Last week location-based social network Foursquare released a new mobile app and broke its service into two components. The new "Swarm" app for iOS and Android (a Windows Phone version is expected later this summer) is for check-ins and friend-finding, while the evolved foursquare app will no longer features check-in functionality and focuses instead on local search.
After spending the past few days kicking the tires on the Swarm app, it is clear that Swarm represents a major change for — one that could drastically alter the way people use the service and could alienate the loyal users who helped the company build its vast location database.
Here are three things you should know about Swarm and the associated changes to Foursquare, as well as some thoughts on what they mean to Foursquare users and the company. (Note: I reached out to Foursquare for comments on a number of points made in this article, but I haven't received a response. I'll update this post accordingly if I do.)
1) Swarm for Check-Ins, Foursquare for Local Search
When I first installed Swarm and opened the separate Foursquare app, I was prompted to check out a "preview" of the new local search feature. When I accepted, the check-in functionality was stripped out of my Foursquare app. It's unclear how exactly the apps will work together when the official Foursquare local-search app is released "later this summer," but the preview provides a good idea of how the apps could coexist.
Though both apps can mostly be used independently, the two services are still heavily integrated. For example, if I use Swarm to search for nearby venues to check into, but I want to find additional location information for a venue or read tips left by other Foursquare users, I can click the View in Foursquare button on the Swarm venue page to open the Foursquare app. On the flip side, if I use Foursquare to search for nearby coffee shops and I then want to check into one, I can hit the Check In Here button, and the Swarm app will open a check-in page for that venue.
The integration between the apps is relatively simple, and there are Back buttons on the first screens when you jump between apps, so you can quickly return to the previous app. But the switching back and forth already feels repetitive, and I've only been using it for a few days. (Foursquare is not the only major app maker to recently split it offerings into dedicated apps; in April, Facebook pulled its chat app out of its full social-networking app.)
Why break the app in two? The potential audience for an effective local-search app based on reliable information from real people is a hell of a lot bigger than a social-media app designed to let your connections know where you are. Frankly, the vast majority of people usually do not want their friends, or anyone else, to know where they are.
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