Swarm inherits Foursquare's social roots, tells you where your friends are

In an effort to focus more on local search and finding you the best restaurants in your area, Foursquare recently announced that it would splinter off the social aspect of its app -- the part where you check in and find out where your friends are partying -- to an entirely separate one called Swarm. Today, that app is officially live in both the Apple App Store and Google Play. I had a chance to try it out for a few days, and while it looks very different from its progenitor with its bee-inspired design and bright-orange hue, many of the social features remain the same. All your Foursquare contacts are ported over, and you can check in to a location just as you would before. Similarly, you can view a list of your friends' recent check-ins, and you're able to heart or leave a comment on them as per usual.

But in addition to that familiar functionality, Swarm's also introduced a whole new set of features that might not have fit so well with the original Foursquare app. For one thing, Swarm now has an ambient proximity feature called Neighborhood Sharing, which when toggled, passively shares your location in terms of what neighborhood you're in -- check-in not required. This lets your nearby friends know that you're in the neighborhood without telling them your specific location. For example, instead of saying you're at a certain cafe, you'll just be listed as being in a particular area, like the Mission District in San Francisco, or Soho in New York. According to Foursquare, your friends will never know your exact spot with Neighborhood Sharing, at least until you actually check in. Still, if you feel uncomfortable with that, you can always switch the toggle off.

In conjunction with the new Sharing feature, Swarm's main welcome screen provides a social heat map of sorts that lets you know which of your friends are closest to you. They're divided into six distances -- Right here (500 feet), A short walk away (1.0 mile), Nearby (5.0 miles), In the area, (20 miles) and Far far away. If you see someone is close enough to arrange a rendezvous, simply tap on their avatar and you'll be able to call, text or send them a message on Facebook Messenger (as long as they've got all that information set up on their accounts).

Perhaps my favorite feature of the new Swarm app, though, is the ability to set up plans. Instead of just randomly posting a status update on Facebook or Twitter that you'd like to have drinks after work, you can send a quick open-ended invite to Swarm's "Nearby plans" page in the hopes that friends in the vicinity will see it and respond. You can then make arrangements of where to meet ahead of time, which is far easier than broadcasting your locale and simply hoping your friends show up. Of course, nothing's stopping you from posting random missives on the Nearby Plans page, so you could also use it to sell extra concert tickets or complain about the weather. It seems pretty similar to Dodgeball's pre-Foursquare shout feature, just a lot more localized.

Swarm also added a fun little component that seemingly every other social app has: stickers. You can either add a mood sticker that indicates your, well, mood, or a category sticker that matches the place you're at -- so you would add a beer sticker if you're at a bar, a coffee one if you're in a cafe, etc. Swarm doesn't offer reward Badges -- that particular feature remains with the main Foursquare app -- but you'll get more stickers if you check in to more places. Also, like we said a few days ago, the concept of mayorships has changed. Instead of just having one mayor, a particular place can have multiple mayors because you're only competing with your friends to hold the title at any given location. Last but not least, Swarm finally introduces extensive search of your entire check-in history so you can reminisce on where you've been.

As I've only had the app for a few days, there's likely more about it that I haven't yet discovered. But at first glance, it feels as if Foursquare old-timers will feel right at home with Swarm's social elements, and though I have my reservations about ambient location-sharing, that seems potentially useful, too. The question now is whether that's enough for folks to switch over -- after all, an app that tells you where your friends are is only useful if your friends actually use it. To check it out for yourself, either hit the source link below or head over to the appropriate app store to download it.