Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Foursquare 5.0

It’s a Thursday, and this is a post about Foursquare. It isn’t, however, a resumption of Foursquare Thursday, which I last tried to revive in December – unfortunately, while Foursquare is interesting and constantly evolving, there’s not quite enough to write a weekly blog post about. And the people at AboutFoursquare do it better anyway.

But this is a post about Foursquare and specifically it’s about the new version 5.o of the Foursquare mobile client for iOS and Android. It’s probably the biggest update since version 3.0, released in March 2011, and signals a minor, but also significant, change of course for the service.

We’ve known for a while that Foursquare has wanted to ‘move beyond the check-in‘. Announcing where you are, earning mayorships and badges and competing on points against your friends is fine for those interested in such things (like me) but it’s not something that appeals to many people. Well, okay, about 20 million people actively use Foursquare, but that’s a drop in the ocean when you consider how many people have smartphones these days.

Of course, all the while, us narcissistic early adopters have been generating a lot of data for Foursquare, and increasingly Foursquare has been able to make recommendations in its ‘Explore’ feature using this data. With big data sets, you can start to uncover trends, and you can combine this with factors such as the time of day and even the weather to make a useful suggestion of where to go next. So in Foursquare 5.0, the big button in the middle is no longer ‘Check in’ (that’s now in the top-right), but ‘Explore’. And it’s suggestions are reasonably good – a definite improvement over previous versions.

It’s also promoting useful venue information such as opening times, directions to the venue and a button to call the venue, as long as this information has been provided – either by the venues themselves or by the growing army of superusers like me.

One big change is that it’s possible to ‘like’ a venue. In the past, Foursquare has used the fact that you check in to a venue as an implicit vote that you like it; now, you can ‘like’ the venues that you actually like, and also ‘dislike’ any that you thought were rubbish. Individual checkins can also be liked as well as commented on, and special deals can also be liked.

Maps have been made more prominent too – both when checking and using Explore. This is especially welcome when finding new venues using Explore.

The rest of the app has seen an overhaul. The ‘friends’ tab is now more like the Facebook news stream; checkins are grouped together if done in a short space of time, but it’ll also show you when friends write tips or add venues to lists. And the third tab, ‘Me’, gives you access to your checkin history, badges, stats (which shows your mayorships, points, position on the leaderboard and top places), lists and all of your tips.

Altogether, it’s a much more nicely designed app – and I’d go as far as saying its design is better than Gowalla which always looked nicer. Gowalla, if you remember, got sold to Facebook and closed earlier this year, after a very unpopular attempt at trying to change direction – I think Foursquare learned from this and have been careful not to alienate their core users. The changes do mean that features have been moved around and About Foursquare has a list of what has moved where. Some minor features disappeared altogether – some by accident and will appear in an update, and some deliberately – but almost everything about the ‘old’ Foursquare is there in some form.

My view? I like it – it shows Foursquare is keen to cater for a wider market, and threaten the dominance of services like Yelp (although Yelp’s inclusion as part of Siri in iOS 6.0 means it’s probably not too worried just yet). The app looks a lot nicer and although it is a little slower than before I expect this is just because it’s new – i.e. something that a future update will alleviate. I particularly like the extra maps, and the new friends feed is good (if a little large – would prefer a small font size).

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