Big news today in the location-based social media space: original niche creator Foursquare has announced that it will be splitting its service into two in a bid to segment and grow the two feature sets.
The new service, which is not yet available, takes its name from the badge given to users when checking in at a large event: Swarm. The service focuses on nearby friends, allowing users to connect with those close to them.
The company is calling this a "social heat map," as it allows for social connections based on place. The idea is that the information shared will be lighter than Facebook, and really focus on simply connecting like-minded people without a broader networking attempt like previously challenged contenders Highlight and Banjo.
The split plays into the red-hot geo-location niche, and gives Foursquare the ability to focus specifically on the utility of connecting humans to those near them.
Given the service's already-existing community, it could be the most ideally positioned to actually see success in the geo-location connection niche.
In the exclusive announcement, Foursquare co-founder spoke about the strategy behind the split - basically, to segment the niche appeal of the check-in and badges of the original product. This liberates the new Foursquare to tackle the incredibly lucrative local search market:
The thinking is, if we start to remove a lot of the friction, we make the tools much more accessible to people, that’s the path by which you get from where we are now to 75, 100 million, more than 100 million users.
By simplifying a lot of the story, and having an app that's dedicated to search and discovery I think it's going to be very clear to people that the search and discovery tools that we built are some of the best in class.
He goes on to speak about the core Foursquare product, which will lose its check-in button as it re-focuses exclusively on local discovery:
We think of Foursquare as a technology that’s enabling these superpowers… to see around corners and through walls, it’s like I want to find the best stuff that exists within you know, 100 yards, 5 miles, 10 miles of me.
Foursquare should understand the neighborhoods I've spent a lot of time in, and the restaurants that I went to once but never went back to.
I walked into a restaurant and it told me what to order. I walked into a neighborhood and it told me three places to go to. My plane landed in a city I’ve never been to and it’s telling me that two friends are nearby. That’s stuff that we’re doing now, and I think what people will get is that it’s very clearly the future.
Foursquare will become less about seeing what friends are up to, and more about using the available data to discover the next place to go, eat or do.
There's also plenty of room for a Yelp competitor - simply consider the general aversion on the part of business owners to using/paying for the platform, and also the impressive popularity of Facebook's new reviews - anecdotally, users are reviewing places at nearly four times the rate of Yelp.
The fact that the core Foursquare product is dropping the check-in, and becoming more focused on discovering curated places, is welcome news in travel. There's the increased opportunity for a restaurant to attract more like-minded customers, for example, or for a tour operator to target visitors that have similar profiles to recent customers.
The check-in is not disappearing completely - Swarm will maintain this functionality, in addition to passive location sharing, which means that those who download and install the app are opting into sharing this information with a chosen set of friends.
Beyond Yelp, the unbundling of the different personalities of Foursquare puts it directly in competition with Facebook's mobile efforts and Google's bid to leverage Places into more effective search advertising.
Facebook, for its part, quietly introduced a "Nearby" functionality two weeks ago that has a similar promise of passive location sharing. Clearly, this space is finally heating up, as companies attempt to solve for context in the local mobile experience. Travel brands looking to target in-destination visitors and locals will soon have a new avenue to explore.
NB: Personality split image courtesy Shutterstock.