Autopsy of a (once) successful application

Today I have made a very drastic decisions. I decided to uninstall one of my main companion app, Swarm. Then also decided to write about it and mainly about the decision behind it.

Foursquare, a travellers true friend

I had been keeping my fingers on the pulse of social media life back in the days when Foursquare appeared and put it on my phone immediately as it became available. It proved to be a smart idea to do so. Foursquare became a great companion on my travels abroad (and as the app gained popularity also in Hungary) and during the years it always had a place in my travel folder after many phone changes. It gave the superpower of always knowing the coolest café, Indian restaurant or Vietnamese or whatever one desired.

The app was easy to use and well designed and on top it was extremely useful. I managed to get onboard a couple of friends as I was happily advertising my secret tool among them to discover unknown places in the neighbourhood.

Foursquare had another feature that had little to offer apart from the psychological mind candy, which was the check-in system.

You could check-in to places gain statistics and based on your activities you received various badges related to the type of the places and how frequently you visited them. There was also a map to show your progress of conquering the World.

Frankenstein of software development

The “mad professors” at Foursquare suddenly came up with the strange idea that why have one child if we can have two. And why make a new one if we can extract one from the first one. Sounds rather odd but it did happen. Maybe the management was dreaming big and they wanted to conquer new markets. Im not sure that I will ever find out but at one point the social game of checking in and collecting badges and tracking activities got removed from Foursquare and Swarm was born.

Black Magic

Swarm had everything what a social application needs to eat its way into your brain. The users were not new, probably many migrated from Foursquare simply because they had to and they had the habit of using the check-in system. It offered all the bells and whistles and instant reward that hooks your mind quicker than any drugs on the street. Connected people, gave you the missing out feeling, made you compete for the top of the rank traveller of the week and offered useless badges to boost your check-ins to earn more coins that were good to upgrade your useless badges.

checking in 300 times with a friend

How stupid does that sounds already? And probably it is but still many of my friends stayed hooked on the phenomena because it was good to connect that way and we had a history there.

Not to mention the roots of this black magic go deep down into our DNA.

Humans are hard-wired to want things. Auto-craving must have been a pretty handy built-in feature to survive in the prehistoric ages.

The interesting thing how the law of the jungle creeped into our everyday life. How the tendencies and those ‘evolutionary built-in features’ stayed with us and made their ways to our functioning on other levels.

Scientists already found out that the same brain parts respond to physical threats as intellectual ones.

It’s a very interesting topic if you want to know more and dig into your beliefs just read this Oatmeal Comic, amazing.

Of course marketing and business people (and the guys at Swarm) already figured out these tendencies and habits and exploit them.

An average person today exposed to 5000 advertising message a day.

What does a Social platform operates with to get and keep us hooked?

Instant gratification is a habit where you forgo short-term pain that will eventually lead to long-term pleasure and instead indulge in short-term pleasure that might eventually lead to long-term pain.

In most psychological models, humans are believed to act upon the “pleasure principle.” The pleasure principle is basically the driving force that compels human beings to gratify their needs, wants, and urges. These needs, wants, and urges can be as basic as the need to breathe, eat, or drink. But they can be as complex as the “need” for an iPhone 6 or some other cool new product. When we don’t get fulfilment, our psychological response is anxiety or tension.

Fear of missing out or FoMO is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This social angst is characterised by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”. FoMO is also defined as a fear of regret, which may lead to a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying events. In other words, FoMO perpetuates the fear of having made the wrong decision on how to spend time, as “you can imagine how things could be different”.

Globally, people spend more than 50 minutes a day across Facebook’s suite of apps (not including WhatsApp), the company announced last year. The well-known Notifications icon has everything to do with the three psychological phenomena I have mentioned above.

The good and bad parts

Swarm was a great ‘game’. Made travelling a game. I could track my travels around the world, I was the Mayor of all my favourite places and I could compete with my friends for the weekly rankings, gaining coins and buying upgrades for the funny stickers I owned. Those then boosted my earnings of coins and gained more and won more and bought more upgrades until I ran out of them. I was even willing to turn on my roaming in the most exotic places to get a check-in somewhere in a remote airport, so I could upgrade my Jetsetter ranking (my strongest skill). After a while Swarm was my journal of travelling.

And then it got shallow. There were no upgrades and no purpose. You got the same stickers all upgraded. Your wallet was about to burst from the unused coins but there was nothing to spend on, just compete endlessly with your friends and track your travelling.

The strange thing that Foursquare actually had a good idea back in the days. I remember I got a free beer once in A38 (the iconic bar of Budapest) for a Foursquare check-in (way before Swarm).How cool was that. Foursquare had the intention to engage businesses in the game buy them offering promotions for the hardcore users and in return gaining advertisement and more customers. There were even on Foursquare stickers popping-up in different places.

Swarm could have worked with that and make living community by engaging businesses to play with the system. But the guys at Swarm did not move forward and over the years Swarm just transformed into a habit with little meaning.