Foursquare - Swarm = Yelp but better (more mobile friendly)

Foursquare and Five Years Ago…

I became a registered user of Foursquare shortly after its debut in March of 2009. It was exciting at first, checking in at various locations, seeing which of my friends had recently been there, becoming the mayor. I felt somewhat like a pioneer too as I created many of the locations where I wanted to check in. However, the fun quickly began to fade. Very few of my friends used the app and even fewer businesses in my town did. I was always looking for Foursquare deals or rewards and becoming discouraged when they didn’t exist. So, I bailed.

Upon reading that Foursquare was splitting into two separate apps, my first reaction was, “Foursquare still exists??” The more I read, the more I was surprised to find out how many people were still registered users of the app. Now, who knows if they are active users – Foursquare doesn’t release that kind of information. But what struck me after the initial shock of its continued existence is the kind of change it was trying to make. It’s clear that the company is trying to stay relevant and make their apps (Swarm and Foursquare) more efficient in pursuit of their individual goals. Nevertheless, I think the issue is that some of their goals are irrelevant.

Serious accusation? Maybe, but let’s take a look: Swarm – what is it? Users can see which of their friends are nearby, make plans, and share their location. My thoughts? Most of my friends and I use Snapchat, Instagram, or a good old-fashioned iMessage to announce where we are and what we are doing. A few of them even use Find My Friends to track each other’s locations – no thanks. The one edge that Swarm still has is what originally got me hooked to Foursquare: gamification. The mayorships, stats, and badges continue to encourage the addiction… kinda. Although they still exist, these features have all changed. Mayors are now dependent upon friend groups. So, a location may have many mayors that are all strangers to one another. The stats no longer have points assigned to them, removing the drive to go to new places to earn more points. Badges are gone and have been replaced by stickers. Stickers? Who wants a sticker when you could get a badge back in 2010?? I can see how this could have the same appeal as long as all your friends were using the app. But, what if they aren’t? Swarm has removed the competition from strangers and made your social life, or lack thereof, more painfully apparent.

As far as the new mission of Foursquare, although the app hasn’t been released yet, the buzz it’s creating sounds like they may be on to something. Their main goal is to do what Yelp already does, but better. First off, it may seem silly, but their interface is so much prettier. Coming to a pretty site or app always causes me to instill so much more confidence in the quality of service they can provide. Don’t judge me. Past looks though, the functionality and purpose of what Foursquare wants to do continues to give it an edge on Yelp. Their data will be organized to provide a much more personalized and dynamic search and recommendations for users. They have years of experience with many of their users’ preferences, trends, and opinions. Also, the “tip” feature and rating system encourages quick feedback for people on the go. It is done in the location, which just makes sense. In Yelp, most feedback comes in the form of long, drawn out posts from dedicated customers or disgruntled, rude visitors. I don’t want to read all that. So, Foursquare is focused on giving mobile, real-time data which makes it much more relevant to our present and future than Yelp.

BUT.

There are a few things that Yelp has already established that will make the success of this app launch so questionable:

  1. iOS integration in Maps – iPhone users use Yelp all the time without knowing it!
  2. Yahoo uses Yelp reviews in its searches – yes, people still use Yahoo…
  3. Developing corporate/local business partnerships – they offer paid search, competitor listings, call to action overlays, and incorrect/duplicate listing management

There’s also the simple issue of overcoming bored ex-users’ past understanding of what Foursquare is and does. They did themselves a favor by packaging up most of who they were and putting it a box of pretty, but unnecessary toys called Swarm. But now they have a whole world of people who used to “check in” on Foursquare and are over it. Personally, I hope they are able to pull this off. If this app does and is what it claims, it IS better and more relevant than Yelp. I will be downloading it when it comes out and I will encourage my friends to do the same. But I don’t have that many friends – certainly not enough to resuscitate what sounds like an old fad. This seems like a pretty significant risk. What if it doesn’t really catch on? Has the company put themselves in a corner with little chance of success?

Then, I saw it – their billion dollar idea. They don’t have to grow or offer anything novel. They just have to keep the users that they have so they can maintain their location data intake. With the introduction of background app refresh in iOS7, this has become even easier. Doing away with the “Check In” button is no problem at all when they can track location without it. They will be gathering and sitting on a goldmine of data – where specific users like to go, how often they go there, what they thought of it, etc. That’s when I realized that they may be smarter than they looked at first glance. They don’t need to sell them; they can sell you.

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