Foursquare splits in two, creating new app, Swarm

Think Foursquare is just a check-in app? Think again. The 5-year-old company is splitting up its app, premiering a new recommendation-based Foursquare app and a social location-based app called Swarm.

Foursquare Labs, Inc.
Foursquare is splitting into two apps: a social app called Swarm, and a recommendation app with the original Foursquare name and brand.

For the last several years, FourSquare has been going through a bit of an identity crisis. Is it a social app where people can see where their friends are checked in? Yes, but so are Apple’s Find My Friends, and Facebook’s location check-in services. Is it an exploration app that people can use to get recommendations? Yes, but so is Yelp. Between the growing number of social apps, FourSquare felt it needed to do something different to stand out. And with more than 5 billion check-ins and counting, it knew it was on to something.

With that in mind, Foursquare is splitting its app into two separate apps: Swarm, which will be a solely location-based social app, and Foursquare, which will focus on location-based recommendations and tips. It’s a risky move, and certainly could backfire on the 5-year-old company. But Foursquare believes it has to make big moves to continue to keep up in the highly competitive mobile and social app world.

"We spend a lot of time talking to people about Foursquare, and we constantly hear they use Foursquare for two things – to keep up and meet up with their friends, and to discover great places,” writes Foursquare in a blog. “Every month, tens of millions of people open up the app to do each.”

"But, as it turns out, each time you open the app, you almost always do just one of those things,” adds Foursquare.

That’s why the app will be split in two. “We realized that there was a ton we wanted to do on both sides that we can’t do if they are married together," says Jon Steinback, Foursquare’s vice president of product experience, to The Verge. "It’s like we were in a three legged race and each side was slowing the other side down."

Here’s how it will break down.

Swarm will be focused on the social aspect of the service. Users won’t show their precise location, but rather an “ambient awareness” of where their friends are, more along the lines of a neighborhood or city.

“With Swarm, you can easily see which of your friends are out nearby, figure out who is up for grabbing a drink later, and share what you’re up to (faster and more easily than you can in Foursquare today),” adds Foursquare.

Unlike Facebook’s “Nearby Friends,” a feature that concerned privacy advocates, the fact that people have to actively download Swarm ameliorates some of the creepiness of this location-sharing app.

Foursquare, on the other hand, will remain but with a renewed focus on recommendation and location-based exploring. Though the company is still mum on what it will specifically look like, it has said it will start building off the data it has collected through billions of check-ins in its short history. It will remember cuisine preferences (for example, after you have visited four or five Italian restaurants, it will search nearby for one wherever you are). It will also be more active in sending users recommendations from friends and experts that get at what users really want to know in real time.

“We believe local search should be personalized to your tastes and informed by the people you trust,” says Foursquare. “The opinions of actual experts should matter, not just strangers. An app should be able [to] answer questions like ‘give me a great date dinner spot’ and not just ‘tell me the nearest gas station.’ ”

The first step in this transformation? Swarm is set to drop on iOS and Android in coming weeks. The updated Foursquare will follow. Though this is a bit of a shot in the dark for the app, it founders envision a future where Foursquare and Swarm will be a conduit for making friends and embarking on new adventures.

"I walked into a restaurant and it told me what to order,” says Foursquare chief executive Dennis Crowley to The Verge. “I walked into a neighborhood and it told me three places to go to. My plane landed in a city I’ve never been to and it’s telling me that two friends are nearby. That’s stuff that we’re doing now, and I think what people will get is that it’s very clearly the future."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to