This past week pioneer of the check-in Foursquare announced a novel plan to split their app. This certainly goes against the grain in the app world as most folks out there are trying to incorporate features to keep people from exiting their app for a different one. Foursquare though has decided that in order to save their app, they have to split and revamp it.
When Foursquare launched in 2009 it did so with the idea of using a phone’s GPS technology to let your friends know where you were at. Prior to this the main feature of GPS had always been navigation, but Foursquare’s approach was different. Eventually though they experienced the wrath of Facebook which incorporated check-ins into their own application as they have done with so many other apps technologies over the years. While it can certainly be said that Foursquare does a better job of the whole check-in experience, people seemed to prefer not having to leave Facebook to share their location.
While they invented the check-in, Foursquare has realized that in order to continue to thrive they must move beyond the check-in. While adding features such as tips and suggestions has kept Foursquare trudging along the slow highway of innovation, CEO Dennis Crowley decided that a complete revamp was necessary. Foursquare I think realizes that they can’t really compete against Facebook and come out victorious, good luck Snapchat, so they have instead set their sights on another less formidable opponent in Yelp.
Foursquare’s split will create two distinct apps. The break-off app will be called “Swarm” and will concentrate on their existing check-in feature and sharing your check-ins with your friends. Swarm also promises to deliver a feature that will allow you to open up a dialog with any friends that are in your area. The actual Foursquare app will now shift its focus to providing a localized search with more personalized recommendations than any of the other apps out there currently.
“At first, we thought it was crazy to do this, but it makes total sense,” Crowley said. However, one can’t help but wonder if going against your niche is really a wise business decision, it is certainly a bold maneuver. The Foursquare app now will not even feature check-ins at all, the very thing they developed their business model on. The feature that got them started and got their existing user base to sign up, is now going to be the split-off or almost after thought app. One wonders if the only reason the idea wasn’t completely scraped was a desire to not alienate their existing fan base.
Foursquare’s new idea does seem to be a good one. They claim that existing local searches are getting things completely wrong by showing you for instance the highest rated Chinese restaurants in the area. Foursquare’s plan is to crank up the personalization aspect of these searches by tailoring the recommendations to the user more by taking into account places that you have liked in the past and places that your friends frequent and enjoy. Initially Foursquare will be using your history with the app in the past to make these recommendations. It’s almost as if the whole initial check-incentric phase of the app was simply a data-mining incentive to then roll out this new idea. Yet giving Foursquare that kind of foresight I believe would be a bit too complimentary.
The question though is why not just incorporate all of this into one Foursquare app, why the need to split? Instagram for instance has added both video and direct messaging in an attempt to make an all-inclusive app. Snapchat recently added the ability to text and video chat directly into their app, also in attempt to have users not leave the app. Yet Foursquare wants to limit the features. Crowley sums up the reasoning by saying, “we have gotten really good at making proactive recommendations, search and knowing where friends are (check-in), but we’ve turned into a swiss army knife type of product. We believe that the best apps out there are the ones with a single-case use that can be described in a sentence or tweet.”
By making each app have a specific niche, Crowley believes that this will make each of them faster and more efficient providing a better user experience. However, will each app be able to survive on their own? Does Foursquare even want the Swarm app to survive? It will be interesting to see just how this all plays out for Foursquare. For a company to spend years creating a niche, and then decide that for their long-term success a move in another direction is needed is certainly a brave move. Oftentimes it seems that once you are so committed to a certain idea, it’s too risky to move in another direction. Yet the technology industry often requires moves like this in order to stay relevant. If massive success rather than merely keeping your head above water is the goal, moves are like this can often be necessary. No telling if this will work out for Foursquare or ultimately be the nail in their coffin, yet kudos to Crowley and the crew at Foursquare for having the cajones to try it.
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