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."

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