Since the release of Foursquare‘s new App Swarm last week, there has been a vocal minority of existing users complaining about the removal of gamification from the service. There are numerous complaints on the Foursquare Facebook page, and a petition at Change.org has 350 signatures at last count. In short, many existing users are unhappy.
At first, I couldn’t understand why so many people were upset to lose badges, mayors and points. I’d felt they’d run their course. I wasn’t that concerned to lose them. However, having used Swarm for the last couple of weeks, I’ve discovered that checking in is just not as fun as it was in Foursquare. Without badges, points and mayorships it feels a little, dare I say it, dull. If you don’t have many friends on it, Swarm feels like it’s missing something.
I’ve spent the last few days thinking a lot about gamification in Swarm and I’ve begun to realise that there might be a valid complaint, though perhaps not for the reasons you might think.
Foursquare today launched its brand new social location and check-in app, Swarm. It’s available now for iOS and Android with WP support due later this summer. I’ve been testing the iOS version for the last week, and so far I have been very impressed. I discussed in a previous post about why I thought the decision to split Foursquare in half made sense and, when you start using Swarm it is quickly apparent why they are doing it. The company have created a user experience that would never have been possible in the current Foursquare app where search and discovery are also vying for your attention. Swarm is 2010 Foursquare, rebooted and reimagined for 2014.
Foursquare’s greatest strength and also it’s greatest weakness is that its database is built and maintained by its users. Users can instantly add venues that the database does not contain, and easily make changes, such as adding a new phone number or submitting duplicate venues to be merged.
The advantage of this system is that new venues are rapidly surfaced by the community, making Foursquare’s venue database one of the most accurate available. The disadvantage is that the system can easily be abused – both intentionally (by people creating fake/spammy/illegal venues) or unintentionally (by inexperienced users accidentally creating duplicates or entering incorrect data).
To help keep the database clean, Foursquare employs so called “SuperUsers” – dedicated and passionate members of the community who help clean up the venue database. When a regular user submits a fix or change – SuperUser’s are the people who approve it.
In dense urban areas, where the Foursquare community is flourishing, this system generally works pretty well, since there are plenty of enthusiastic SuperUsers to help out. This makes Foursquare’s location database generally far more accurate than its competitors, but unfortunately not always – there are situations when it falls short. In small towns and rural areas where there may be no local SuperUsers the system breaks down, since fixes submitted by users are not being processed. Equally, in some large cities, there are simply too few SuperUsers to cope with the volume of work being created, and many problems remain unfixed.
Foursquare is probably the greatest mobile experience ever built since it has the power to “profoundly touch and co-create our real life experiences”. With its ‘Explore’ recommendation engine, Foursquare has now evolved far beyond its roots as the check-in game of a few years ago.
Foursquare has received more than its fair share of negative feedback, usually regarding the “check-in game” of the service’s formative years (read this). While criticism in itself is fine, what bothers me is that the service’s detractors continue to dwell on what the service was, and not what it is today – Foursquare has pivoted into a powerful local search tool, has dialed back the check-in focus, and deserves renewed attention.
Foursquare, along with Instagram, are the only two social networks that I use regularly, on a daily basis (often in tandem). I love Foursquare for a number of reasons:
It intersects with my real life and actively influences where I go.
It provides me with the best recommendations, bar none, on where to go, right now. Recommendations are current and highly personalised. i.e. recommendations change depending on the time of day, suggesting good lunch places at noon, great night life spots in the evening etc. Furthermore, they are based on the places I have visited so Foursquare knows the kinds of places I like.
It is an invaluable travel tool. I use it for finding the best places around where I am staying. Time and again I have found great restaurants with Foursquare, that I would never have discovered without it. (If you’ve never tried Foursquare’s ‘Explore’ feature, go here to try it out.)
It improves with use. Checking in and rating venues helps Foursquare learn where I like to go, and improves my recommendations. Put simply – the more you put into Foursquare, the more you get out of it.
It keeps a daily record of my whereabouts. By displaying my Foursquare check-in history in my calendar, it lets me view a detailed daily record of where I was, when. This can be incredibly useful later – it’s a window into the past that I can refer long after my memory has forgotten.
Venue tips provide great insider knowledge. The tips left by other users often provide way more insight or advice about a venue than a regular review. This is because Tips focus on what you should do when you are already there, not why you should go there in the first place.
Foursquare is an invaluable tool for discovering great places to go. No other application can provide such personalized recommendations. If you don’t have it installed on your phone, you should, if only for the ‘Explore’ feature. (Download it here.)
Whether you are a new user, a long term fan, or someone who previously got bored of the check-in game, these are my tips on how to get the most out of Foursquare…
Stuck in Manila! Emily makes the best of it at the Pearl Manila Hotel pool...
Most people would probably think that being stuck in the Philippines wouldn't give us too much to complain about. Emily and I came here before Chinese New Year for a weeks holiday in Boracay. Unfortunately we were not able to renew our China visas before we left so we got stuck here, unable to get a new visa to get home because of the Chinese embassy being closed for the holiday. This has meant that we have now been stranded here for two weeks. One bonus – I did at least manage to do some diving in Puerto Galera on the way back to Manila.
The embassy reopened last Friday, when we handed in our passports. We finally got them back yesterday with no Chinese visa. They could only offer us two weeks at great expense, despite much pleading. After over a week in Manila we finally leave for Hong Kong on Sunday to try our luck there.
Anyway here is selection of Instagram photos I've taken on our trip…
Long term users of Foursquare in China will be all too familiar with the mapping problem in the mobile app – the location pins for all venues are displaying in the wrong place on the map. This is obviously an annoying problem and makes navigating to a venue for the first time particularly difficult. As a long term user and fan of the service, I have waited patiently for Foursquare to come out with a fix the but after several years and many updates the problem still remains. I am writing this post to publicise the problem, with the hope of providing enough information that they can set about fixing it.
In the second week of January, for Emily's 30th Birthday, we flew to Guanxi province for a long weekend escape from the cold and pollution where we spent a few days in the Khast landscape of Yangshuo before heading north for a days hiking in the Longji Rice Terraces.
Here's a selection of my Instagram pics taken from the trip.