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Some Loyal Foursquare Users Are Checking Out After Swarm Spinoff

Foursquare's new Swarm app isn't going over well.
Foursquare's new Swarm app isn't going over well.

As tech companies know well, users can be an unruly lot. And with their voices amplified on social media, they can be downright nasty when they're displeased. Such is the case for Foursquare, the location-based check-in app that boasted 50 million users worldwide. Last week, Foursquare formally spun off its core app into two — Foursquare, and a new idea called Swarm.

If Swarm's app store ratings (2 out of 5 stars), the video sendups and the Twitter hashtags #hateswarm and #killswarm are any indication, users don't like it.

Swarm is now supposed to be the app for check-ins. I'm not quite sure what the revamped Foursquare is supposed to be for, but it sounds like it will give me personalized recommendations of bars, restaurants and other places to go, a la Yelp. Foursquare-the-company put it this way:

"This is the beginning of the 'personalized local search' future we've been talking about since we started Foursquare. ... If you've been waiting for real local search, not just the yellow pages on your phone, stay tuned. The all new Foursquare will be here really soon."

Clearing the way for the all-new Foursquare meant pushing check-ins off to Swarm. But here's a problem: Swarm doesn't resemble Foursquare in any recognizable way, and it's missing a lot of the core features that were the very reasons dedicated users logged in. Earning mayorships for numerous check-ins? Gone. Collecting badges for various activities? Gone. Making lists of places to keep in mind for later? Gone or impossible to find.

And there's the matter of battery life. The Foursquare and Swarm users who are publicly announcing they're abandoning the apps say the apps are a real drain — literally.

Facebook is famously (or perhaps infamously) iterative; it just spun off messaging into a new app, Facebook Messenger. It's also rankled users almost every time it changed its news feed or profiles. But algorithmic or design changes never outright abandoned what users believed was the core purpose for the service.

Foursquare, on the other hand, gutted the very reason people used it (check-ins and competing with friends) and moved it on to something else (Swarm), leaving behind a completely different experience on the main Foursquare app. In an amusing twist, Mashable points out that a Facebook product manager who worked on unbundling Messenger from Facebook wrote a Medium post called "Dear Foursquare: A Breakup Letter."

You know who made a move more akin to Foursquare? Netflix. It once tried to split itself into two, Netflix for streaming videos and something called Qwikster for the DVD-by-mail service. After being called the worst product launch since New Coke, the company rolled that back faster than Garth Brooks canceled the world tour for Chris Gaines, the pop-star alter ego he tried to spin off as its own thing.

We reached out to Foursquare to get a better idea of where it's going with this and have yet to hear back. Money is a motivator, most likely.

"In the first two quarters of this year, we'll make more money than we did all of last year," Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley predicted at an event held in San Francisco by ReadWrite. And Foursquare Chief Operating Officer Jeff Glueck, who has insight into actual user data, told The Verge that current users are checking in more than ever. "People are using Foursquare and Swarm better," he says. "They check in more often on Swarm according to our data, and are using Foursquare more often to explore. We're seeing more Explore queries once people migrated."

The company did admit to some missteps with this rollout, and as we wait for the revamped Foursquare, more and more users like Meredith Gould are quitting both apps. Gould, a Baltimore-based digital strategist whose more than 80,000 tweets indicate she's a social media lover, not hater, gave up on Swarm about a week ago.

"It's such an ugly, dysfunctional, cumbersome, irrelevant, unnecessary app that sucks battery life," Gould says of Swarm. "Why bother? Why do I need two apps when I had one that provided both services?"

But she misses Foursquare for what it was, especially because it served a real function in her daily life.

"Checking into Foursquare was a way to keep track of my day, connect with people in my network and stay connected with them. Getting rid of Foursquare means I've lost something that was helping organize my day, and organize the way I was thinking about and sharing my day," Gould says. "What I'm interested in is, at what point are they going to recognize that the public is right and go back to what used to be normal?"

She isn't alone.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.