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Can Foursquare Save Itself?

At one time the hottest social app on the market, Foursquare hopes to rekindle its mojo with a massive brand overhaul.
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Once upon a time, Foursquare ruled the social app universe. Now it's undergone a rebranding and split into two in the hopes of regaining its mojo. 

On Wednesday, the startup announced in a blog post that more than three-quarters of its users were actively moving to Swarm, a new app where they can continue traditional Foursquare activities like check-ins and spying on friends. The Foursquare app, meanwhile, is getting a reboot (though it will sync with Swarm). 

The new Foursquare is all about local search--highly personalized local search. "Right now you're going to get the same results as everybody else," says Jon Steinback, Foursquare's vice president of product experience. "And I think that just doesn't fit for the modern world." The app will deliver results based on your individual tastes, such as chai lattes.  

The rebranded app, in the works since January, will also let users passively share their location and explore their friends' histories. The bright pink logo, modeled after a place pin and a superhero emblem, represents what the brand means in 2014, Steinback says. 

The new logo resembles a pin and a superhero emblem.

This is all well and good, but the question remains whether the new Foursquare, which debuts in two weeks, can compete with Yelp and Google, both of which have thrown lots of resources into local search. "I think that they are doing some very innovative things with their user data and they have sophistication on the back end that Yelp doesn't have," says Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence.

Still, he remains skeptical that Foursquare, which took South by Southwest by storm when it launched in 2009, can develop a truly superior product. "It's a long shot that they're going to create something compelling enough to really break out of their curent position versus Yelp, which has a strong brand in certain categories and locations, and Google, which is ubiquitous and putting more effort into a creating a mobile experience that's dynamic and richer," he adds. 

There's also the fact that not one company can dominate search. "Everybody wants to treat this as a zero-sum game," Sterling says, but most people use multiple sites. 

Initially, people got hooked on Foursquare because of its gaming component, which turned check-ins into a veritable pitched battle for badges. But over time the novelty wore off, especially as privacy concerns surfaced. Many social media users were comfortable with sharing status updates and photos but not their locations.

Foursquare generated a paltry $2 million in revenue in 2012, according to Fast Company, and co-founder Naveen Selvadurai left the company in March 2012. 

Foursquare secured $20 million in funding in April 2013, and later took its first steps toward becoming a local search and discovery engine. But while co-founder Dennis Crowley and co. are holding on, industry experts question whether the new version of the app will be sticky enough. It's not impossible, but it depends how the product looks and functions, says Sterling. "If it's just a new coat of paint on the same user experience, then chances are pretty limited that they're going to draw a new audience." 

Foursquare's Dennis Crowley: 'Our First Instinct Was That We Broke Something'

The Foursquare co-founder describes how he adjusted the app in response to the way people used it (differently than he expected).

IMAGES: Courtesy Foursquare
Last updated: Jul 24, 2014

JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer

Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.




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