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How Foursquare’s crazy idea might become its Next Big Thing: Welcome to Swarm

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.

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