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Foursquare checks in on social mobile exploration to drive growth

In an attempt to regain its footing, Foursquare will split into two separate applications, with the core experience focusing on discovery while a standalone service called Swarm allows friends to maintain buzz concerning their whereabouts through check-ins.

Foursquare has been dabbling with explore and discover features for a while, essentially mimicking what other similar local mobile apps have provided. The company hopes these latests alterations will spur growth and emphasize its local search abilities as it continues to stray from its outdated check-in feature.

“The split is a big move, putting Foursquare directly in the path of Yelp and Google,” said Jay Hawkinson, senior vice president of emerging products at SIM Partners, Chicago.

“But it’s a risk that could pay off to both meet the needs of their current user base but also serve a new audience in need of a better local and mobile discovery experience,” he said. “It’s a smart strategy because Foursquare has amassed a tremendous repository of user-generated content they can leverage.”

Reveling in relevancy
The new Foursquare is similar to Yelp on the search front, but promises more personalized results. The app will build a profiled memory of past locations and tastes to predict restaurants, venues and bars that are suggested based on a user’s historical preferences and informed by their friends.

With the to-do lists feature and improved browse functionality, Foursquare believes it can make a solid stand for its new discovery initiative.

Presently, Foursquare users access the service for either social means or in wanderlust but never simultaneously.

With the change, Foursquare will quintessentially become a rival to Yelp and similar local search and discovery apps. Yelp fostered a solid base of brand advocates to build a content library of user-generated content before going after the check-in segment.

“If it can convince users that it can provide a more personalized and relevant local search and discovery experience over and above competitors such as Yelp and Google then it has a chance,” said Nitesh Patel, senior analyst for the wireless media strategies at Strategy Analytics, London.

Personalizing search is not just about modeling user preferences and behavior or embedding calculations, it is about actively adapting the search environment for users at the point of computation.

Focusing on the user enables a shift from what is relevant to a population to what is relevant for the individual.

Buzz words
The checking-in aspect of Foursquare will diminish and be rethought in Swarm, a service taking social cues from the instant messaging and presence program AIM.

Swarm users will be able to share and update their goings on to keep their friends informed, a feature the developers are hopeful will open up the opportunity for dialog.

“Swarm is for those that liked the check-in feature of the original Foursquare application and success there will require Foursquare to transition those users to Swarm,” said Mr. Patel.

“On the surface you might have expected the Foursquare brand that is most associated with the check-in application to be the main brand for the check-in service, but in reality local search is where the money is and therefore making sure all its existing users continue to use the app for local search and discovery was a priority,” he said.

The app will also have a feature that lets users propose future plans by communicating to friends in a user’s network what they would enjoy doing.

After Swarm launches, Foursquare will be given its update.

“Foursquare needs to make a big effort to shed perception that it is a check-in application, while convincing users that it can provide a more personalized and relevant local search and discovery experience over and above competitors such as Yelp and Google,” Mr. Patel said.

“If it can achieve the latter then it has every chance of removing the idea that it is a check-in application, but it will take time,” he said.

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York