Flocking to Swarm?

News from a couple of days back has just reached my ears, and it looks set to change probably my most fundamental smartphone behaviour. Foursquare is splitting into two applications, changing the core app’s focus from check-ins and tips to recommendations and reviews. A new app, entitled Swarm, will host the check-in based social interactions, in a more streamlined and nuanced manner.

Foursquare + Swarm logos

When I was first told this I panicked, because unlike changes to something like Facebook, I actually get a lot of enjoyment out of Foursquare. I’m something of an evangelist when people come to ask just what it is I’m doing on my phone, moments after I’ve squinted at the restaurant sign or T-bana station plaque to make sure I get its name right. I think it’s because of that sense of investment that I feel good about this development, though.

For those who somehow aren’t familiar with Foursquare, I should take a moment to explain that this is currently a location-based application with two main uses:

  • ‘check in’ to a place and announce your presence there, to friends and Foursquare users or bounced out to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook;
  • ‘explore’ locations around you – usually by name or category – and get a map, a quick run-down of prices and facilities, and a note to say if any of your friends have visited before.

There are plenty of other features and uses, including lists (user-curated recommendations or collections, like my own for locations making up the Swedish Solar System), and check-in history (which I use both as a memento and a reference for my photographic adventures), but check-ins and recommendations are the go-to features, as highlighted by Foursquare themselves.

For those who do know what Foursquare is, I recommend taking a look at this article from The Verge, which goes into much greater detail about the split in Foursquare’s user cases – and why each may be holding the other back.

Swarm

Something I’ve become painfully aware of is the way that tips – a feature intended to encourage regular visitors to a place to share things like menu tips or good parking spaces – inevitably become a space for (usually negative) short reviews. Many’s the time I’ve checked into a motorway service station only to be told “turn back around and flee this place”. Not terribly helpful, and this is where it seems my concerns as user and those of Foursquare are in alignment.

So, for that reason I think Foursquare could do well with a Yelp-style platform for more nuanced reviews, feeding back into an ‘explore’ feature which has in the past, led me to some very fine restaurants – but largely by chance, and not through access to user reviews – at least, not until now.

Naturally I worry about the implications of a move to a whole new app. in Swarm, since that is where the vast majority of my screen-taps will take me to. I’ve used Foursquare for a long time now, building up a history and even a high-score (of 697, earned on a mad late-night jaunt around the M25), and so I’m as paranoid as any compulsive user would be. There’s also a part of me which is a bit miffed at being declared one of the niche users, ushered away from an application I like because part of it happens to tap into an pleasurable, compulsive behaviour for me. I’m also excited though, especially as Swarm could take this treasured activity of mine into exciting new directions.

Foursquare have announced they’ll be launching Swarm in the next few weeks. There’s a sign-up page here if you – like me – would like notification when this happens. The remodeled Foursquare is planned for an unspecified date in Summer.