The brand new Foursquare brings back fond memories

The new Foursquare 8.0, just released today and after unbundling, is of particular interest to me as it was basically what feecha versions 1 and 2 tried to do starting from two years ago. Feecha had a broader scope: it wasn’t just about food and places but about news, events and activities too. Our implementation was also a lot less structured with a feed approach, instead of the lists and directories you see in Foursquare.

The similarities are there: Default content is about what’s around the user. Users’ experiences were personalized by who they follow and what interests (i.e. tastes on Foursquare) they have. They get alerted when something relevant and interesting is nearby without needing to open the app. Foursquare’s “Tips” section was basically our main news feed and you level up (i.e. expertise on Foursquare) when people appreciate your contributions.

Sadly, we gave up on that ambition when it came to version 3 because of one key reason: we just couldn’t get enough good data. We relied on users to create useful content and that proved exceedingly difficult. Foursquare 8.0 — at least for food and places, and with their archive of 55 million tips — is executing that vision a lot better than we could.

That’s why we focused on aggregating existing content in version 3; take what’s already there and simply categorize it around neighbourhoods and broad categories. We aimed for a magazine-like experience where the goal is to get people to habitually open the app to catch up on what’s happening. With version 8, Foursquare is even more like a utility and a Yelp competitor.

I found the new Foursquare visually overwhelming at first, especially on my small iPhone 5S screen. It looks much better on my OnePlus One’s 5.5-inch display. Fortunately, once I got used to the interface I quite like it, despite the update being ravaged by 1-star reviews on the app store. Doing away with check-ins helps a lot.

In the ranking of best food apps post from a few days ago, we wrote that

There are two key things you’d want to know from a food app: what are the good places to eat, and is Place X a good place to eat? A great UI gets those answers as effectively as possible.

By that measure, Foursquare nailed it with version 8. Their “Find a place” section is about what are the good places to eat, answerable by lists and search.

iPhone Screenshot 1 iPhone Screenshot 3

Lists generated by algorithms are an interesting way of discovering new places. Lists have been done before of course, but those attempts are static and thus, stale on a second or third viewing. Foursquare can keep things fresh with new data. It can also be scaled quickly.

The “Here” section asks whether the place you’re at (or near) is any good, and shows tips on what’s noteworthy about that place. For example, whether you should order this or that dish. The app accurately shows my current location and according to this story, it’s due to the company’s Pilgrim engine

Foursquare’s “Pilgrim” location-guessing engine factors in everything from your GPS signal, to cell tower triangulation, to the number of bars you have, to the Wi-Fi networks nearby, in order to create these virtual shapes.

It sounds hokey, but it’s hard to argue with results. Let’s see whether the app continues to be as accurate in other places where my phone isn’t associated with a WIFI network.

Foursquare also asks you to declare your tastes (e.g. fish tacos) and implicitly promises to alert you when those tastes are nearby. That’s exactly what feecha’s version 1 tried to do, but it was hard to implement well in practice so I’m eager to see how Foursquare does it. Obviously, I love the idea.

Once the furor of Foursquare’s great unbundling dies down, it’ll be interesting to see how people react to the new version. Based on this first impression, count me in as an advocate.

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