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With Swarm app, Foursquare about much more than checking in

Al Sacco | May 21, 2014
Last week location-based social network Foursquare released a new mobile app and broke its service into two components. The new "Swarm" app for iOS and Android (a Windows Phone version is expected later this summer) is for check-ins and friend-finding, while the evolved foursquare app will no longer features check-in functionality and focuses instead on local search.

Finally, there are new "stickers" that can be tied to individual check-ins. For example, you can add a coffee mug icon to your check-ins at Starbucks or a running shoe to your check-in at the gym. I'm not sold on stickers just yet, but apparently you can unlock all kinds of new ones by checking to a variety of venue types, so I'll reserve judgment on the stickers for now.

3) Neighborhood Sharing and Plans

Along with the gamification changes, Swarm adds two new features: Neighborhood Sharing and Plans.

Neighborhood Sharing lets nearby friends know when you enter an area near them, and vice versa, to inspire you to make new plans or get together when you might not have otherwise. You can easily turn Neighborhood Sharing on and off by sliding a tab at the top of the app's home screen back and forth.

The new Plans feature lets you broadcast a message to all of you nearby friends to, say, let them know you'll be at a bar or restaurant after work. You can also receive notifications when your friends send out new plans, so you don't miss an opportunity to get together. The idea is to help coordinate new plans, as the name suggests; combined with Neighborhood Sharing, Swarm is a new way to find friends in the area and quickly communicate to arrange an event.

In the past, Foursquare was very valuable when I travelled to conferences and events, because most of my Foursquare connections are colleagues who also attended these conferences. The app let me quickly find those friends — and in some cases, avoid them — and these two new Swarm features could make the service a valuable coordination tool. The features would be more valuable, however, if there was a way to send targeted messages to, say, sets of friends or only coworkers.

Overall, these new features will add value to service, but Neighborhood Sharing could drain significant battery life if left on, and it's useless if you have to keep turning it off to save power.

For Foursquare, Change is Good

One look at the Apple App Store reviews for Swarm plainly shows that many Foursquare users are not happy with the changes. "Don't like having to use two apps to check into one place." "Foursquare was my go-to app to check-in. Now it's not as entertaining." "I've been a Foursquare user for years, and I just can't figure out why they are insisting on splitting the app in two." Etc.

I had similar feelings when I first downloaded Swarm — but after careful thought, this move really does make sense for Foursquare. Some changes will rub loyal users the wrong way, as demonstrated by the App Store reviews. Swarm is also brand new, so the company will presumably polish some of the rough edges as it matures.


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