Checking out of Foursquare8/13/2014
As cool as Justin Timberlake is, what’s the first thing you think of when you hear his name? He’s a singer, right? Nevermind that for the last decade J.T. has been trying desperately to be taken seriously as an actor. Shifting public perception is hard — for entertainers, politicians, companies, even websites. No one is learning that lesson harder than the once-popular location-based application Foursquare.
In 2009, at the South By Southwest Interactive technology conference, or SXSWi, Foursquare dominated the hearts and minds of the tech world. Foursquare provided a social network for smartphone users to check in online to locations and share with their friends where parties were, what restaurants were exciting, and basically any location that was happening at that moment. The cherry on top of the GPS cake was Foursquare’s scoreboard for user check-ins, “Mayorships” for users who checked in the most at specific locations and badges for check-ins that followed a theme. SXSWi rocketed Foursquare to the top of mobile app charts and kept it there for years.
Today, the novelty of checking in has worn off, leaving Foursquare vulnerable to losing its 45 million users. So in an attempt to stay relevant, Foursquare is pulling a Timberlake — forcing the public to accept its new persona. Gone are the points, mayorships and badges. Instead they’ve been replaced with two applications: Foursquare and Swarm, the former for reviews and information on your immediate surroundings, the latter for checking-in.
It’s a confusing business strategy; cut out all the fun of your service and leave only the utility. Beyond confusing, the new Foursquare/Swarm dichotomy has angered some users to drop the brand altogether, something Foursquare might have seen coming if it had considered similar moves that fell flat (Netflix splitting its DVD and streaming services into two companies, and every attempt by Facebook to launch a second product).
Will this move kill Foursquare? Hard to say. No one took J.T. seriously as an actor, then he starred in “The Social Network” and kind of got some cred. Sadly, if the Foursquare split fails, it can’t release an album and save face, let alone its existence. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.