Say hello to the new Swarm 5.0

My view, from 11,261 check-ins

Today, we launch Foursquare Swarm version 5.0 — a huge update that we’re all really excited about. Before I tell you more, let me step back a second and tell you why we’re doing it.

I know for a fact that there are many, many people with more than 11,261 check-ins, but I am fairly certain that as the co-founder of both Foursquare and Dodgeball, I have the *longest running* check-in history going. Those 11,261 check-ins represent a log of almost every place I’ve been going back to 2004 — a history first created with Dodgeball, then the original Foursquare app, and most recently with our Swarm app.

I have check-ins from the day I got married, to the morning my daughter was born. Check-ins from my nights out as an NYU grad student, check-ins from the night Dodgeball was turned off, and check-ins from the years building and growing and scaling our company. My check-in history represents both peaks and valleys as it’s a record of where I’ve been and what I’ve lived through. Sometimes I search through it for nostalgia (“where was my 30th birthday, again?”). Sometimes I want to just remember the name of a place so I can share it with someone (“wait, where was that Owl Cafe in Tokyo?”).

And here’s the thing: I’m not alone. I met a guy in Chicago just last this week who showed me his 36,000th check-in (!!!) and people routinely tweet me screenshots of their 1,000th or 5,000th, or 10,000th check-in. I love seeing stuff like this as it re-affirms that we’ve built something that people love so much that they continue using it regularly for years and years and years.

So, back to Swarm 5.0…
The big news in this release is that we’ve taken this idea of the “lifelog” — that history of where you’ve been that gets created one check-in at a time — and doubled down on it. Your history is now front-and-center. We simplified the UX and re-visited the map view and stats dashboard, all in service of the lifelog.

A first look at Swarm 5.0. The new timeline tab (left) and profile (right), with personal insights and the updated map.

We made these changes after taking a long look at how much both technology and social media have changed over the years:

  • The way we share things online has changed a lot since we invented this idea of “check-in to a place” back in 2001. Way back in the original Dodgeball days, check-ins used to be “Hey, I’m here! Come meet me!” By the time we launched Foursquare in 2009, check-ins were a way of broadcasting your whereabouts all over social media (ahem, “oversharing”) as well as competing with friends for badges and mayorships.
  • In the years since, social media has turned into an addictive force of nature. Twitter went from “nerds tweeting about sandwiches” to the President’s preferred platform. Social media updates have turned into performance art (“put a filter on it!”). Digital photos have gone almost totally ephemeral with the popularity of Snapchat and Instagram Stories. We all create so much content on our phones every day that there’s almost no way to archive and organize it all, nevermind take the time to reminisce about it.
  • Despite the evolution and increasing complexity of social media, there is something we’ve noticed and watched closely — people still love the simple act of checking in. Despite all the new tools, apps and social graphs, we continue to see millions of people take a few seconds to check in almost everywhere they go (yes, I’m one of them!). So, why do we do it? We’re bookmarking a place. We’re capturing a memory. We’re creating a little nugget of meta-data about our lives to mark a moment in time. It’s a simple 6-second action (yes, I just counted) that millions of people around the world are in the habit of doing whenever they enter a coffee shop or airport or dive bar or wherever they’re spending time.

Defining Lifelogging

Internally, we’ve called this “lifelogging” for years. We used to think it was mostly a niche behavior, but as people began expecting more from the archive of content they create daily, we’re seeing the idea of a searchable and usable history becoming more mainstream. For those of you who have already invested in creating your lifelog on Swarm, you’ve probably noticed that the ability to retrieve details about any place or any experience from any time can feel like a superpower. (“augmented memory,” anyone?)

We’ve picked up on insights into how people create lifelogs, as well. For many people, creating a lifelog isn’t a social-first experience (in fact, the median number of friends people have on Swarm is six). For a lot of folks, Swarm is an app you use for yourself — with the end result being a collection of all the places you’ve ever been, neatly organized in a searchable database that can be revisited whenever.

And as the creators of this platform, we also try to go out of our way to help you find value in the patterns of the data. It could be, “You haven’t been here in 2 years!” or, “This is your 3rd taco place this week!”, or “You’ve been to the gym at least 1x week for 7 months in a row!” Swarm was designed to help you become aware of your routines, and then nudge you to do more — encouraging you to try a new place or explore a different neighborhood. This idea of “software that encourages you to do/see/experience things you normally wouldn’t” is something that has been core to us since our early days, and I’m excited to see it live on and thriving in Swarm.

Swarm 5 is out in Apple’s App Store today (iOS launches today, Android in about 2 weeks). If you’re a longtime lifelogger, we can’t wait to get your thoughts and feedback. And if you’re new to Swarm, give it some time and see if a history of all the places you’re visiting changes the way you think — and where you head next.