Foursquare famously launched at South By Southwest in 2009 to some serious techie fanfare. The concept of "checking in" to a business to find your friends was a radical innovation in mobile that, slowly, dozens of millions of users came to use.
In 2014, the glitz is gone, the music has stopped, and we have a different story in which Foursquare has yet to grow into a mainstream product like Twitter, Instagram, or even Snapchat. Part of that inability to attract casual users can be blamed, at least in part, on something of an identity crisis: Do users use Foursquare to find stuff to do? Or do they like knowing where their friends are?
Today, Foursquare announced it is splitting itself in two, conjuring up vague recollections of Netflix and Qwikster. To wit: Foursquare is keeping its main app, but getting rid of the check-in. Users can still find recommendations for restaurants and such, but Foursquare is also launching a brand-new application dedicated to telling you where your friends are. It is called Swarm.
According to The Verge, "Swarm will be a social heat map, helping users find friends nearby and check in to share their location." The new app is kind of like Google Latitude or Facebook Places, with one key differentiator: You don't have to tell friends exactly where you are--you can merely broadcast a general area like "Cobble Hill" or "Downtown." The thinking goes that users don't like having their profile photo dropped like a pin on a map. Rather Swarm will tell you who's nearby, or close enough. (Of course, you can still check in to tell your friends exactly where you are.)
A full redesign to the main Foursquare app is set to debut in the coming weeks, but the split is supposed to help Foursquare figure out the messy puzzle of generating ad revenue without creeping users out or ruining the experience. "If you check in at Walgreens, should we show you an ad for toothpaste? We're not sure," Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley told Fast Company last year. "Does that dilute the experience?"
You can sign up for the Swarm waiting list here.
[Image: Flickr user Jeff Belmonte]