Foursquare Bets That Two Apps Are Better Than One

Location-sharing service Foursquare is splitting its app in two as the novelty of checking in at a store or restaurant has worn off.

Swarm, the new app, will still let users broadcast “I’m here!” and show them which of their friends are nearby. The revamped Foursquare app will lose the check-in ability but provide users access to the troves of information, such as reviews, of businesses in their vicinity. That would pit it more directly against Yelp.

Dennis Crowley, co-founder and CEO at Foursquare Labs, at the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, on March 9, 2013. Foursquare plans to split the app in two.

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Dennis Crowley, co-founder and CEO at Foursquare Labs, at the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, on March 9, 2013. Foursquare plans to split the app in two.

The move reflects Foursquare’s effort to revive the buzz around the company and stay relevant.  Its user activity has stagnated at about 6 million daily check-ins for the past year. Meanwhile, hot new apps with location-sharing features such as Tinder, used for dating, and Secret, which lets users post anonymous messages, are grabbing eyeballs. Facebook and Twitter remain popular with their streamlined, simpler features.

Dennis Crowley, Foursquare’s chief executive officer, expects having two apps that are more focused will help draw more users.

“There are a bunch of people who love checking in, and there are a bunch of people who want to take advantage of the check-ins that are out there,” he said in an interview. “Both of those stories can be a lot crisper and cleaner, and that’s going to be a huge thing for us.”

Foursquare’s app first broke out in the tech world at the South by Southwest festival in 2009. Since then, the company has been trying to reinvent itself.

The company, which has been working on ways to highlight its search function, opened up its in-app advertising to all businesses. These ads will remain on the Foursquare app, while Swarm will initially launch without them, Crowley said.

The decision to split the app’s features followed months of dissecting feedback from users who found the old Foursquare experience cluttered and hard to understand. Crowley said he expects the company’s ability to pinpoint the location of users will help Swarm be the fastest and easiest way to keep up with friends.

The check-in-free Foursquare app will also allow those users who are creeped out by publicizing their location to take advantage of all the data and reviews already collected on local restaurants and businesses. And there are still big changes coming to the Foursquare app that will make it easier for users to tell Foursquare what they love, Crowley said.

Foursquare’s shift, first reported in the Verge, follows a trend seen in newer apps: Simpler is better. You see it in Tinder’s photo-swipe matching of users and Secret’s laser focus on sharing anonymous messages. Facebook has also separated its messenger as an individual tool and refrained from becoming a one-stop shop by keeping Instagram and WhatsApp as standalones after buying the startups.

“The thing that we thought would be a good idea is actually working with other folks as well, and that’s validation for us,” Crowley said.

Still, Foursquare will have to prove that it can rise above the fray with its two-is-better-than-one approach. Swarm, which will be available in the coming weeks, will have to show that users still want to check in and be located by their friends.

Location may be everything, but not everyone wants to use these services the same way.

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