Foursquare spun off its most-used feature, check-ins, into a separate app called Swarm in May. To say diehard Foursquare fans are irate would be an understatement--some are near apoplectic over the unbundling. So the company is rolling out its first Swarm update to address some common complaints.
Now when you check in to a location, Swarm shows a leaderboard and mayorship, but just among your friends. Foursquare used to gamify check-ins by letting everyone compete to be mayor, but those days are gone. Another huge problem that the Swarm update is trying to address: The new app's location-finder is weirdly nowhere near as robust or accurate as Foursquare's, though both are powered by the same tech. Back-end improvements should help the app actually find where you are, and quickly.
But the update doesn't address the fundamental reason why hundreds of reviewers on iTunes and Google Play are ripping Swarm apart. Foursquare has stripped its reason for being out of the main app and forced its 50 million users to install Swarm if they want to continue to check in to locations, after which they have to toggle between the two apps for some approximation of the way Foursquare used to be. It's an inelegant solution to a nonexistent problem.
The iTunes ratings for Swarm are lower and the reviews more vicious than on Google Play, where the app has a 4-star average, but even fans of Swarm are asking why Foursquare needed to unbundle itself in the first place. The company amassed billions of pieces of location data with its popular check-in function--it kept people coming back. You could earn points and badges, become mayor of your neighborhood restaurant, and even unlock discounts just by checking in. Swarm shed most of the gamification features that made Foursquare a success. You can still compete for mayorships, but against your friends instead of everyone. Badges are gone, replaced with stickers. (Ugh, stickers.)
"You can't split an app like stock shares and expect to double your user exposure," wrote one iTunes reviewer. "You're basically downgrading your use, and therefore killing both apps."
Foursquare's master plan
But Foursquare doesn't want to be the check-in app anymore, which is why it launched Swarm. The company is beefing up its recommendation engine to become a more powerful, personalized Yelp that constantly hums in the background of your life, waiting to helpfully offer you tips based on your location and where you've been in the past.
Foursquare is betting that it doesn't need badges or points or mayorships anymore, but it knows that people still want those things. But still, disgruntled reviewers disagree that gamification was holding Foursquare back.
One said that her friends "never once used [Foursquare] to find new places to go or to meet up with friends. It was all about the game aspect."
Swarm broadcasts your location to friends on the app without requiring an active check-in, so you can easily find each other. That feature isn't exactly popular either.
Another reviewer: "Who needs an app to track where other people are? That's what texts are for. No one wants, or likes, anyone just popping by uninvited, it just ruins the mood. If you're not invited, don't think an app will get you there. Stalking, anyone?"
These are common sentiments across both iOS and Android.
Foursquare has yet to launch its revamped app, which could answer all questions and satisfy all complaints when it lands later this summer. And with a few improvements, Swarm could be the gamified check-in app that Foursquare fans miss. But as it stands, Foursquare's unbundling hasn't exactly been smooth sailing.