The Foursquare weening process has been a slow one. First, Swarm appeared. A few months later, it took our check-ins. And now that the original, watermelon-adorned app overhaul is finally here, it's a bit of a letdown.
Of course, the most obvious change is Foursquare's decision to jump on the ever-popular (although unfortunately innuendo-less) rebrand bandwagon. Gone is the company's trademark bouncing ball, replaced with what Foursquare refers to as "a mix of map pin and superhero emblem."
But Foursquare's changes go far deeper than just color scheme. Now, Foursquare Proper is first and foremost a discovery engine. One in which personal preferences set the scene while friends take a backseat, relegated to the Swarm. The app prompts you to tap on the sorts of foods, ambiances, and venues you like (referred to as "tastes"), allowing it to suggest nearby places you might enjoy every time you open the app.
In other words, it feels an awful lot like Yelp.
To Foursquare's credit, the default recommendations you see upon opening the app are more personalized, as they're largely based on the "tastes" you've picked prior. Which is a nice feature, certainly. But in all the times I've used Foursquare over the past few years, the one discovery feature I favored over all others was the ability to only search places where friends had previously checked in. Now that that filter is gone, the best you can do is impotently scroll through places the people you follow have "recommended." It may sound like a technicality, but the lack of control makes the entire process feel more distant.
In its announcement, Foursquare tries to stress that, despite the fact that your friends have been all but banished to Swarm, this newest iteration really is more personal:
The new Foursquare frees you from having to read long, random reviews, wondering if those people share your tastes. With Foursquare, find things based on your tastes, the places you like, and the friends and experts you trust most.
Ignoring the fact that the longest reviews we've seen on Foursquare would barely qualified as Tweets, the app's creators seem to be missing the point entirely.
Half of what made Foursquare so much fun in the first place was the fact that it managed to gamify the act of fun itself, and all your friends were there to play along. Points, leaderboards, mayorships, badges—it may have been shallow as hell and not all that useful, but that isn't an inherently bad thing.
And though Swarm, seen above, seemed poised to allow that aspect of Foursquare to live on, in execution, it's little more than the vaguest of tracking devices. Everything that made it a game (and consequently exciting) is gone, leaving us with a (very likely decent!) recommendation engine we could have found on any number of other apps, and a few pangs of nostalgia for the Foursquare of yore.
The overhauled, redesigned Foursquare is fine—which is bad, because it used to be great.