Foursquare To Move Check-ins Into “Swarm” App, To Focus Better On Local Discovery

Foursquare SwarmFoursquare is doing something surprising, even radical. It’s removing some of the legacy features (i.e., check-ins) from its app and moving them over to a new app called Swarm (available soon).

Check-ins, sharing and friend finding will now reside in Swarm, and Foursquare will evolve in a bid for further mainstream adoption to challenge Yelp and Google in local. The company has been doing a lot of sophisticated work around personalization and local discovery, and is increasingly using a range of signals that are alternatives to check-ins.

In other words the check-in has become expendable, even a liability.

The early success of Foursquare was driven by “gamification” features such as badges and check-ins. However those features that had propelled it beyond early rivals such as Gowalla, MyTown and Loopt also limited the app in many users minds. Foursquare was the “check-in app.” Indeed, long after Foursquare introduced many innovative new features and capabilities, check-ins tended to be the thing most people associated with the app.

The company says that there are two primary use cases (and audiences) for its app — those who use it for local search and discovery and those who check-in and use it as a friend finder and social sharing tool. Accordingly there’s a logic to splitting those usage scenarios into two distinct apps and user experiences.

The risk is that you peel away your most dedicated and loyal users and compel them to adopt and use a new app. You’re then potentially left with more casual and less engaged users. However the strategy could also work well, giving the check-in fans a deeper and more social experience while allowing Foursquare to evolve into a “local search assistant” of sorts.

That’s what the company is hoping:

In the near future, the Foursquare app is also going to go through a metamorphosis. Local search today is like the digital version of browsing through the Yellow Pages (remember those?). We believe local search should be personalized to your tastes and informed by the people you trust. The opinions of actual experts should matter, not just strangers. An app should be able answer questions like ‘give me a great date dinner spot’ and not just ‘tell me the nearest gas station.’ We’re right now putting the final touches on this new, discovery-focused version of Foursquare. It’ll be polished and ready for you later this summer.

Once separated from its legacy of check-ins and “gamification,” Foursquare hopes to create a next-generation local-mobile user experience that will broaden its appeal and make it a true challenger to Yelp and potentially even Google. As the quote above argues, the “one-size-fits-all” local experience can potentially be dramatically improved through personalization and data.

It’s a gutsy move.

If it pays off and Foursquare is able to start growing again the company may be able to remain independent and even potentially go public. If it fails, the company will be forced to sell itself — which CEO Dennis Crowley clearly (at least at this point) does not want to do.