like in Twitter. Putting the word out there and see who is going to react. Not my real understanding of being social. 

In my humble opinion, there are thousands of messaging apps – we just recently got the uttermost brilliant app “Yo.” (sarcasm) – out there, so why do we need to have another one? Why do we need to replace people’s usage and communication modes? 

Is it not exactly what Foursquare did? They broke old usage patterns (that they created/enabled) and replaced them without considering existing behaviours. Some of you will argue that the ‘first Foursquare’ was indeed disruptive, which is fair enough. But it complemented and combined (usage) patterns and did not try to replace them.

My personal recommendation is to collaborate and partner with other (messaging) apps to get that social touch. I am well aware that in the race for the best entrepreneur making millions/billions from an exit or IPO, this might seem a little weird. I mean who wants to be the weakling that actually worked with others, right? You’d have to share the fame and glory. However, for the user this would maybe be a great feature, potentially leading to further adoption. Possibly.

Neither can live while the other survives

This phrase, taken from the popular Harry Potter books, more or less states my feelings for the two app, respectively the split. 

What I mean – logicians, bear with me – is, that having both apps (alongside) will not work. Switching from app to app to get the information, engagement, gamification and other important features does not work – in the long run. If I (the user) want those features, why not have them integrated in one app?

App-splitting (see Facebook) for simplicity is trendy. And it might actually make sense. But, for instance, in the case of Facebook (Messenger), the usage behaviour (sending messages) was already in place on the platform. It certainly is true that the blue data giant ‘created’ that usage. But at its core Facebook is a truly social app, where the main user intend is to keep in touch with each other, with other people. In Foursquare’s, respectively Swarm’s case, the focus is still on location (checking-in, discovering, badges, comments, and tips). Even if we consider Swarm’s feature of making plans, it is the location. 

Thus, all in all, it would only make sense to reduce the damage, focus on the core activities and supplement them with other features. Hereby an integration with others (partnership) might come handy. 

Making money.

Not very clever to end this post on this sad note. Shame on me. But, as, again, Felicitas Hackmann (see above) correctly pointed out, it’s about business. Foursquare needs to make money. Remember: Money makes the world go round. But how can this be achieved? Unfortunately, I am not the almighty business God. I wish I was. 

My questions is how Swarm could help Foursquare. Big data, business specials (pop-up/notifications), maybe paid badges, and other ideas are there – how brilliant or not. The only two reasons I could see for the split in that regards are (1) a further adoption (reach) and (2) advertising/monetarization through messaging (keyword ‘dark social’). But, thus far, it doesn’t seem to happen.


Whatever the intend for Foursquare to split into two apps, it does and most likely will not work. The disruption of usage patterns, the loss of gamification, and improper social features with no or little additional value leaves a bad aftertaste. A tabula rasa is impossible, but Foursquare should take a step back an rethink its strategy and product. /jsw



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