Picture this: you’re a product manager at a highly successful social media startup that’s about to make a radical decision about its popular app. But the co-founder and CEO initially describes it as “crazy”. Pity the product manager at New York’s Foursquare: when the idea to split the app into two was first mooted (one for discovery and a new one – “Swarm” – for arranging offline meetups with friends), the initial response was not positive. How do you sell a pup like that?
From crazy to total sense
As founder and CEO Dennis Crowley put it in an interview with Mashable, “At first, we thought it was crazy to do this, but it makes total sense.” Those last four words made that product manager’s job much less scary.
Newly released for iPhone and Android, Swarm breaks the proximity and check-in functions away from the main app to become a simple, easy-to-use standalone feature. Users have the option of a grid view or list view of nearby friends who are also using the swarm app (the list view is a little easier on the eye, in our opinion).
The app constantly pings each user’s whereabouts to others who use it even when it’s not been opened, enabling anyone to find out who’s in the vicinity for a quick Starbucks (a chart displays how close friends are, ranging from “right here” – i.e., within 500 feet – to “in the area”, which means within 20 miles. And if you’re busy and want to suspend automatic proximity pings, you can temporarily go incognito with a quick right swipe on the “neighborhood sharing” toggle, prominently displayed at the top of the screen (just swipe it right again when you’re ready and automatic pinging resumes).
Is standalone the way to go for ambient proximity?
Product managers who’re abreast of developments in social tech will be aware that Facebook already has something similar in its “Nearby Friends” feature. But that’s inside the Facebook app, whereas Foursquare’s bold decision is to separate check-in from its traditional discovery function, turning it into a standalone feature that users only interact with when they’re ready for a little offline social company.
Crowley told TechCrunch journalist Josh Constantine that Swarm’s passive check-in capability isn’t yet ready to pinpoint exact locations, but the technology is being developed.