Almost exactly one year ago, Foursquare split itself in two, quarantining its location check-in features in a second app called Swarm while maintaining Foursquare as an app focused on local discovery. The game-like elements of the original app like the ability to earn badges or become “mayor” of a location by checking in enough times—once central to Foursquare’s identity—alas, got lost in the shuffle.
Not everybody was thrilled about the changes. Last night, Foursquare effectively said “We’re sorry” to these dissatisfied users and announced that it would reinstate mayorships and bring back badges in the form of virtual “stickers.”
In the old days, checking into enough diners would win you the “greasy spoon badge,” for instance, while hard-core users pined for the “swarm” badges you could unlock by checking into places with a high number of concurrent check-ins, like a huge sporting event or a One Direction concert. Similarly, the “mayorship” feature was powered by check-ins, effectively pitting users against each other in a quest for a coveted title.
As Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley explained to TechCrunch:
“One of the dirty secrets of early Foursquare game mechanics was that it was meant to be interesting for about four weeks, and ended up being interesting for four years, but we never really put a ton of thought into it. Now that we have Swarm the way we want it, we can put a lot of thought and love into the experience so that it’s fun for millions of people and fun for a really long time.”
Crowley admits that Swarm was missing the “fun and playfulness” of the original Foursquare. “Now we’re putting that fun back into Swarm in a big way,” he says, according to TechCrunch.
It’s easy to see how features like these would help fuel activity on an app like pre-Swarm Foursquare: Giving users a sense of achievement–“You unlocked the Gym Rat badge!”–and something to compete for are easy ways to keep them tapping the check-in button. Since the Foursquare/Swarm split of last May, I’ve found myself checking in much less, sometimes deleting the app from my phone to save precious space. I’m not alone: Data from App Annie shows that Foursquare’s app ranking has declined in recent months and Swarm has failed to capture the hearts and minds of users on the merits of its location-sharing functionality alone.
In the last few months, Foursquare has put more emphasis on the underlying value of its location database. In its quest to become what CEO Dennis Crowley calls “the location layer of the Internet,” the company signed a major data-sharing partnership with Twitter in March, under which Foursquare’s location database will the power location-tagging feature in Twitter’s mobile apps–and presumably other location-centric features down the line. Meanwhile, the company has ramped up its efforts to monetize all this data, most recently launching PinPoint, a targeted advertising network that displays ads based on users’ historic location data.
Still, as valuable as all this data may prove to be in the long run, Foursquare still needs its apps to help generate all that insight. With Swarm, as well as the ambient location tracking now built into the flagship Foursquare app, the company seemed to be putting much less emphasis on the manual check-in, which has become unnecessary over time. While Foursquare is now pulling data from a variety of sources–including third-party partnerships–it’s not ready to wean itself off the check-in button entirely.
To ensure that this check-in data keeps flowing, Foursquare is hoping that reintroducing game mechanics to Swarm will bring people back and keep them hooked.
I, for one, just reinstalled the app.