Foursquare pioneered the mobile check-in; a location-based status update that told the world exactly where you were and why. Now the app has relaunched purely as a discovery engine, with check-ins relegated to the new app Swarm.
The update is live on the iOS App Store and Google Play already, and it might surprise you to hear that it’s actually quite good – probably better than anything we’ve seen from the company in the past.
What, No Check-Ins?
It appears the team behind Foursquare have had their thinking hats on. Many of the past app incarnations have combined elements of social networking with a geo-discovery engine that finds, ranks and offers perks to those willing to share their whereabouts publicly. Before this, Foursquare was a “game” and you would earn points for check-ins, but now that’s gone too.
The company has divided its geographical discovery engine and social network between two separate apps. Foursquare is where you turn to find places, and Swarm is where you go to find people. You can technically still check-in using Foursquare, but you’ll need Swarm installed (tapping check-in opens Swarm’s check-in dialogue).
One more thing: Foursquare now tracks where you are all the time, even when the app is minimised in the background, something you’ll need to change manually under app settings (on your Profile tab).
Foursquare’s new approach involves your tastes. When you first launch the app (or update to the new version) you’ll be invited to pick a few broad categories, so that the app can better find things relevant to your interests. These form a huge part of your interactions with the service, and at any point you can tap the new “pointy F” Foursquare logo in the corner to provide more of your personal preferences, further improving your results.
Tastes are essentially categories of venue, cuisines and the various attractions you will find at different places. You can indicate you’re a fan of pubs, italian food and beer, but also indicate more quirky tastes – such as your fondness for late night entertainment, sunsets or romantic places.
Getting Your Bearings
The app still splits its content over four separate tabulated areas, with the main being Find A Place. This is what you’ll see when you first open the app, and it’s designed to find what you want as fast as possible. There’s a slider to choose your current activity, including mealtimes – open it in the morning and you’ll see options for breakfast, open it in the evening and the menu defaults to nightlife.
Using these activities you can quickly search for places relevant to your tastes, or display list of relevant places you have already saved. At the bottom you will find “neighbourhood standouts” and a list of popular searches. At the top of the screen you can search directly, as well as modify the maximum range within which you want to search.
While conducting a search you can further refine using filters, though if you find your results are too broad or simply not relevant, it’s probably worth revising your tastes. While tastes are important, the app won’t exclude everything you haven’t noted as a taste – it wouldn’t be much of a discovery application otherwise.
Each check-in location has a redesigned page from which you can browse essential information like opening hours, phone number, the distance it will currently take you to drive there and your own and your friends’ check-in activity. It’s the usual Foursquare approach, but it looks shinier and it now ranks places on a scale of 1 to 10. This is where you save places for later, but unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be any way of adding a place to a specific list any more.
Tips & Expertise
At any point you can visit the Here tab to find out what’s nearby – think of it as the old check-in button. Tapping a location reveals few options – you can check in using Swarm (screenshot, below) and read or leave tips relative to your location. There’s also another tab specifically for all Tips, and it’s here you can check out what your friends are saying, find tips that are relevant to places that match your tastes and any popular tips nearby.
The ability to filter by relevant tips is pretty handy if you have some demanding tastes, like food allergies or special dietary requirements. And you’ve got Foursquare’s many years worth of check-in data and expertise at your disposal. The system relies on tastes that have been defined by tips, like “don’t miss the sunset from the beer garden” or “grab a beer while watching movies on the projector” – and it works because real people left those tips.
Gamification was always an important aspect of Foursquare, so the introduction of rewards for leaving tips is hardly a surprise. Based on the contents of your tip, your neighbourhood and the venue you’re leaving it at, you can earn recognition. When you leave a tip surrounding something Foursquare considers you an expert in, other users will know (as you can see above).
Still The Best
Despite other social players (notably Facebook) incorporating much of Foursquare’s concept into their own products, I still think Foursquare is the best at what it does. Years of venue data and an ambition for discovery make it a more focused tool for finding relevant places nearby, and though you might lament the division of social and discovery between the two apps, the result is two apps that do their jobs better than a one-size-fits-all approach ever could.