I’ve been a dedicated user of Foursquare for years. If you follow my Twitter, you’ll have suffered my tweets on it for long enough to know that and (presumably) not hate it enough to block me (probably).

Anyway, Foursquare recently reinvented themselves as two apps, instead of one. The new one’s called Swarm. Lots of people don’t like it.

If you read the iTunes app store page, there are lots of bad reviews. There’s also an email address, asking for feedback. Here’s what I sent them:


In the app store, you asked for feedback about the Swarm app to be sent to this address. So here is my feedback on Swarm.

Swarm in the app store currently has quite a few reviews. Most of them are one star. The overall score is one and a half stars. In my view, that’s a bit over generous – Swarm doesn’t really even deserve the one star that it has.
Let me start with the obvious – it’s ugly. OK, so Foursquare itself was no oil painting – it had its cute little moments (yes, I saw balloon girl when you check it), but it was pretty functional and fairly tidy. Swarm, on the other hand, looks garish, less friendly on the eye. The bee motif, and the hexagonal avatar portraits feels, if anything, cliched – a motif taken too far.

The experience checking in definitely isn’t as good. Not everywhere has excellent 3G signal, and Foursquare used to handle that quite well. Finding the right place to check in on Swarm varies from slow (on good 3G) to excrutiatingly slow. Ironically, once it’s got my location wrong (which is about 30% of the time), I can then press the “change location” button and then I have the old Foursquare checkin interface again – the one that actually works.
Battery life is a real concern. Neighbourhood sharing sounds like a nice feature, but I can’t use it. I can’t have a function running that eats 10% of my battery per hour when my battery is already under pressure during a working day anyway. Like many self-employed people, my phone is essentially a lifeline to my getting paid; I can’t risk being without it. So as nice a feature as neighbourhood sharing may be, I can’t afford to risk leaving it switched on. I’m sure there are many other people in the same situation, but not as many will have made the connection and tested it. (I’m sure I read in passing in an article that someone said “this isn’t a problem as once the battery gets to 30% it stops doing it” – that’s not really an acceptable answer, of course, but I can’t find the original quote…)
Reinventing Foursquare as two apps seems to me to be a dangerous idea. Do you remember Quikster? (Is that how they spelled it?) You know – the disastrous idea to separate Netflix into two different businesses? It wasn’t popular. That’s pretty much what you’re doing with Foursquare. I don’t think the idea of compartmentalising it into two apps is a good one – rather, make Foursquare more integrated; take the trouble to try and get the checkin-mad I-wanna-be-the-mayor-of-everywhere squad interested in the discovery side, and vice versa. The reason I don’t use the discovery side much is that I pretty much check in as I commute (my girlfriend has notifications switched on… it’s kind of a way of keeping in contact), so the discovery part isn’t much used when I’m simply travelling the same old route.

But every so often I do want to discover. Weekend away. Exploring a new town. Or just getting around. And where am I going to look for that? Probably not Foursquare – especially if I’m one of those people who just installed Swarm for the checkins (there isn’t even a map in Swarm). You’re ignoring a very valuable market share here.
What I would have done is simple. Take a look back at that app store again, and look at the page for the app. Just under the caption, there’s a selector, saying “Details”, “Reviews” and “Related”. That’s what Foursquare needed – “Checkins”, “Friends” and “Discover”. Checkins exactly as per the old Foursquare, “Friends” (or “Nearby”, if you prefer) as per thenew interface for Swarm, and “Discover” as the new interface for the main Foursquare app.

Please rethink this strategy. All I can see is someone else coming along with an alternative to Foursquare. If they do it right now, and do it right – and let’s not forget, there’s Microsoft, Apple, Google and who knows who else who could pretty quickly make a clone Foursquare (and ok, Google were rubbish at it last time, but they might try again, who knows?) Right now you’ve opened the door wide open to your competitors to come along and take away your user base, heart and soul. And once those people are hooked on another service, they’re gone forever. And if you don’t change soon? Well, I’m sorry – but I’ll have to go with them. The poor user experience on Swarm just doesn’t cut it for me.

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