Foursquare has been around for years now, and I’ve been an avid user of it ever since it first came out back in 2009. It started as a location-based social networking service that had an emphasis on mobile, and the main focus of the app was for users to “check-in” to locations using several different methods. Even though this may be seen as a silly little thing by many, it was one of my favorite things, and I’ve been using it daily since.
However, five years later, Foursquare has gone through a lot of changes, with the biggest one being the shift from check-in social network to a more Yelp-like experience. The change hasn’t completely happened yet, and check-in remains for now in the original Foursquare app, but they released Swarm (Free) just last week. This is a big game-changing decision for Foursquare, because it separates the check-in from the original app, even though the check-in was what made Foursquare, well, Foursquare.
Obviously, as a day-to-day user of the Foursquare check-in, I wasn’t too happy when I first heard this news. However, I was still excited to give Swarm a try myself, especially with all of the changes to mayorships and such. Besides, you can’t truly tell if something will suck unless you try it, right? I’ve spent the last several days with Swarm, and wanted to share my experience with you guys.
First off, I like the aesthetics of Swarm. It’s simple, clean, and pretty organized for what it’s worth. The color scheme, which is quite different from the familiar baby blue of the original Foursquare, looks pretty nice once you get used to it. I found things to be pretty intuitive when using the app, though it kind of takes away a bit of the simplicity of the check-in from before.
If you have a lot of friends who are on Foursquare, then the main view is pretty neat, as you can see where your friends are by distance. Friends will be sorted by who’s “right here” (within 500 feet), “a short walk away” (within one mile), nearby (five miles), in the area (20 miles), and “Far far away.” Of course, this can be pretty worthless if you don’t have many friends in the area, or live in rural areas.
At the top of the screen that shows your friends is where you will check-in. By default, Swarm has a feature called “Neighborhood Sharing,” which will show your Foursquare friends what neighborhood you’re in. This is pretty neat, and makes it possible to see who is nearby, but it’s also quite battery-draining, since you are essentially leaving your GPS on the entire time. Fortunately, you can toggle neighborhood sharing on or off by swiping it to the right.
The check-in button is now in the top right corner, rather than the old placement of bottom center in the original Foursquare. I’m not too fond of this new placement, as it means I need to extend my reach in order to do a simple check-in. When you tap on the check-in button, Swarm will gather your position before taking you to the actual check-in screen.
Personally, I’m finding the new check-in a bit slower, since it’s trying to accurately pinpoint exactly where you are. While my results have been pretty accurate so far, it wastes more time because I have to wait for the app, whereas originally, it just brought up a list of places in order of distance.
You’re still able to write a little description of what you’re up to, attach a photo, and now, there is the addition of “stickers” to represent what you’re doing. I suppose this is pretty cool, but the stickers still aren’t as entertaining as the various badges that you earned, which seem to have disappeared in Swarm, along with points for check-ins. Additionally, now you can just type in the name of whoever you’re with, and Swarm will bring up a list of people in your Foursquare friend list, or even Facebook if it is linked. This is definitely more intuitive than the old way of tapping on the button, and then finding your friends in a list to add whoever you’re with.
One thing that bugs me, though, is the fact that now you have to check-in first, and then you can choose to share it to Facebook and Twitter. Previously, you could select the social networks you want to share on while you’re making your check-in, so this extra step to share is a little annoying. I know — it’s just one more tap, and you would have needed to tap on the button in the old Foursquare, but it just doesn’t make sense why it’s an extra step now.
Swarm also puts more attention on making plans with friends, which you can see by jumping to the “Plans” section (third tab). You can post future plans here, which will be visible to friends in the city. And if there are any plans already made from your friends, you’ll be able to view them, show interest, and even comment.
If you care about what your friends are doing and where, you can view the Feed, which is the second button on the bottom menubar. You can filter through the feed for a specific person, and Swarm makes it easy to view their activity, including photos, from this screen. If you get likes and comments on your check-ins, they can be see in the Notifications screen, which is the last tab on the bar.
Tapping on anyone’s avatar or name will take you to their profile (yours too), and you can view entire account histories in a clean and concise timeline. This is one of the biggest reasons why I use Foursquare — to get a timeline that I can look back on of where I’ve been, which is helpful when I need to reference a place I’ve been to for others.
Overall, there are some things I like and dislike about Swarm. Aesthetically speaking, the app definitely looks nice, and is simple to use. However, checking in now takes a bit more effort, and is not as fast as it was before. There’s also unnecessary extra steps if you want to share your check-in on other networks, and it’s even formatted differently now too.
I don’t like the fact that I now have to switch back and forth between Foursquare and Swarm if I want to see what others have said about a venue, and when I want to check-in. No more badges makes it less entertaining to share where you are, since the stickers are missing that charm that badges had. I also enjoyed the leaderboard with check-in points, and that has been yanked out for no reason.
The mayorships change is interesting, but that was the thing — I liked trying to steal mayorships away from strangers, and getting my mayorship taken by a random person was also a thrill, and gave me more reason to go back. Having mayorships now be only for your circle of friends makes the competition less intense, though I can see how it’s fair — you are no longer competing with that one person who is there every freaking day. Still, I liked the mayorships before, and am mostly sad to see this change.
As a longtime user of Foursquare, I guess you would say that I’m not very happy with the change that Swarm brings. I don’t like the fact that I now have to have two apps installed on my device to do something one app did before, and I really don’t get why Foursquare needed to be split up int two single-purpose apps. Perhaps I just need to get used to it, but it’s still quite a jarring change since the service launched back in 2009.
If you’re a regular Foursquare user, I recommend giving Swarm a try for yourself to see if you like it or not. At the moment, the iTunes reviews seem to be a mixed bag. You can get Swarm by Foursquare on the iPhone App Store for free.