This is the tragic story of how one indie app grew in popularity to reach 50 million registered users in its prime and is now fighting dwindling amount of users due to uncalculated risks undertaken by the company's management.
Foursquare's impending demise and obsolescence can be foretold by its Google Play store statistics. To date, the foursquare app has been downloaded 10 million times on the Google Play store. However, only 1 million or a tenth of foursquare users have downloaded the new app Swarm, of which, plenty have already uninstalled the app when they encountered several issues with it.
Here is what every smartphone app maker or budding social media network entrepreneur should know before creating their next new hit or proceeding with an app update.
What was foursquare?
Foursquare used to be a location-based social media networking tool for people who liked boasting to their friends where they were by checking in using the app. It also had a competitive edge where users could play a challenging but thrilling game of collecting limited edition badges by checking in during specific events or at specific places.
"Super users" or loyal foursquare fans could earn mayorships for places they checked in to the most. Foursquare was beneficial not just to users but businesses who operated in retail with a brick and mortar store (Think cafes, shopping malls, restaurants, ski resorts, tourist attractions etc)
Foursquare frequently released badges with a myriad of industry partners and businesses ranging from popular TV drama series such as Gossip Girl, popular TV shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show to sporting events by football fan clubs. Badges were also launched in various cities around the world where users could "unlock" them once they checked in to 5 places on the foursquare city list.
What went wrong
Foursquare went against the grain of their existence and started a radical overhaul in July 2014, launching a brand new app for checking-in and changing the existing foursquare app into a restaurant review and directory listing.
Previously, before the app overhaul, Foursquare had already started introducing restaurant searches and a "show me nearby places" function to suggest places of interest to its users. This showed that the app maker had no idea how to expand or retain their user base and took a blind gamble instead.
Users could no longer check in using foursquare and were redirected to the Google Play or Apple store to download the brand new app called "Swarm" just for checking in.
Miscalculated steps one after another, Foursquare was swarmed with complaints and threats from users which the company chose to deftly ignore and proceed ahead with their plan.
A buggy ride ahead
Foursquare's brand new app is swarmed with bugs. Swarm wasn't ready but foursquare was too eager to launch an unstable app.
Users like ourselves kept facing problems with the untested Swarm app as listed below:
- Swarm kept crashing just like how foursquare kept encountering server problems
- On rare occasions after trying twice or thrice to check in, the app force closes and crashes
- Swarm frequently checks in to the country users are in instead of the place they are at despite selecting the specific place to check in
- Accuracy of places suggested for checking in to were way off even with GPS location and wi-fi enabled. Foursquare used to predict exactly where a user was especially if it was a place in their check in history. Instead, the Swarm app redirects users to a place they are nowhere near to.
- The pure gratification derived from gamification of the social networking app in the form of badges and mayorships was completely non-existent in the new app.
To make things worse, on top of Swarm's lacklustre app store ratings and countless negative feedback, there was still no attempt by foursquare's app team to accommodate any suggestions for improvement.
A hilarious but painfully true spoof video featuring foursquare's CEO and co-founder Dennis Crowley drew over 14,000 hits on YouTube.
Bitter fans also swarmed social networks such as Twitter with hate-filled hashtags such as #hateswarm and #killswarm .
The new foursquare features
The new foursquare app promises users that it will help them discover new places of interest. However, this feature was part of the old Foursquare all along and was nothing new to users.
And so foursquare's founder began the downfall of foursquare with the the ambitious humdrum of a personalized local search engine for restaurants, bars and places of attractions, an area we are all too familiar with and has been heavily dominated by a few key players namely Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp and multiple other country specific local app makers who have each carved their niche into it especially when it comes to home-grown expertise. (E.g. HungryGoWhere for Singapore, Zomato for Great Britain and Oceania etc)
The Demise of foursquare
Fueling the rage of loyal foursquare users is the outright betrayal and loss of privacy as this once close-knit community of users who provided honest tips to help other users decide if a place was worth visiting or not would now have their tips open to all in the form of a full-fledged online directory.
Going where the money is or whatever little there is left
Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley hopes to reap in much-needed dollars following the "foursquare app revamp" and new Swarm app launch. Foursquare's Chief Operating Officer Jeff Glueck, tells the media that current users are checking in even more using Swarm. Just check the dwindling number of downloads for Swarm from the foursquare user base migration.
The money will unfortunately not be materializing any-time soon for foursquare unless they can convince their new user base that the new foursquare location-based food and attractions directory is any different from the crowd out similar apps out there.
A solemn goodbye to foursquare
3464 check ins and 91 badges later, there's no turning back. We are closing up this chapter of our lives to welcome another app maker that could do better than foursquare's harrowing attempt at revitalising their service.