Wednesday, July 30, 2014


End of the App-fair: How Foursquare Cured My Addiction To...Foursquare

It's been a full two weeks now since my last check in on Foursquare.

In a sense, that shouldn't be a big deal.  After all, there are, I'm sure many people out there who have managed to go days, weeks, months or more without dropping into their favorite social media site (whatever it might be). Sometime back, I basically dropped out of Facebook. The only use I really had for it was to remind me of birthdays -- and I had found another application that automatically linked to the Facebook ecosystem and gave me the birthday updates anyway. That particular app eventually stopped updating and so I made my way back to Facebook -- and now have it back in my regular rotation.

Regardless, I must confess that there was no social media app to which I was more loyal -- nay, obsessed -- than I was with Foursquare.  It was a five-plus-year affair with constant check-ins. Bars and restaurants, yes, but, cleaners, markets, subways, too. Anywhere I went, I had to do the obligatory check-in. Indeed, when I neglected to check in, like a classic addict, I felt physically weird, that something was missing. Yes, I would start jonesing for the rush of the check-in. At the height of the mania, a good friend of mine and I would battle back and forth for the "Mayorship" of our favorite Chelsea bar. She lived in the neighborhood, while I was more than a hundred blocks uptown. Nonetheless, I would go out of my way to swing by the bar, to grab a beer, chat with the bartenders -- and yes, to check in!

The beginning of the end came upon me somewhat subtly. In a spring announcement to which I paid little attention at the time, Foursquare declared that it was splitting itself in two. There would be Foursquare and a new even-more-social app called Swarm.  I initially didn't care. Swarm didn't interest me. Yet, Foursquare kept bugging me to download Swarm, enticing me with notes like, "John C. wants  to get together with you on Swarm." So, I finally did, figuring, what the hell, I'll have Swarm, even as I continue to use Foursquare Classic.  I then noticed that when I tried to check in on Foursquare, the app would force me onto Swarm. Silly me, I initially thought that was a bug, only to realize that it was actually a feature!

I then, of course, Googled what was going on and was brought up to speed on the whole splitting-in-two thing. I learned that even Foursquare execs initially were "split" on whether this was a good idea. Some called it, "crazy." Hmmm...maybe they should have stuck with that first thought?

And so, two weeks ago, I realized that my check-in mania had passed. It sunk into me that the competitive part of the Foursquare experience is what I liked. Yes, I would occasionally open Foursquare to "find" a local establishment, but absent the possibility of becoming "mayor" of my bar, restaurant, office -- heck, subway stop? -- there wasn't much of an impulse to check in to Foursquare.

And this is where I think the operators of my once-favorite social app have made a potentially fatal mistake. Yes, I can understand they were/are trying to figure out how to monetize Foursquare into the next step. But there was a major reason why Foursquare wasn't Yelp.  The latter, a popular site, is a destination site. In other words, you're walking around someplace and you go to Yelp to find a restaurant or bar in the area. But you've inevitably been doing something else before you make the conscious decision to go to Yelp. Regardless, at most, you'd go to Yelp once or twice a day. Foursquare, for those of us who got really wrapped up in it -- was always "on": We'd be checking in a minimum of 10 times a day, from the moment we left in the morning until we returned home in the evening. It was fun comparing our daily point counts with not just friends, but others across the city. You realized that it was unlikely that you might catch up with whoever was managing to rack up 5,000 points a week, but so, what? The thrill was in the chase.  And, besides, you could still compete against your previous high score.  And then there were the badges for the different types of food places you had visited!

Anyway, it's all gone now, replaced with messages from friends like: "My confusing new Foursquare app tells me u r in my neighborhood." Uh, yeah, bro. I dunno what I'm supposed to do with that info either.
The loss is palpable and it perfectly feeds into the basic theory of what not to do in a redesign.

Anyway, two weeks into going cold turkey from Foursquare, I learn that I'm hardly alone.  "Dear John Foursquare" letters are all over the Internet.  Like here and here and here and here. And those barely scratch the surface of all the "Foursquare, WTF" tweets out there. So, add this to the pile.

Well, on the bright side, there's less chance of me missing my train because I was trying to check-in on the way to the train. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I'm Foursquare-free at last!!!

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