Coffee Talk: 639: Foursquare is Out of Touch and in Denial

After becoming one of the most popular mobile apps over the last five years, Foursquare is looking to reinvent itself in 2014. The company is making some bold moves and taking some big risks, but it’s also alienating many of its users. For those of you not familiar with Foursquare, it’s a social app that blends gamification and location sharing information. Foursquare users “check in” to various locations and have the option to leave tips or ratings on the venue. Users compete for badges and “mayorship” of locations, while the company gathers incredibly valuable data from user activity.

For most of the app’s existence, the majority of users focused on the check-in aspect of the app. The gamification system is fun and people love scores, achievements, etc. (even for driving!). Strangely, Foursquare wants to drastically change its identity and deemphasize check-in activity. In May, the company launched Swarm, an app that takes the check-in aspects of Foursquare, increases the font size, and dumbs down the whole gamification system. While some users are fine with Swarm, there are many longtime Foursquare users that loathe the app because it takes away the features (mayorships and scores) that made the original so popular. Check out some of the user reviews on the Apple App Store and Google Play to see why the app is reviled.

Swarm by Foursquare

The reason for moving check-in activity to Swarm is that the company wants to make Foursquare a “Yelp Killer” of sorts. The company has five years of excellent data from its users and will use it to power local recommendations. In some ways, Foursquare has more useful and practical information than Yelp. While I believe that the idea of using Foursquare user information to power a “Yelp Killer” is fantastic, the company’s execution has been terrible. Worse yet, Foursquare doesn’t appear to believe that the company has a problem.

In a recent feature on The Verge, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley and COO Jeff Glueck addressed some of the criticisms the company has been facing. It’s a nice article, but there are two bits that really bugged me:

Foursquare admits that it could’ve managed expectations a bit better, and timed the two app launches closer together so users weren’t confused. ‘It wasn’t a mistake. There is no prior arc with someone trying to do an unbundling like this before,’ says Crowley, ‘but I don’t think there’s any real perfect way to do it.’

Glueck emphasizes that it’s a very vocal minority of Foursquare users who have opposed the company’s changes, which not only moved check-ins out of Foursquare but largely removed mayorships and the app’s points system for competing with friends for check-ins.

The pair come off as executives that have no idea what their customers really want. Addressing Crowley’s point, pissing customers off is always a mistake. Why unbundle to begin with? Why not leave Foursquare as it is and launch a new product like “Yelp Killer (Powered by Foursquare)“? Swarm is hindered by baggage that should have been anticipated; when you force people to use a new app because you removed functionality from the old one, people aren’t going to like it. While Swarm has been improving (though is still not great), there are some people that will always hate it because it was forced on them. The same goes with the “new” Foursquare; some people are going to hate because it’s not the old one. Why not launch a new product and give it a fresh, baggage-free start? “Yelp Killer (Powered by Foursquare” — it seems so obvious.

As for Glueck, the “very vocal minority” is comprised of many longtime users that loved the old Foursquare app and hate Swarm. In all likelihood, there are probably many Foursquare users that liked the old app, didn’t like Swarm, and didn’t care enough to write a review on the App Store or Google Play. It seems like he’s ignoring some of the company’s oldest and most passionate customers. Being ambivalent about burning bridges with longtime customers is…stupid.

Since the unbundling of Foursquare and the launch of Swarm, I find myself using the company’s products less. I used to use Foursquare maniacally. These days, I sometimes use Swarm, but often forget about it because the deemphasis of mayorships and points makes the app less fun for me. I barely touch the Foursquare app at all. It’s a shame, because Foursquare was one of my favorite social apps and something I’d use several times a day. Executive decisions have made it an afterthought.

While I’m curious about the new Foursquare and interested to see how the company will compete with Yelp, I’m not sure it’s something that I’ll use personally. Initially, I’m sure it will do some things better than Yelp and some things worse. I just don’t like some of the decisions the company has made and I’m not sure I want to support Foursquare (again, on a personal level). Foursquare has burned a lot of goodwill and its top executives don’t appear to care. Judging from their quotes in The Verge article, Crowley and Glueck seem out of touch with their customers and in denial about having problems.

I know that some of you were annoyed by the “unbundling” of Foursquare into Swarm. What do you think of the Swarm app? Has your usage of Foursquare products changed since the unbundling? Are you excited for the new Foursquare? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Foursquare’s strategy. Share your wise observations in the comments section (please!).


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Author: RPadTV

http://www.RPad.TV