Foursquare’s redesigned Swarm app is a journal for capturing your travels

Photo: Foursqare Swarm

Swarm, the check-in app from social mainstay Foursquare, is pivoting once again. Foursquare is calling Swarm’s latest incarnation the “lifelog,” and it’s meant to offer a new way of thinking about the trademark check-in process that’s less about gamification and leaderboards and more personal. With younger smartphone users gravitating toward text, photos, and videos that disappear — and the more raw and genuine style of sharing that allows — Foursquare now wants to create a space where you can plant a virtual flag, to come back to a memory and savor it later on in life.

“We want to remember our experiences: Not for others, but for ourselves,” the company puts it in the announcement post for Swarm 5.0, which arrives today as an app update. Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley says the change has been part of a six- to eight-month process of rethinking why users want to check in at all, especially now that we’re more selective now about who we share with and more cautious about leaving a post history that could haunt us in the workplace and beyond. (As a reminder, Swarm is the check-in app that was spun out of the main Foursquare service in 2014, while Foursquare itself is now a local discovery app for restaurants, bars, and other notable nearby locales.)

While it doesn’t radically change the app’s look, the updated Swarm will now focus more heavily on the number and variety of places you’ve been. There’s now an interactive map placed front and center on your profile page, instead of buried away in a separate menu. Swarm will now surface more information about where you’ve been and stats about those locations when you come back to them, so users can “better recall every experience from the mundane to the extraordinary, and surface it quickly in any scenario.”

The company is also changing up how it incentivizes you to explore. There’s now a bigger emphasis on Swarm’s 100 distinct check-in categories you can unlock, with more achievements and stickers tied to ticking off items on the list and trying new things. Swarm will still have the popular holdovers from the early Foursquare days, like mayorships for regularly visited places, streaks for keeping up your check-ins at hotly contested hangouts, and Swarm “coins” that gamify the experience of checking in and competing with others to earn in-app perks and deals from local businesses. But the app’s focus is now on encouraging people to create a map out of their past experiences, so it can be looked back on in the future.

Photo: Foursquare Swarm

“Now that a lot of social media is ephemeral... you curate these little nuggets that just don’t exist the next day,” Crowley says. But with Snapchat and Instagram Stories, “you lose the archiving and nostalgia and shoe boxing” early social media was meant to replicate. So while Foursquare itself was forced to evolve from a social service that encouraged local meet-ups to a way to compete with others for virtual titles and local deals, the rest of the social media landscape became engulfed by ephemerality as a the new language of online communication.

Now, in 2017, Crowley says there’s an opportunity for a Swarm check-in to sit between a polished Instagram post and a disappearing Snap, as something you do less for others and more for yourself. Much in the same way that Google Photos’ auto-upload feature creates a constant backlog of visual experiences, Crowley and crew want Swarm to be a diary of your day-to-day life that can tell you, years from now, exactly where you were on a given day. Compared with boasting to your friends about your 14th consecutive coffee shop visit, the lifelog is a grander and more appealing purpose for the check-in. “If you get in the habit of checking in everywhere you go, you just take it for granted that you have this version of your memory that you will never forget,” Crowley says.

In a broader sense, Foursquare’s new lifelog concept will also let Swarm provide interesting insights much in the same way Timehop and other nostalgia-driven services surface old Facebook posts. “Whether it’s software that goes back and does it for you, or you actively going through and combing through that history,” Crowley adds, “the idea of calling this a lifelog is taking what used to be a feature of Foursquare and Swarm and turning it into the primary value proposition.”

As for why it took so long for Foursquare to find this focus for Swarm, Crowley says it always felt secondary to why people were using his company’s apps. “We used to think it was just a niche behavior. There’s not enough people that think of the app this way to think of this as the primary story,” he says.

But over time, as Snapchat emerged partly as a reaction to the “overproduced Instagram feed” and “social media as performance art,” there’s now a new desire among users, Crowley thinks, to remember experiences instead of leaving them to disappear into the void. “Foursquare isn’t a photo collection app,” he says. “But it is a very simple way to keep track of all the little adventures you’ve had.”

Comments

For me, the greatest case for using Swarm is Google Calendar integration.
All my checkins are synced to my calendar and I can instantly see where my time went.

Wow, I didn’t know I can do this.

I hope that these check-ins will be exportable just in case Swarm ever comes to an end.

I love looking at the map to see all the various places around the world I’ve been.

It’s really simple and beyond useful! It’s on https://foursquare.com/feeds/

Login and choose "Add my check-in history to my Google Calendar".

Still dont understand why they separated apps. It doesn’t seem like that many people use the actual foursquare app anymore.

After all this time: They still don’t get it!

I think not many people use either at this point to be honest, but Foursquare is a very neat app to have when travelling. I always use it abroad to see what bars/restaurants are worth checking out near me.

Sounds good, actually. Can’t say I’m really ‘playing’ against anyone on there any more, even though lots of my friends are very active on it. But a decent location journal, especially one that can still hook up into ifttt, would keep me using it.

This has been why I’ve enjoyed using Foursquare/Swarm all along. Less to compete with friends who have long stopped using the apps, and more as a place to remind myself where I had that one great dinner once in Paris.

The only time I use Swarm is when I’m traveling, so I can remember everywhere I went when I was in Chicago, for example. It is a really nice way to keep a diary of your travels.

Nice that they are more focused on travel than competing with friends. I had no friends using this, they all used facebook to check in and Yelp for the food. This is basically what I used the app for was to log where I’ve been in the world.

They should have NEVER changed/forked Foursquare. To me, prior to Swarm, it did exactly what I wanted an app to do. Now, it sucks. Just like Google creating two messaging apps (Allo and that other one….LOL), there should be only one……

I totally agree. I miss the old complete Foursquare. I use both Swarm and Foursquare now, but it doesn’t feel as good.

Hasn’t Foursquare’s popularity dipped significantly ever since they did that?

Sounds like a better version of Google Maps Timeline feature…

This is exactly how I’ve been using Swarm/Foursquare these past few years, long after most my friends stopped using it. I’ve got so many little adventures stored in it over the many years using it.

Foursquare isn’t a photo collection app…

Fair; but the only way I would use this app is if I could also add pictures and videos I took at places I visited to the check-in.

You can do that. The check-in process now lets you add photos, but I think Crowley was making the point that you shouldn’t feel compelled to do so. The app itself is designed to surface info from the web anyway, but if you were at a spot like a restaurant or you wanted to take a photo of you and your friends, I could see that being worth the extra time. Then again, the whole point is that you shouldn’t feel the need to do something that might otherwise fit on Facebook, Insta, or Snapchat.

I hear you. I’m more looking at this app as a personal scrapbook though. For me, Instagram and Snapchat are about self-promotion and Facebook is about seeing everybody else’s stuff. Having an expanded version of the way Instagram used to map the images you listed locations for might be something I’m into.

This is actually a hero feature of the new update, and it works very well. I really miss Instagram’s map feature, so for someone who was already using Swarm as a travel journal, the check-in map is a welcome addition.

PinOn does exactly what you mentioned. (www.pinon.io) The app is currently in the initial testing period.

While I do appreciate the new direction, this just seems like an attempt by Foursquare to cash-in on Google’s Timeline and recently updated Local Guides program.

How many times is Foursquare going to rebrand themselves?

Pivoting and rebranding don’t mean the same thing. Right now they are pivoting, but they’re not rebranding.

2004 called, they want their Nokia Lifeblog back.

2017 called. They said nothing is original anymore.

Most of the reviews & tips I see from Foursquare users were posted when the app was popular: 2010-2012.

I still use Swarm to log my travels, but Yelp and Google maps have more fresh location reviews.

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