Does anyone even care about badges anymore? What seemed like an unavoidable trend just a few years ago is now fading into the sunset. Perhaps this is no better felt than in the release of Foursquare’s new app, Swarm (which is, funny enough, named after a badge on Foursquare). While it does a great job of spinning out the friend-focused elements of Foursquare’s check-in system, Swarm is shockingly devoid of any gamification features — especially ones that arguably put the company on the map in the first place.
When logging in to Swarm for the first time, users with a history on Foursquare will see their data — including friends and past check-ins — seamlessly port to the new interface. You can check in with the same ease as the original Foursquare app, but the app encourages users to update their general location with its “neighborhoods” designation.
For example, if I’m sitting in my home drinking a coffee, I can check in to Bernal Heights generally to tell my friends I am in the area. Swarm also passively updates that data upon opening the app, to give users the most accurate general reading of where their friends are.
That said, Swarm really shows its value in interacting with friends. When opening the app, users will immediately see who is nearby based on their recent check-ins — from 500 feet away to “Far Far Away” for friends more than 20 miles away. The goal is to create those “people discovery” moments that encourage friends to interact in real life — similar to the way Facebook (s fb) is doing with its “Nearby Friends” feature on mobile — and it achieves that in this feature, as well as pushing notifications for nearby friends.
Another new feature is “Plans,” which allows friends to post their upcoming whereabouts, such as a bar for happy hour, and let others know that they’re interested in what’s been posted. It’s a simple, easy way to connect with friends in advance, but it doesn’t unseat traditional texting in terms of making plans. Rather, it’s like a permanent open invitation for company, designed to connect people that maybe would not have otherwise interacted.
Swarm is a useful tool to help users see who is around them when they check-in, but its lack of the traditional Foursquare gamified experience means that it’s missing that little something extra. In Swarm, Foursquare has abolished public mayorships and badges — the two big features that enticed users to play the “game” of checking in. Without those little rewards, like the satisfaction of unseating a long-entrenched mayor of a coffee shop, Swarm doesn’t feel immediately satisfying. Whether the lack of those rewards hinders the rate that users check-in remains to be seen.
Overall, Swarm is a neat, lightweight, and smart way to dip your toes into the world of people discovery — it doesn’t play around and it gives very helpful information about friends that you want to see. But in stripping those fun and games, users who get that thrill of being top dog at a location or getting a new, unseen badge will be sorely disappointed that they are gone.