Everyone who pretended to like me is gone: some thoughts on Swarm and Foursquare

Douglas Soltys

July 4, 2014 11:55am

Foursquare isn’t the first company to unbundle its services across multiple mobile apps, but it is perhaps the one doing so with the highest level of risk. Facebook is a platform used for many different purposes, and unbundling its mobile experience is at best a win for users, and at worst a minor annoyance without repercussions, because for all the complaining, people en masse have yet to stop using Facebook. Foursquare, however, is a service that started as one thing and then became another; the company hopes that splitting the service into dedicated apps for local and social discovery will revitalize both.

While the new and improved, Yelp-killing Foursquare will not arrive until later this summer, it has been about six weeks since its sister app, Swarm, became available for public use. A streamlined version of Foursquare’s original purpose — letting friends know where you are and what you’re up to — Swarm reimagines many of the original app’s core features (e.g., leaderboards, badges, mayorships, etc.) that had failed to evolve as the service grew from 50,000 to 50,000,000 users. In many ways, Swarm presents itself like a remastered classic, presenting the best So/Lo/Mo ideas of the mid-2000s in a shiny new 2014 package.

Unfortunately for Foursquare, this combination of old and new does not guarantee success.

Foursquare Swarm app

The above photos are a close approximation of what I see when I open the Swarm app: no or few friends close by, and a smattering of friends actively using Swarm/Foursquare (Swarmsquare?) in neighbouring cities. A quick check of the ‘Nearby Plans’ section, a new feature added to allow users to coordinate get togethers, shows only suggested uses, but no real activity. Though the app shows that the most tech-savvy of my friends have at least downloaded Swarm, they’re not necessarily the the ones I’m interested in grabbing a quick beer with — or they live too far away for it to practically matter. While six weeks is obviously not an absolute period of time to pass final judgement, it is long enough to say that Swarm has so far failed to reignite activity from old Foursquare users, or inspire new users to join the mix.

Douglas, you say, maybe the lack of activity in your Swarm feed is an outlier indication of your general popularity, not the relative success of Foursquare’s newest app. Maybe everyone who pretended to like you is gone.

If you said this to me, I’d agree with you. The close friend but casual mobile user, the one that’s up for a beer anytime but always got icky when it came to ‘checking in’, has moved on. But I’m not that sad, because I always know where they are and what they’re up to from the photos they’re posting on their Instagram and Snapchat accounts. (Ironically, until recently Instagram was using Foursquare for its location data.) A generation of mobile users, who couldn’t tell you what So/Lo/Mo or social discovery means, is constantly Snapchatting photos saying, “Come to the bar, NOW!” to all their friends.

The lack of interest in Swarm might be because the masses already have a ‘good enough’ approximation of its functionality in the apps they use daily, but I think it goes deeper than that. For a modern social app, Swarm is decidedly text heavy in an era of photo-based communication. People do what their friends are doing, and right now that means swapping pics. Swarm simply might be guilty of the wrong implementation of the right use case.

Of course, it’s still early days for Swarm, and a v2.0 of the app with an emphasis on photo-based check-ins might light a spark. Swarm’s hiccups also don’t affect the fortunes of the upcoming, Yelp-killing Foursquare redux, right? Well…

Maybe the lack of activity in my Swarm feed is an outlier indication of my general popularity, not the relative success of Foursquare’s newest app. Maybe everyone who pretended to like me is gone.

Carmel Deamicis, writing for PandoDaily, argues that Foursquare’s biggest mistake is not Swarm, but in failing to realize that no matter what the company does, Foursquare will always be associated with check-ins:

All the good that could come of dividing the Foursquare uses into two separate apps — mainly removing the “check in” stigma of the name “Foursquare” from their genuinely useful local recommendations app — is negated by leaving the discovery service under exactly the same name as before. Now users are going to come to Foursquare expecting check-ins and instead getting Yelp.

But although Foursquare and its devotees may know the app is more helpful as a local review engine than a check-in service, the rest of the world does not. To the rest of the world, Foursquare is and will probably always be that weird place where their network-y, social butterfly friends go to check in.

Despite some negative user reviews over the split, Foursquare probably has enough loyal users to keep its location data up to date and profitable (the company recently announced that it will begin charging for use of its location data), but they need more than that. Change is hard, and as I have said before, Foursquare should be commended for making tough choices in an effort to grow and thrive. Right now, however, it seems as though Foursquare’s big split has left it less than the sum of its parts.

  • JB

    Is this the world we live in now?…where we all have to passive aggressively brag where we’re at, at any point in the day?…via facebook, instagram, and foursquare!?

    Seriously where are our priorities, what happened to being direct and telling a REAL friend where we are are because we want them to come hang. I dont know if “Swarm” is doing well or not, but I can tell you I hope it dies….its a stupid app for passive aggressive bragging hipsters just like Foursquare is used….stupid app for the self absorbed.

    PS. That IOS7 reception bar is the ugliest thing ever created lol.

    • 5Gs

      Lol! if you think deep which most of us don’t. We are becoming robots. Even when people meet. What they are actually doing these days. They are on the phone discussing how they are having so much fun where they are while posting pictures but to be honest with you. They are not having fun. They are just there posting pictures of what they imagine to be fun lol

  • IanDickson

    When swarm came along, I’ve kind of lost interest in checking in for the most part. Plus, facebook has a check-in section, but really…not sure if I even want to use that.

  • mrideas

    Was also a loyal foursquarer until Swarm. I hated it. I actually liked the mayorships and the competition around it. Was a fun distraction and let friends know where I was. Hated Swarm. It’s ‘diet’ foursquare with none of the fun elements. I used it for a couple of days and gave up was a poor implementation. Even posting to twitter it included more of it’s hyperlink than my tweet. The remaining four square app didn’t seem to serve a purpose so I sadly deleted both. Classic case of trying to do more but poorly implementing in IMHO.

    • mrideas

      Yes did the same. I had a bunch of mayorships too. Was a super disappointing change IMHO. Plus I really didn’t see the need for another ‘yelp’ when yelp already was well established. Like trying to poorly copy an app that was already well executed.

    • Erin Willmann

      Same :( When I open foursquare, it automatically prompts me to download swarm. Even after I download swarm and go back to foursquare, I wasn’t able to use it anymore because of the swarm pop up. I just deleted both.

    • Ryan Mallon

      I agree, it has been a disappointment. I used to “check in” everywhere, and now I only have about 5 friends who even use Swarm. It’s inaccurate and difficult to search. And as for the “improved” Foursquare, I have no use for a local recommendation app. If I wanted Yelp, I’d use Yelp.

  • Tyler Hardeman

    I’ve used swarm every day since it came out and it has never even appeared in my list, which means it’s been below 2%. I guess your mileage my vary but maybe give it another try.

  • Tyler Hardeman

    The thing that makes swarm is the fact that you can optionally turn on the “always on” tracking. This means that while it won’t give a pinpoint location, it’ll always display a general location of a person who has it on like “downtown” or “[neighborhood name].” By making it a more passive experience you can take some of the work from it. I can choose to check in to any specific place, but if I don’t or I forget at least there’s a general location.

    Now the trick will be how many people who still use foursquare actually migrate over when forced to when the Fourquare app changes and removes the check-in. I personally don’t see it happening even though I’d like it to.

    IS the tracking creepy? There’s an argument that sure it is. But it’s opt in and you can turn it on or off at will, which is the right way to do it. And in all honesty if someone really wanted to find out where I am or lived there are other, more accurate (if maybe more tedious) ways of doing it, so it doesn’t really bother me.

  • John Miguel Lopes Vieira

    The Foursquare app on Blackberry 10 was really excellent. Worked well, looked good. Really an example for devs.

    But Foursquare decided not to release swarm as a native app for BB10. I COULD run the android version, but I don’t want to. I want that native experience.

    So since Foursquare stopped supporting me I will have to stop supporting them.

    • Tyler Hardeman

      And then what happens in the fall when The Amazon app store becomes the BB10 app store and every app will be as you say “not native” ?

    • John Miguel Lopes Vieira

      I will continue to not use Foursquare. I will continue to download the native apps which are available and continue to use android apps to fill the gaps.

      Native is preferred, but I can manage fine. Android apps work well for the most part. sometimes even surprisingly well.

      I can also use the browser for a lot of stuff. The BB10 browser is absolutely fantastic.

  • M-Len

    I have used Foursquare., but I dont see the point. This app does not interest me.

    • Tyler Hardeman

      Good for you?

  • Janette Stevens

    rethink the friendship matter….