Foursquare splits into two – say hello to "Swarm"

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Unexpected news from Foursquare this afternoon – the check-in app is to be split into two completely separate entities.

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For several years now Foursquare has been the go-to app for location-based stuff, but this is all set to change. In a statement posted to the company’s corporate Tumblr, they said:

“[E]ach time you open the app, you almost always do just one of those things. At home, you may be searching for a place for dinner. After dinner, you are probably looking to see what friends nearby are up to. That’s why today, we’re announcing that we’re unbundling these two experiences into two separate apps – Foursquare, and a new app called Swarm.”

In a nutshell, as soon as the velvet divorce has taken place, the two apps will be the following:

Foursquare will be for finding places to go – the company themselves liken it to the Yellow Pages. So think restaurants and bars and that sort of thing.

Swarm, meanwhile, will be for locating friends. You’ll be able to login and see where your friends are – essentially doing the old check-in thing. This seems a little odd to me as surely it is the Foursquare brand that should be associated with this? Given there are little “Foursquare” stickers in the windows of shops and restaurants all over the world.

So the really big question hanging over this is “…why?”. Is it just mum and dad have been fighting and can’t get along any more?

To wildly speculate for a moment, one reason for the switch could be to do with the trend in how companies are managing their apps. Rather than having “all in one” apps, having multiple apps for different functions is becoming increasingly common. Think how Facebook no longer just have Facebook, but also Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Paper (their news reader type app), WhatsApp, and even a Facebook Camera app. Google have been doing the same thing – just yesterday, they announced that individual Docs, Spreadsheets and Presentation apps are being split out of the main Google Drive app.

The main driver behind this is the idea that single companies can dominate your phone’s screen – you can only have a finite number of apps on display, and wouldn’t it be nice for the company if their apps were all your saw, rather than the apps of competitors?

Another possible reason could be to do with how commercial the app is. Unusually for an app that is so popular and so old (founded in 2009 – practically dinosaur times in tech terms) it has not been snapped up by one of the big players like the aforementioned Facebook, Google, or someone like Apple. Could splitting the apps make one half or even both halves of the company easier to offload and sell to the highest bidder? Perhaps Facebook don’t want check-ins, or can figure out where your friends are themselves – but you can bet they’d quite like to own a massive database of commercial information.

Similarly, maybe the company is consciously pivoting away from check-ins and instead want to push the going out recommendations to people who might be put off by having to publicly broadcast where they are?

Maybe if we spot any of the founders checking-in to the bank, we’ll finally figure it out?

James O’Malley