Foursquare wants to be the mayor of personalized local search

Nicole Lee
N. Lee|08.06.14

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Nicole Lee
August 6th, 2014
Foursquare wants to be the mayor of personalized local search

About three months ago, Foursquare announced that it would be splitting its app in two. It launched Swarm for check-ins and everything social, while the main titular offering would focus on being a customized discovery and recommendation engine -- which is what CEO and co-founder Dennis Crowley wanted Foursquare to be all along. Today, the company finally unveiled the brand-new, reimagined Foursquare it teased last week, sporting a new, visually enticing design replete with superhero-inspired logo. And though I've only had a brief amount of time with the app so far, I'm convinced that Foursquare's bet to go all-in on personalized local search might actually pay off.

Gallery: Hands-on with the new Foursquare | 27 Photos


It starts right from the very beginning with a brand-new on-boarding process. As soon as you launch the app, you'll be guided through a tutorial that'll prompt you to specify a few "tastes," such as "comedy club" or "spicy food" or "coffee," so that the app knows to bring up suggestions of places that best fit those interests. Foursquare tells us there are nearly 10,000 "tastes" to choose from at launch, though we're sure more will be added over time. And of course, you're free to add or remove those "tastes" as your, uh, tastes change. This is at the heart of what makes the new Foursquare tailored just for you -- your tastes won't be the same as mine, and therefore, what you see on Foursquare won't be the same as what I see on Foursquare. As you move throughout the app, your tastes will be highlighted in pink, indicating that the spot was selected based on them.

Another big component of the new app is the introduction of "expertise." Here's how it works: Whenever you leave a tip on Foursquare, you'll gain "expertise" on a certain topic or place. If those tips are then liked or saved by lots of other people, your "expertise" on that subject will grow. So for example, if you tend to leave great tips on sushi restaurants, you could be designated a sushi expert, and will be marked as such so that people will trust your judgment. And here's the part where pushing out the whole checking-in thing to a separate app makes sense: Since you no longer have to share your location on Foursquare, you're able to follow anyone -- it doesn't need to be a friend or someone you know -- to see what great tips and insights they have to share. So if a total stranger decides to follow me on Foursquare because they noticed I'm an expert on fast food, it's perfectly fine, because he won't get to see where I am; all he'll see are my tips on ordering the perfect burger from In-N-Out.

The rest of the app has also been reorganized and revamped. The first tab you'll see, for example, is for "Find a Place," with a big search field located at the top, followed by categories like "Lunch" and "Coffee." Under each category are a few dynamic lists that change every so often. Examples include "Great lunch places nearby" or "Recommended by the people you follow" or "Great for groups" or "Plenty of outdoor seating" or "A boozy lunch." Just as with the previous Foursquare app, you can dial down your choices even further by selecting a price point, distance and other features, like if it's considered a romantic spot for couples. Overall, the design is much more visually rich than before, with much heavier emphasis on photos.

Other tabs in the app include "Here," which tells you what's good in your vicinity; "Tips," which gives you a list of tips based on Staff Picks, who you're following, your tastes or just whatever's popular; and your Profile, which gives you a bunch of stats like the number of folks you're following and how far along you are on your expertise levels. Throughout the app, you'll see the Foursquare icon in the upper-left corner and the tips icon in the upper-right. The former will lead you to further personalize those tastes and some suggestions on people to follow, while the latter lets you leave those aforementioned tips.

What's particularly notable is that you don't need Swarm to use the new Foursquare -- indeed, the whole notion of checking in to a location is entirely absent if you don't have Swarm installed. The idea, after all, is that you'll now be using Foursquare to look for cool places to go, rather than finding out where your friends are.

Of course, I've only had a day or two with the new Foursquare app, so it's difficult to tell how good its recommendations are just yet. But so far, I think the combination of the tastes and expertise features is what will really make a big difference in setting Foursquare apart from Yelp and Google. The argument behind Foursquare's unbundling is that with the two functions clearly separated, the company could finally bring out the best of both worlds without one interfering with the other. So far, it looks like that decision was not such a bad idea after all.

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