Foursquare Splits Into Two Apps, But Will Either Be Strong Enough To Survive?

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Foursquare is planning to split its core app into two separate experiences, one that provides recommendations and another that acts as a “social heat map” where users check in and see nearby friends.

The new app is called Swarm, and it is not yet available, though according to Dennis Crowley, the app takes a lot of inspiration from the Instant Messenger, where you can see when your friends are online and offline. Swarm shows which friends are in the area and opens up the opportunity for a dialog, which is a story we’ve heard from multiple startups but one that hasn’t been tried out by a more mature company like Foursquare.

On the other side, Foursquare will be redesigning its core app from the ground up. The biggest surprise is the removal of the check-in altogether, as the new app will focus on discovery and exploration.

“The point of the company, this whole thing, was never to build an awesome check-in button,” said Crowley in an interview with the Verge. Yet, when Foursquare launched five years ago, they needed the check-in button to get data around where people were going, when they wanted to share it, or remember it, or rate it. Now, they have all of that data, they don’t need you to check in.

Instead, you’ll be met with a search experience not all that different from Yelp, but with very different results. Rather than offering the ten best pizza places in your general area, Foursquare will know where you’ve been, what you’ve liked before, and what your friends like, so the results will be tailored to you in an almost predictive manner.

And since Foursquare’s technology knows exactly where you are, how long you stay, and the route you take to get from one place to the next, it no longer relies on check-ins to keep track of your taste.

So Foursquare is breaking itself in two, but early impressions are that this is more like the situation in the movie “Twins” than the awesome self-duplication powers of Marvel superhero The Multiple Man. The new Swarm app takes out Foursquare’s vaunted check-in and adds ambient location sharing, something no one has ever expressed any demonstrated interest in, not with many kicks at the can in the form of ambient geosocial apps like Highlight, Circle and many others. Even in the extensive Verge profile, Crowley seems keen on talking more about how powerful Foursquare is without the check-in, rather than how great Swarm is with that included.

Foursquare is essentially becoming a direct competitor to Yelp, which is a logical place for it to go. But this so-called “unbundling” seems less likely to generate multiple top-quality products, and more likely to give the company a way to shed some of its baggage while making a relatively harmless side-bet in case it has managed to nail a formula for ambient location networking. Facebook’s unbundling is different, I’d argue, with products like Messenger offering a real possibility at viability, and clarifying the mission of the core Facebook product; this is much more like jettisoning the cargo to try to save the ship.

Neither of the new apps are available just yet, but should be in the coming weeks.