Talking tech since 2003

Foursquare first “blew up” as a check-in app; a way for people to announce to friends that they’d arrived at a venue. But the past year or two has seen the company distance itself from that history. Present-day Foursquare seems to view that check-in button as an obstacle it needs to overcome in its quest to become more like Yelp, and as a result, the check-in isn’t just taking a backseat, it’s being removed from the car entirely. Hence today’s launch of Swarm.

The Good News

Swarm is the app you’d expect from Foursquare if the company had no interest in accumulating tips and restaurant reviews. Its central focus is on location; when you open it and sign in (with a Foursquare account, which can be automatically detected if you have the Foursquare app), you’re immediately presented with a home screen that shows where you last checked in and where your friends are in relation.

Example: Right now, I’m checked in at home, and Swarm is telling me that I have about 9 friends that are “A short walk away,” which is about 1 mile.

Swarm expands that to include friends that are “Nearby” (about 5 miles), “In the area” (20 miles) and “Far far away” (not anywhere close).

If you have “Neighborhood Sharing” turned on, your friends can see what general vicinity you’re in, even if you aren’t checking into a certain location. Keeping this turned on can help friends see if you’re nearby should you forget to check in, and I can see that helping people meet up more than Foursquare did previously.

The app’s second tab displays a familiar screen: the check-in feed, which is the default home screen in the Foursquare app (unless you turn on the “sneak peek” preview in Foursquare, which gives you a look at the future of that app). It lists check-ins in chronological order and isn’t anything new if you’re a current Foursquare user.

swarm-nearby-plansThe third tab is an interesting idea. It’s for “Nearby plans,” and basically lets you shout to friends that you’re planning an activity they’re welcome to join. It’s early, so we’ll have to see how this fares as time goes on.

Lastly, there’s a tab for notifications. If someone likes or comments on one of your check-ins, this is where you’ll be notified.

All in all, Swarm does a nice job bringing over the existing feature set for check-in-heavy users of Foursquare, and it adds some new stuff, too.

Now For the Bad News

There’s a change to the mayorship model that made Foursquare so popular. In Swarm, you’re not competing with all users for a mayorship; instead, you’re competing with your friends. Once Swarm becomes the norm, those epic mayorship battles will be a thing of the past. Locations will have multiple mayors, which really just defeats the purpose.

I originally thought that there was no way to search users on Swarm, but as it turns out, you can pull down on the front page and use the “Find a friend” search box to search users (doh!).

The Takeaway

If you’re big on using location to meet up with friends, and you’re already part of the Foursquare ecosystem, you’ll get that functionality in Swarm (albeit, with some changes).

Swarm is available on both iOS and Android right now.

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