App Review: Foursquare’s Swarm Wants to Be Your Travel Journal

Aug 18, 2017

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At TPG, we’re huge fans of using smartphones to enhance our travel experiences. While certain apps like Google Maps and TripIt serve as practical additions to your home screen, it’s also important to have options for keeping track of the memories that you create. Fortunately, there’s Foursquare’s Swarm app, which was recently updated so you can use “check-ins” to create a “life log,” or, an interactive record of all the places you’ve visited on any given day.

Dennis Crowley, Foursquare’s CEO, sums it up best:

“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… 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?’).”

For those struck with wanderlust, the app can also steer you into visiting new places with a gaming incentive; there are more than 100 distinct check-in categories and virtual stickers you can earn by physically being in a new location.

“We’re capturing a memory. We’re creating a little nugget of meta-data about our lives to mark a moment in time,” said Crowley. Swarm’s core feature isn’t about scrolling through a feed to read about what your friends have been up to; now it’s about learning about yourself by seeing where you’ve been and what you’ve done.

I’ve been a passive user of the Swarm app since February 2017 and it’s been an effective way to document my life. On my profile page are quick statistics about what I’ve done over the past seven months, including more than 1,434 check-ins, 644 places and over 84 categories unlocked.


There’s also a contextualized feed of the places that I’ve visited. For example, I spent today working at the TPG office and yesterday I was at Grand Central Terminal. In the map below, the orange dots represent the various locations I’ve visited in New York City and it’s quite clear that I need to venture out of the Flatiron District more than I have been.


If your friends use Swarm, there’s also a feed that lets you see what they’re up to. For example, some of mine were out eating lunch and visiting the beach that day — for the sake of privacy, I blurred out their activities in the image, below. It’s easy to see how active your friends are based on the amount of “coins” they earn on the dedicated weekly leaderboard. While you can get coins by simply checking into a place, there are also opportunities to earn a higher amount of them by checking in with photos, friends or if it happens to be a new location. Earning coins doesn’t seem to provide anything of real substance, but the app does have a Perks program that presents users with a discount and a bar code to use at participating stores upon check-in. Note that I haven’t been able to replicate this feature within the app so far, so it’s unlikely that it works anymore.


Finally, Swarm’s core feature is located in this interactive map. Since February, I’ve visited seven states and the bulk of my trips have been in California and New York — which makes sense, considering I currently attend college in the San Francisco Bay Area and have spent the summer working in Manhattan.


You can also learn more about your activity by tapping onto the orange bubbles. My most-visited spot in New York is Grand Central Terminal, which I go through every day on my way to my next most-visited location, TPG headquarters. What isn’t accurate is the amount of check-ins — I know that I’ve visited GCT more than eight times — although in fairness, I didn’t actively start checking into locations again until the second week of August. If you don’t want anyone to know what you’re up to, there’s also the option to do “off-the-grid” check-ins, which makes your information private.


There’s also a category feature that details the types of places that users have a tendency to visit; I seem to like going to museums, shopping malls and coffee shops.


Within the category section comes the “collectible” progress — the aforementioned virtual stickers — and there are more than 100 that can be earned.


If you’re checking in, this feature provides the option of viewing a location’s rating on Foursquare, the amount of visitors that have stopped by with the app and who the “Mayor” is — the person who has visited that place the most in the last 30 days.


“Big Poppy” is an example of a collectible virtual sticker that I earned by checking into a movie theater. If you visit a movie theater 50 times, for instance, it turns into an IMAX 3-D version of the sticker — although there isn’t a practical reason to do this other than for your own enjoyment.


While I started checking into places in February, I haven’t actively used the app since April. It can get quite tedious having to open it each time I visit a place. For me, the single most important feature of Swarm is its “Historical Check-In” option, meaning that at the end of a given day, the app creates a list of all the places it thinks you went to, which you can verify or deny. It isn’t always accurate — sometimes it picks up places that I’ve walked by, rather than places I’ve actually visited — but for the most part, it does an excellent job of tracking where I’ve been. You can activate this feature by having the “show check-in suggestions in history” option turned on.


Overall, it’s been incredible to see what I’ve been doing with my life through the app. Swarm easily achieves its purpose of creating a record of your whereabouts and it’s the perfect digital companion to have running in the background while you’re traveling. While I likely won’t be doing check-ins every day (let’s face it, the novelty wears off after a few months), the brief moments of nostalgia that the app provides when I look back at the map every few months are more than enough for it to remain on my home screen.

Do you use Swarm? Let us know in the comments, below. 

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.

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