I’ve been a Foursquare user since early 2010. I joined on a whim after seeing the check-ins of numerous friends invade my various feeds. And, 4,000+ check-ins later, I’m still hooked. Like any good app, it meets a lot of superficial needs I never knew I had until it came along. Keeping a record of every delicious meal, bad movie, and interesting museum I’ve ever been to certainly has its appeal – it’s been years since I kept a proper diary and my memory isn’t what it used to be. And the nosy side of me that practices the art of Facebook-stalking loves to know about the locations frequented by a handful of my close friends and acquaintances.
Up until recently, I also really liked that Foursquare has essentially stayed the same despite all these years of slight app updates. Points, badges, leaderboards, tips, friendly reminders about the last time I had visited the Starbucks in Penn Station, eaten at a Japanese restaurant, or seen a baseball game. All fun, informative, and a unique way to feel more connected to others in my life. I even got a weird sense of accomplishment with each mayorship, despite the fact that that no political prowess or mass popularity was involved in such a feat.
In May, the company made a big announcement that it was splitting itself up into two distinct applications: Foursquare proper, which will ultimately evolve into a personalized Yellow Pages-style local search that is curated by experts, and Swarm, focused solely on check-ins and connecting with friends to make plans. In their words, this move aligns with Foursquare’s two distinct purposes: “to keep up and meet up with friends, and to discover great places.”
I was on vacation in Europe and checking in quite often when Swarm was made available. (During the same trip, Facebook also switched its mobile app to default to “top stories” and Twitter changed its layout. It was a rough time for change-phobic social media addicts like myself.) I found the switch quite confusing, particularly the inability to browse the details of possible locations before checking in to make sure you’re selecting the right place; not being fluent in any Scandinavian languages, this was a challenge. It was also cumbersome to switch between apps in order to meet all of my checking-in and information-gathering needs. Gone were some of the things I liked – points, leaderboards, badges, and mayorships beyond my circle of connections. Instead there are “stickers,” which I still don’t understand – they seem to be rewarded randomly and make me feel even more like a teenager than the emoji I use while texting a bit more often than I’d like to admit.
The change has been hailed by some as a bold move that could really pay off for Dennis Crowley & co. – after all, how many apps actually reduce features instead of adding them these days? But it instantly made me wonder what drove this decision. Is this more about potential revenue growth or timely response to consumer demand? To what extent have Foursquare users been placed into segments that allow the brand to quantify key areas of opportunity and features to enhance? If so, how detailed are the portraits of each customer type? Do they understand the ins and outs of each group’s motivations, habits, and preferences?
I’ve heard rumblings about future changes to Swarm and Foursquare that will make the process smoother and suit the user’s needs in a more logical way. But in the meantime, this longtime customer is left feeling a little confused about what information was actually used to inform such a major business decision – and whether users like me are being considered strategically.