Foursquare recently stirred up the world of social check-ins by splitting its popular app into two parts — the original check-in functionality going to the new Swarm app, and the location discovery and information portion fully taking over the original app. Yes, it's confusing. Yes, it could have you reaching for the delete button, but could it also be for the better? Considering Foursquare is one of the only apps I use when traveling, the change made me both skeptical and nervous. Now that I have the new Foursquare in my pocket, will I remain loyal, or will I go running back to Yelp?
When I originally started using Foursquare several years ago, it was all about competing for mayorships and topping the leaderboards with check-in points. Mayors sometimes got special privileges such as a free drink while visiting, which greatly encouraged people to use the service. This allowed Foursquare to collect lots of user data that included tips, photos, and information about what you liked and didn't like.
Foursquare tips were easy to leave and lots of folks were leaving them. I never used Yelp because at the time, you couldn't actually post a tip or review unless you completed it from a desktop computer. This was not only inconvenient, but in my opinion severely limited information I found on many places. That was a deal breaker for me, so I committed myself to Foursquare.
Over time, the Foursquare service itself evolved into a place to find useful information instead of just a place to rack up check-in points. This led to Foursquare taking the emphasis off of points and mayorships and focusing instead on helping businesses gain exposure both through the eyes of their customers and through exclusive promotions, which allowed check-ins to stay constant.
I found a new appreciation for Foursquare while traveling abroad last year. Time and again I found myself skipping over all my other travel apps in favor of real life opinions of locals through Foursquare. I discovered more than I could have asked for and each time the recommendations were spot on. However, there were still tiny quirks and annoyances when it came to discovery, such as having to search for certain things over and over again instead of Foursquare just knowing that's what I wanted.
For example, there are certain kinds of foods that I prefer regularly. I drink more coffee than any one person should and am constantly on the hunt for great new local cafes and shops to try. While I could find these places with the old Foursquare, the new Foursquare makes it much easier. Since I can now tell Foursquare what my specific tastes are, I'm now getting served up places that I want to see without actually having to search for them, and that saves me time.
Another newly added feature is the ability to follow people. Before you could accept friend requests which then allowed someone to see all of your check-in and location data. Following is a bit different and can be done by anyone. They can then see your tips and information that you leave on places, but won't see every check-in you make unless you actually friend them through Swarm.
That means that I can follow people that have the same tastes as me, but I don't necessarily have to allow them to see where I am at all times. They can follow me in return and enjoy the same privacy, yet we both benefit from any tips and knowledge we share. While Foursquare will always feed in tips based on your tastes, it'll put priority on people you're actually following, which puts you in the driver's seat.
As you rate places within Foursquare, you're now asked a series of questions. Depending on how you rate things, Foursquare may serve up a couple of new tastes it thinks are a good match. Simply tap on them to add them to your profile. You can also manually search for tastes and add them so Foursquare starts including them immediately in recommendations.
One thing I really enjoyed from the old Foursquare app was the ability to add to lists and easily find and follow other people's lists. To me this was an easy way to create lists for cities around the world and then add great shops and restaurants I want to remember to visit. Sadly, the lists feature has been crippled in the new version of Foursquare.
While you can still find your lists under the saved section of your profile, you can no longer create lists and edit them on the go. I also can't find a way within the app to discover new lists I may want to follow. This is a huge disappointment for me since I relied heavily on lists to sort and organize points of interest. Now places I save just get lumped together under a generic saved section. Too bad I won't even remember what city they're in after long.
The Foursquare website seems to still have list functionality, but will that be taken away eventually? And if not, why should I be forced to a desktop computer in order to manage my lists and add to them? That completely defeats the purpose of me saving points of interest while on the go. And isn't that the point of Foursquare, to get out and explore instead of sitting behind a computer screen?
In my initial review of Swarm, I felt like I understood the direction that Foursquare was heading in. Now that the newly revamped version of Foursquare is available, I'm not so sure. There's still a lot of bits and pieces in the current Foursquare app that are confusing to me — such as the check-in tab. Here sits a pointless tab that serves no purpose but to route me to the Swarm app when I try checking in somewhere. Why not just put a check-in button on every location's info page, or allow it to hover as it did before, and only then automatically route me to Swarm?
I would have rather had a dedicated lists tab fill that space. Not only would this give me a way to quickly get back to places I've saved previously, it also gives Foursquare a unique opportunity to present me with featured lists I may like. That's a huge missed opportunity for promotion, and that's in no one's best interest.
There are also bits and pieces of the Swarm app that are irritating, such as tagging people. Their name simply shows up in my check-in where I then have to include them in a sentence. Wait, what? Just let me tag them with me and take care of the rest like it was in the old Foursquare app. It's clumsy, unintuitive, and awkward.
All the tools are there for the new version of Foursquare to be really great, but when it comes to execution and fitting the pieces together, both Foursquare and Swarm miss the mark. If you want me to use two separate apps, you have to show me why both of those apps are valuable to me.
Right now Swarm serves little purpose to me other than having a record of my check-ins. None of my friends have yet to use the meet up feature or send me a message. There are also little flaws and annoyances that shouldn't be there, such as awkward tagging. Meanwhile, the Foursquare app still reserves space for a check-in feature that isn't even there anymore. Yet features a lot of users loved and depended on, such as lists, have been stripped of their usefulness and severely crippled.
I'll leave my verdict out on whether or not discovery has improved that drastically until my next large trip at the end of this year. I'm really hoping that Foursquare can dig deeper before then and put together some of the pieces that still feel very out of place. Until then, I'll be moving Yelp to the first page of all my Home screens, just in case.
What about you?
iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.