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Three years ago, consumers and financial analysts were up in arms when Netflix announced plans to split itself into two separate companies: Netflix, which would focus solely on internet streaming, and Qwikster, which would focus on the original mainstay DVD mail delivery business. Consumers hated the split because it divided the user experience and increased prices 60% for users of both formats. The ensuing melee drove the stock price down and destroyed 50% of its market capitalization. Foursquare recently split itself into two applications: Swarm, which will support check-ins, and Foursquare, which hints at being a location smart search tool loaded with personalized recommendations. Is this split a good idea, or another Netflix caliber debacle?

Foursquare's Swarm app adds ad hoc plan function

Foursquare’s Swarm app adds ad hoc plan function

According to Foursquare, users either perform check ins using the app, or use it for discovery. Since few users do both, splitting them up makes sense and will provide better app responsiveness.

That smacks of a made-for-the-media explanation. UX fans like me love the idea that usability drives decisions. Although removing functionality can make an app easier to use, was Foursquare really that hard to use? Rather than usability, isn’t it this about the money?

Since the Foursquare discovery app is keeping the embedded base of 50 million users and 1.7 million advertisers, it’s clear this is where they see their future. Are users migrating to Swarm, or is it game over? I’ve been using Swarm, and it does provide for speedier check-ins. There are a few layout improvements, since it’s easier to see at a glance which friends are nearby. Plus there’s an interesting new screen to create and join friends’ ad hoc plans. But I’m not sure Swarm will ever “swarm.” For me, the excitement of a new badge or becoming mayor of the local CVS pharmacy has run its course. I think gamification can accelerate adoption but its allure wears off over time. The lasting value of Foursquare is as a place to collect my favorite place and travel memories, or as a way to humble brag about interesting places. Whether its Lockhart BBQ in Plano or the original BBQ restaurants in Lockhart, it makes for some interesting photos in your feed.

As Foursquare focuses on discovery, it veers into Yelp territory. And Foursquare presumably has a strength where Yelp has weakness. Foursquare REALLY gets where you are and could serve up more relevant store, site and restaurant recommendations based on its knowledge of your friends and previous check ins. Yelp sometimes struggles to provide relevant search results based on your actual GPS. What do I mean? Get into Yelp and search for fairly specific content like “Restaurant supply store” or “bubble tea house.” Fairly often Yelp serves up irrelevant recommendations while ideal stores fail to appear in search. I’m not sure if it’s due to a weak algorithm or promoting high paid advertisers at the expense of user preference. Whatever the cause, the need for better search results is a Yelp weakness that Foursquare could exploit.

But Yelp owns the review space, and is far better at telling you what to order once you get there. Can Foursquare successfully pivot and overtake Yelp? Would its fans ever create the rich review content in Yelp?  Foursquare is partnering effectively by adding GPS location information to Pinterest and Instagram. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see business arrangements between the two, with Foursquare recommendations leading directly to Yelp reviews? It is nice to have some alternatives to the 1000 lb. Gorilla in Mountain View.