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More thoughts on Foursquare, Swarm

I use Foursquare to explore, so I think its recent changes are germane to this Tumblr, so here’s another post on that. Feel free to scroll on past if that doesn’t interest you.

On the Foursquare Superuser forums today (it’s like the Stonecutters, but with less Steve Guttenberg), one user wrote of his decision not to use the new Swarm app: “I’ve kept the Foursquare app as a way to find things when I’m in an area I don’t know, but no longer do any check-ins.”

I responded:

I think you have hit on what I assume is the reason for the split, and for Swarm.

Foursquare has a huge database of venues, and is a pretty good app for finding local spots and venues. But no one really associated that (primarily) with the app. The app was thought of it as: check-in, badges, etc. And we know from past statements from people like Dennis Crowley that he resented that people just thought of the app as more of a game than a valuable tool (which is how the database got flooded with so many BS venues). If you were someone who had no interest in a check-in app, odds are that you never downloaded Foursquare, even if it might have other helpful uses for you (for me, lists are my most valued feature, especially when traveling).

So I imagine the top execs thought “screw that, let’s take all that stuff (checking in, and the like) and spin it off into a secondary app, and make Foursquare the valuable exploration tool we wanted it to be”.

So now someone who wants a good venue & exploration tool can in theory download Foursquare and never even need Swarm. And Swarm seems to be planned to marketed to the younger generation with tight friend circles glued to their smartphones, but can also be used for those who want to keep checking in. That’s what I believe the goal(s) have been.

I think the main reason that is being met with skepticism is that Foursquare has been in public use for 5 years, and 5 years in is perhaps too late a time to want to reinvent the public’s understanding of your brand (and the confusion of its long-time users about now needing two apps to do what one did before). And Foursquare didn’t seem to anticipate that.

My advice for Foursquare would be that, when they the final updated versions of all this is ready to roll out (end of Summer? Fall?), they need to a new PR push, and one that acknowledges right up front that people are upset and confused (as many have pointed, their social media presence has ignored this for now), and more honestly explain what inspired these decisions, and how they will work with users to make a smooth transition. People like Tracey and others have been great here in responding and updating the SU community, but what % of 4sq users see these posts… a small fraction, at best. This needs to happen on their blogs, Facebook, various Twitter accounts, tech blogs, etc.

The key is more candor, and less PR. Otherwise, this anger just keeps pointlessly stewing.

Mural, 3rd Ave & Butler St. in Gowanus. #visionzero #streetart

Mural, 3rd Ave & Butler St. in Gowanus. #visionzero #streetart

#manhattanhenge , 23rd & Broadway

#manhattanhenge , 23rd & Broadway

Recent Adventures!

I have braved the heat twice this past week for some more NYC adventures.

The first was this past Saturday, a journey to the very tippy-top of Manhattan… Inwood Hill Park, which has great forest areas, and a nice hiking trail along the Hudson River. We then walked down along the Hudson River Greenway toward Fort Tryon Park, home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medievel sister museum: The Cloisters. This was only my second visit to this area of upper Manhattan, and I’d forgotten what a treasure it is. The last stop was a little further down along the Hudson (sidenote: I got lost, and ended up walking along the train tracks… oops!): Fort Washington Park. This was a special treat for my lighthouse-loving boyfriend, as it is home to the Little Red Lighthouse. A great way to spend an afternoon in Manhattan while feeling escaped from it.

Then, yesterday, I visited northwest Astoria to see the the Welling Court Mural project, an ever-changing street art collective similar to the one in Bushwick. A lot of interesting stuff to see here, all located within a few blocks of each other. I posted some pictures to my Flickr. A few blocks west of here, on the water, is the Socrates Sculpture Park, a mixed sculpture garden and waterfront park.

Next adventure: Circle Line boat tour of Manhattan!

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. #littleredlighthouse #nyc

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. #littleredlighthouse #nyc

Password? #streetart #wellingcourt #astoria

Password? #streetart #wellingcourt #astoria

Inwood Hill Park, at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. #inwood #nyc

Inwood Hill Park, at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. #inwood #nyc

Do NYC in Four Days

I love looking up peoples NYC vacation photos on Instagram, etc. But I always seem to see the same things… Times Square, Central Park, maybe the Brooklyn Bridge. Everyone has a different agenda in a city like New York, but I’m amazed that it seems to take many several days to ultimately see very little of the city.

So, for those who don’t mind a non-stop vacation (who are these weirdos who go on vacation to *relax*?), here is my outline of how to see the best of NYC— all 5 boroughs of it!— in 4 days, assuming you get an early start each day and have good weather.

DAY ONE: Fair or not, most people dismiss Staten Island and the Bronx as the lesser of the boroughs, so let’s get those out of the way first (while also doing a small part of Manhattan and Brooklyn).
Start your day at Battery Park, the lowest tip of Manhattan. From there, you can take the Staten Island ferry. Not only will you sail past the Statue of Liberty, but you can cross Staten Island off the list, and get right back on the next boat back to Manhattan! Once back, walk up Broadway (hey there’s the Wall St bull!). Veer right once you hit City Hall Park, and look for the Brooklyn Bridge. Once you get across, continue the path into downtown Brooklyn. Look for Borough Hall, where you can get a Bronx-bound 2 train. Take that to Pelham Pkwy, and treat yourself to a few hours at the Bronx zoo. Exit the zoo at the western pedestrian exit (by W. 183rd). Walk east to Arthur Ave, then up that street to experience the ‘Little Italy’ of the Bronx. Turn east on Fordham Rd, and get a B or D train down to Yankee Stadium to catch a game.

DAY TWO: For the second day, you’re returning to Brooklyn!
Start the day by taking the L train to the Bedford stop in Williamsburg, and explore the heart of NYC hipsterdom. When you’re done, walk over to Metropolitan Ave, and head east… at Havemeyer St, be sure to take a detour into the The City Reliquary Museum for an off-beat look at NYC history. A few blocks from there, take the G train down to Hoyt St and transfer to a Manhattan-bound A/C for two stops to High St. From there, walk down Old Fulton St until you get to Brooklyn Bridge Park. After exploring all of that, head to the south end of the park, and turn up Atlantic Ave, then south again at Court St. Boerum Hill/Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens is a really nice area to walk through, and quintessentially Brooklyn. Turn east when you hit Union St, and you’ll get to walk past the Gowanus Canal (so toxic! so hip!) on your way through Park Slope. Where Union ends, you’ll find yourself at Grand Army Plaza and and the northern entrance to Prospect Park. You’ll want to take your time exploring this park. When you get to the south end of the park, head for the subway (the F train at Fort Hamilton if the west side; the Q at Parkside if the east side), and head to the end of the line and Coney Island. End your Brooklyn adventure with a hot dog at Nathan’s, riding some historic rides, and taking in the people watching on the boardwalk.

DAY THREE: Get ready for a day of exploring the queen to Brooklyn’s king.
Start the day by taking the 7 train to Vernon Blvd and your first neighborhood of the day… Long Island City. There’s a really nice waterfront park here, and a lot of new development along the river. From this area, walk north into Astoria. If you’re into pop culture, you will want to aim for the Museum of the Moving Image on 35th Ave. From there, take a Queens-bound R train to Roosevelt Ave/Jackson Heights. This area of Queens is very diverse, and will be heaven to fans of ethnic foods. After this, get on a Flushing-bound 7 train and go to 111 St. Walk down to Flushing-Meadows Park, which is bigger overall than either Central Park or Prospect Park, though showing its age far more. Check out the old structures from past Worlds Fairs, and the panarama at the Queens Museum. Head south along the pedestrian bridge that crosses the LIE to see Meadow Lake and the southern end of the park. When you get to the end of the park, start walking west (even past Queens Blvd) until you get to Forest Hills. Wander to the southeast end of the neighborhood (look for the private streets) to see what— I think— is NYC’s most gorgeous residential neighborhood. Grab dinner somewhere along Austin St, then treat yourself to a LIRR ride back to Manhattan.

DAY FOUR: Exhausted yet? Too bad, you still have Manhattan to explore!
Start your day by taking the A, C, D, or B train up to 125st St in Harlem. Walk past the Apollo, and head to Marcus Garvey Park. From here, head south down 5th Ave. The stretch of 5th between 105th and 82nd Sts is known as Museum Mile, where you can find— among others— El Museo del Barrio, the Museum of the City of New York, the Guggenheim, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once you are done with this, enter Central Park at the 79th St entrance, and head west toward Belvedere Castle. From there, you can head south through the rambles, cross the Bow Bridge, and see the Bethesda Fountain, continue down through the mall, and down toward the Pond. Exit the park on the southwest tip, and head back down 5th Ave to see NYC’s most famous shopping strip. In between 50th & 49th Sts, head into Rockefeller Center. Continue west from there, and head down Broadway for… you guessed it… Times Square. After avoiding an army of Doras, head east on 42nd St to Grand Central Station. Walk back up to 5th Ave. and head down to 34th St, where you will find the Empire State Building, a favorite of giant apes and tourists alike. Walk down to 30th St, and head all the way west. At 10th Ave. you will find the (current) northern end of the High Line. You can walk the length of the High Line all the way down into the West Village. You’ll want to make your way east through the Village’s winding streets ‘til you hit Washington Square Park. From here, head east into the East Village and/or the Lower East Side, grab a late dinner, and toast yourself to a very full vacation.

[Bonus tip! Unless you like missing flights, never take a cab from Manhattan to JFK Airport (LaGuardia? You should be fine). Grab a LIRR train to Jamaica at Penn Station, transfer to the AirTrain to JFK. Cheaper, quicker.]

NYC by Boat

It’s summer, and so boats are everywhere in NYC’s water (except the Gowanus Canal, because no one wants to end up a Morlock). Exploring NYC by boat gives you a new perspective on the city, and lets you see places you might otherwise miss in the standard exploration. So here are some of the best ways to boat NYC!

1. Probably the best option is Circle Line’s 2.5 hour full-island tour. Their site promises you will “Take in over 101 city sights, including a magnificent close-up of the Statue of Liberty” on the tour. Beware of tourists using iPads as cameras, however (don’t ever do this!)

2. If you just want to see the Statue of Liberty, and don’t have time for that full island tour, your best is the (free) Staten Island ferry. Added benefit: You will be able to tell people you (technically) went to Staten Island.

3. If you want more of a full adventure than just a boat trip, take the ferry to Governors Island. There are the main ferries from lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6, but the East River Ferry also now stops there. Sad note: The island’s new ‘Hammock Grove’ is shockingly low on hammocks.

4. See the Rockaways! During weekdays only (sorry, weekend beachgoers), the city runs a ferry to the Rockaways from Pier 11 down by Wall St. This is a unique boat ride that will give you a great view of Brooklyn’s western shoreline (including the private Sea Gate community, take you under the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, and give you an amazing sea-side view of Coney Island before arriving you in Queens favorite peninsula. Flock with the locals to Rockaway Taco, and catch some rays, before getting the next ferry back.

PS: If you do want to boat the Gowanus Canal… that can be arranged.

View of Brooklyn from the sea (visible from left to right:  parachute jump, Verrazano Bridge, Wonder Wheel, & Cyclone).

View of Brooklyn from the sea (visible from left to right: parachute jump, Verrazano Bridge, Wonder Wheel, & Cyclone).

Lovely morning for a boat ride. #nyc

Lovely morning for a boat ride. #nyc

Bushwick Collective

I had posted this past winter about doing a (self-guided) street art tour in Williamsburg, but here’s something better for fans of that aspect of urban life.

With the 5Pointz building in Queens white-washed (and yet, still standing??), the best street art scene in the city right now is the Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn. This is much more of an exploration/walk than something like 5Pointz, which was all self-contained in one block. The main area in Bushwich is along Wyckoff between the Jefferson and Dekalb stops on the L train, though there’s lots to see on the side-streets of that stretch, from St. Nicholas down to Irving.

I’ve done this walk twice so far, and it’s been very interesting (and I found new things the second time). This is an area of the borough I would not have explored otherwise, so it’s a good excuse to explore central Brooklyn as it goes through a number of changes.

Bushwick Collective. #bushwickcollective #streetart

Bushwick Collective. #bushwickcollective #streetart

I write letters

Here is a copy of the feedback email I sent to Swarm:

Hi, I am a daily Foursquare user, and a proud member of the Superuser community. I wanted to add my voice to the feedback on Swarm (I may have done so a month ago, but have been using Swarm daily, so have more in-depth thoughts).

While most of the feedback you’re getting is, I assume, focused on the loss of badges and mayorships (which I miss as well, but I don’t need to add to that pile), I wanted to focus my thoughts on the Foursquare/Swarm split itself.

My main puzzlement is that I guess I don’t see that there was ever even a need to add a secondary app experience. In particular because other split apps (ie. Facebook and its secondary Messenger app) did not move the primary function/essence of the brand (in Foursquare’s case… checking-in) to the secondary app. This is a disaster for the brand. What is Foursquare/Swarm? A check-in app? A competitor to Yelp? A plan-making message system? The answer is no longer clear.

I understand that, after many years, Foursquare wanted a radical overhaul of the app to fit an evolving mission for the company. But all that could have been accomplished with a major update to Foursquare… there is nothing in Swarm (the ‘plans’ feature, etc) that could not have become a part of a new Foursquare itself.

But more importantly, the split makes using both Foursquare AND Swarm more difficult and less user-friendly. This will cause 4sq to bleed more users (which I have already noticed in my friend circle) than the loss of mayorships.

Here is a specific example: When I click the check-in button to find the place I want to check in, I am not always 100% sure which of the venues that pop up is the one I mean (there may be similar places, or I cannot remember the exact place,etc). So in Foursquare, I would click the venue name(s) in the check-in list, confirm the venue details, and proceed from there. In Swarm, I cannot do this… I then have to open Foursquare, look up the venues there, check the details, and go back to Swarm to complete the check-in. This makes the basic function of the app(s) and turns it into a now complicated process. And not one that is intuitive or user-friendly.

[A side-note: Also, when I click the check-in button (on 4sq or Swarm) to explore places in a new area— the ideal purpose of the app!— a large chunk of what I get is junk venues… people’s apartments, outdated events, joke venues, etc. This hurts the brand as well. The open-source of Foursquare is great, but long-term there should be a way to clean up the database (beyond what SUs can do) to prevent this.]

In closing, I can’t imagine how much time and work has gone into this new direction for the company. And I truly love the product that your company has created. But the split with Swarm is, I fear, a mistake. I hope that you will be able to restore the past easy-to-use Foursquare while maintaining your growing vision for it.

Thank you for your time, and all the best wishes.

I am bad at Tumblr.

Ohh Tumblr, how I neglect you. I will try and add some new posts this week.

In the meantime, I am on Flickr now! Hooray for me!