I like Foursquare. No, really. I think it’s a legitimately good product—well, used to be, anyway. But a week or two ago they made the momentous decision to split their app in two, which I’d be fine with if it retained functionality. Instead, they played into the unsettling trend of discarding old users in favor of the new.

 Gamifying going out

What made Foursquare so addicting was the gamification of “checking in” to places. They did an uncannily good job of it too. New users were given a ton of otherwise worthless points, points that became harder and harder to accumulate as time went on.

The first checkin is always the hardest.

It’s a gateway drug, if you will. You start off earning tens of points, plenty of badges, but then you realize checking in at the same places isn’t rewarded nearly as much as going to new places. Sure, there are prizes for being a regular (I’m a mayor at my favorite local coffeeshop), but in the end, Foursquare was all about discovery. The leaderboard made it a race against your friends to go as many places as possible.

And my god, was it fun. It applied an excellent fixed ratio reward system (to borrow from game theory) in one of the best ways possible.

 Heart of the Swarm

When Foursquare announced Swarm, I was apprehensive at best. The only detail they gave out was that mayorship would now be confined to friends—a global mayor of a location would no longer exist. That was a bit disappointing (it’s always fun ousting a stranger from their throne) but something I could deal with.

I was unprepared for what Swarm really was.

To be fair, Swarm is a very slick app. Smooth interactions, #flatdesign, fun animations. But none of that matters. With Swarm, Foursquare tore out everything I liked about their product: points, leaderboards, badges, mayorships. All those things are now obfuscated, nigh if not outright impossible to view in the Swarm app, replaced by four new feeds of where my friends are and what they’re doing.

They removed everything, in my opinion, that made them good.

What is Swarm now? Little more than just another checkin app. Foursquare says they don’t just want to be a checkin app; they want to be a social recommendation thing or something like that.

They want to be Yelp, except if I wanted to use Yelp, I’d just…use Yelp.

 Out with the old

Though I had only used Foursquare for a couple of weeks before the schism, I was exactly the kind of user they no longer cared about. In 2014, I guess people no longer care about checking in, no longer care about the gamification of going out. Instead, Foursquare decided its database was now comprehensive enough to become what it had always wanted to be: something that already existed.

I’m not against that idea. After all, if you can implement a concept better than what’s already on the market, more power to you.

I don’t really think Foursquare has accomplished that, either. No one I’ve talked to has ever used the social recommendation features of Foursquare. Instead, they’re mostly migrating to Swarm, the app with the only feature they cared about: checking in. Only now, it’s a ghost of its former self, a simple geotag instead of the game it once was.

That’s not to say Swarm is all bad. It’s at best average, and its plan announcement tab is a good idea! But average checkin apps are a dime a dozen. Anyone remember Gowalla? Hell, I could even check in on Yelp, or Facebook if I were so inclined. Swarm has little reason to exist.

But it doesn’t matter. Again, I’m no longer the kind of user they care about. Company growth stagnates over time, at which point they have to make a choice. Much as with Twitter and other companies before them, Foursquare chose to forsake its current users in favor of future, new users.

It’s a damn shame, but I guess no one will ever steal my mayorship anymore. Get wrecked, “Stephen L.”


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