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.
“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.”