Checking In On New Foursquare

Foursquare’s recent redesign launched to significantly enthusiastic reviews for its simplicity, design and speed. And it was no incremental release – founder Dennis Crowley emphasized how they ripped apart the old app and basically started from scratch. Why? Because despite their success, Foursquare couldn’t afford to just optimize around the existing user behaviors – with Yelp, Google Local and Groupon all investing in discovery experiences, Foursquare sought to put “local” front and center via the “Explore” tab. As a longtime fan of Foursquare I waited a week or so before detailing my thoughts – largely to understand how the product wanted me to behave rather than just noting what had changed about the app itself. My guess is that I’m both more active and have more connections than the average Foursquare user, and I think this is the main cause of my pain points with the new app. They solved the casual user needs first and then will (hopefully) refine for the power user.

Clear Improvements

  • Check-Ins: Emphasis on photo and description creates much richer story around what was previously largely business name and location metadata.  I find myself taking more photos. Crossposting to Facebook or Twitter still easy but moved lower. Together a real focus on creating content to be published and consumed on platform. 
  • Visual Design: So much cleaner. The location iconography is distinct and informative while still maintaining equal visual weight with the rest of the page information. 
  • Faster: Loads and transitions are quicker.
  • Friend Requests: Previously these were obtrusive and bothersome. Now I don’t have to take action on them unless I want to.
  • Profile Tab: More organized with nicer presentation of my own history. All the tiles except stats provide realtime stats without having to go a level deeper.

Where I’m Struggling

  • No Local Filter on Friends Tab: Given the size, activity and geographic spread of my Foursquare friends, the lack of a “local” filter here is killing me. I’ve already defriended several folks to try and manage the noise but it’s impossible. As a result, I’ve spent very little time looking at this tab, which eliminated the serendipity of seeing where my friends are locally. This is a really important use case for me – it’s what builds habit and causes me to open Foursquare even when I don’t need to check in. There’s been some talk of putting this filter in Explore instead. That feels wrong to me – since maps are hard to pan and scan. I don’t just want to know who is nearest to my current location. I want to know in a summary format, where in SF my friends are right now.
  • Touch Targets on Friend Icons & Business Icons in Feed: Ok this is kinda clumsy to describe, but on the left hand side of each post snippet in the feed you have the profile pic of your friend and the icon representing the business right alongside. Touching your friend’s picture goes to their profile page and touching the business icon goes to the business page, but they’re both small targets and for fat or fast fingers, I find myself hitting the wrong touch point. Since the rest of the post goes to the business page, I would not link the business icon and make that entire graphic link to the friend profile.
  • Comments Still Don’t Result in Community: For reasons that I can’t quite figure out, comments on Foursquare still feel really lonely. I rarely reply to those left on my check-ins and similarly, don’t usually get responses when I leave a comment.
  • Hearts!: I’m not a fan of the “heart” system. I don’t think it’s a very sophisticated feedback loop and I’m still not sure what it means. I like this restaurant? I like this person? I like what this person said about this place? I like the photo? My personal opinion is that they just need to bite the bullet and allow people to rate locations or some similar feedback mechanism which speaks specifically to the quality of the experience. 

What Do I Still Want?

  • Easier Way to Save Places & Smarter Lists: In the global feed I can now see lots of my friends’ activity across the world, including items they save to their lists. Don’t make me go to location pages and click “save” one by one. I really want to save from the feed and then have smart lists that allow me to easily filter my saved places by location and/or type. For example, i can see restaurants I’ve saved in LA without having to create lists for them. I also have trouble managing lists – adding, removing items. It’s all very clunky – i want to swipe them and get action icons or delete. The addition of this would make the Global Friends view valuable and when combined with a local filter on Friends, give me the exact combination I need to get local serendipity now but also mine the Global feed for things I want to do later.
All in all I’m bullish on this release as the platform to build from but would very much like to see a Local filter back on Friend feed and improvements to the To-Do list feature. 
So Alex, tell me where I’m wrong or an outlier 🙂
[Previous: In February 2010 I wrote about their needed evolution from a “post your location” utility to a more rich experience built around pillars of local discovery, and in September of last year, evaluated their progress towards being the place you turn to answer the question “where.”]