Thursday, May 22, 2014

Foursquare Loses Me

After hearing awhile ago that one of my favourite mobile apps, Foursquare, would me splitting into two I was not eager for the changes.  I'm not normally one who hates all changes to their favourite apps. (Every time Facebook makes any change I can anticipate the tiresome complaints from the regular suspects.)

I was an early adopter and continual user of Foursquare and blogged a lot about them. For those not familiar with Foursquare - or who checked it out when it launched and then forgot about it - Foursquare is a leader in location-based services and geosocial networking.  Since its launch, people could virtually indicate their presence at a physically location through the service. Users could also add associated public reviews or share status updates for one's friends.  The app made it easy to see where your friends were and to find nearby places and business of interest.

Earlier this month, Foursquare announced they would be splitting these services into two apps. A new app, Swarm, would be launched for geosocial networking and the Foursquare app would maintain social recommendation features.

I acknowledge that many of the gaming and title features that initially drove usage through novelty - the mayorships of places and humourous badges based on check-ins - were no longer compelling. There were occasional real-world benefits - in my years of using Foursquare I got a free gelato and a 10% discount on concessions from my local cinema. Ben Heyman addresses Foursquare and other app's challenges with pointless gamification, Foursquare Committed Suicide, Signaling the End of the Gamification Fad.

But it wasn't all about that. And, I still believe Foursquare had unique value

It's great as a place diary. I enjoying recording and sharing with my friends any interesting places I was at or any interesting commentary I had. Not everything merits publishing on Facebook or Twitter.

I also liked the ability to explore the world around me. It's great to find out if there are businesses near to me that my friends or other users like. But I enjoy the social and unofficial histories of normal and special places that Foursquare offered. Foursquare also had lists that enabled social, place-based curation that was also great. Granted, the app Findery is doing this better, but they have only recently launched an app (iPhone only) and it has not hit a critical mass that gives it vitality or stickiness.

I liked how Foursquare had all these features in one place. I loved how it was an app where the central feature is place. This allows a different view of the world than other apps entail. It grounds us to our place, while opening up our world to our social network.

I understood why Foursquare needed to change to keep their massive number of users, however. Matthew Panzarino wrote an excellent article on this for TechCrunch, Foursquare’s Swarm And The Rise Of The Invisible App. He argues that as smartphone media have become more mature we have transitioned from replicated prior technology to multi-purpose apps that offerred a plethora of features (such as Foursquare). In the era of people ever-increasing number of apps and ever-dwindling free time, we are now seeing a new era of apps,
These ‘invisible apps’ are less about the way they look or how many features they cram in and more about maximizing their usefulness to you without monopolizing your attention.... A confluence of factors have made these kinds of context-aware apps possible at this point in time. Increasing power efficiency in physical memory and device processors has led to better battery life
 Today, I tried out the new app Swarm and a sneak-peak of the new Foursquare (the old interface is being grandfathered out).

Swarm is definitely easy-to-use and seems great at what it does - geosocial networking. Swarm has features Foursquare didn't have, such as social coordination tools (helps you plan a semi-spontaneous events with your circle), auto check-in options, and better friend geo-tracking displays. The ability to set Swarm to check you into places automatically is key to its utility as Wired has identified. There are also some "sticker" features that I seem like glorified emoticons. But the place check-in is central to the app, as it was with Foursquare. One can check into a place manually in the same way as one did before on Foursquare. Once checked into a place Swarm is linking to Foursquare for friends' and other users' reviews.

Swarm is cool, but aimed at the party crowd (which I am not one any more - okay I never was).  There are (or rather were) many apps that did this. Perhaps, Foursquare's large number or users and slick interface will help it succeed where others have failed.

Downloading Swarm is super quick and easy. Foursquare is automatically porting user's data to Swarm. It makes transferring to the new app easy.  So from that standpoint the split is handled well, but some people might not like their data ported to another app without their permission (or knowledge).

The old Foursquare app will become essentially just a social and proximity recommendation app for businesses and sites pretty much just like Yelp or Yellow Pages' app. With the geosocial networking features largely removed from Foursquare, it seems like the only reason to use it would be when one wants to get a recommendation for a nearby business or site with one's friends reviews getting special status. Foursquare long ago buried their lists features to the point that it is impossible to find other users lists.

So now Foursquare becomes a passive tool for searching for proximal info. I get that local search and advertising is a potentially lucrative market for much-needed revenue for the company. It's definitely a useful feature, which I will no doubt use occasionally. But unless I'm travelling, I don't visit very many new areas. And when I do go somewhere new and special, I am not going to use two apps. Foursquare used to be the app that made place a single, pivotal focus. By splitting its focus, it adds up to less than the sum of its original parts.

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