Why Swarm’s New Diary-Like Update May Revitalize the Brand (Again)

Almost two years ago(!), I wrote an article about Foursquare’s split into two apps: Foursquare, a Yelp-copycat that offers similar features with no real differentiators, and Swarm, a check-in gamification app that was Foursquare’s original bread and butter. My article’s basic premise was simple—this was clearly Foursquare’s stab at relevancy in an increasingly crowded market; would it be more Uber or more Qwikster?

Unfortunately for Foursquare, it turned out to be the latter—the company simply didn’t know how to leverage its addictive gamification model into something more. After hundreds of check-ins, I quickly abandoned the directionless app and so did most of my friends. I remember logging in a few months ago and seeing that, of my 78 once-prolific Foursquare/Swarm friends, only six or seven were still active. To no one’s surprise, they were all located in either New York City or San Francisco, likely the only two cities in America that could support a hyperlocal app.

Two years later, I still think Foursquare is redundant. But, the other day, my Android pushed through a new update for Swarm that claimed a “brand new experience.” Taking a look at their changelog, it seems like they’re now emphasizing an aspect that was key to early adopters like myself: a virtual diary.

New to Swarm 4.0 is a revamped profile with brand-new categorization of 60-day and all-time check-ins. For example, I can go back to 2012 and reminisce about my 112 check-ins at medical school libraries, all likely past midnight. I can also track my east coast road trip in late 2013; since this was the height of my Foursquare addiction, I found myself reliving moments in every state.

It’s a really neat insight into my digital life that many social networks try but none have really been able to capture effortlessly—Twitter doesn’t have an easy search feature; Instagram makes you scroll down rows of meticulously curated photographs; Facebook gets the closest, but its ubiquity forces too much noise in its results.

Of course, it’s still not perfect, yet. Despite the low userbase and high abandonment rate, there’s still a very large emphasis on the social aspect of the app; I was at a packed Wizards/Knicks game the other day and only one other person was checked-in. On an app that relies on at least the illusion of high adoption, it’s never a good sign to locate only one other person with the app in a full stadium. There’s also still very little to Swarm past the check-ins.

To continue user interest past this initial bump, the Foursquare and Swarm teams will have to listen and iterate heavily over the next few weeks, expanding what’s working and trimming the fat on anything that’s not. We’ll “check in” (Joseph, stop) in a few months.

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