Foursquare and Swarm
I started using Foursquare shortly after it came out. Some close friends started using it and my fear of missing out weighed heavily. Foursquare is an app that's essentially a more casual Yelp/Tripadvisor, and Swarm, its companion app, lets you check in to different places so you can keep a log and see where your friends are. At first, I didn't really understand the point. I could check in to different restaurants, offices, and venues. Ok. Reading reviews of restaurants and bars? Sure, but Yelp was already the dominant service for this. Getting badges and earning mayorships, though...I didn't really get it.
Even so, both Foursquare and Swarm grew on me over time. As I searched for new places to check out, Yelp became increasingly cumbersome. The reviews were long, detailed, and at times boring. I skimmed through poorly written, often ill-natured essays just to find a new place to eat. Foursquare, however, offered a nice break from all that with its "tips" -- short, 200-character recommendations. They prevent extraneous text and forces reviewers to boil down their advice to its maximum potency. Give me a tip, not an editorial.
If I want to check out what's nearby, there are only a few things I'd like to know: where people recommend I go and what they recommend once I'm there. Short and simple, without any decision paralysis. "There's a great sushi place on 3rd Ave and 43rd St. Try the omakase. Expensive, but worth it. And make reservations!" Alright. Let's do it.
Swarm became a valuable tool as well. It's become a diary of my travels, showing me where I've been and when. I'm slowly populating the world map with little pins of where I've set foot. Scrolling across the map on my phone, I can zoom in until the memories start coming back to me. "Oh, this was where I got heat stroke and almost passed out." "This was where I sat for hours on the cold, wet peak, waiting for the sunrise that never broke through the clouds."
While I love these apps, there's always room for improvement. A greater variety of stickers would be nice, especially with the plethora of chat emojis and stickers available now. The user base is still relatively small compared to Yelp and Tripadvisor, but this goes hand-in-hand with the addition of more valuable features. Something I've always wanted is for Swarm to expand its identity as a travel diary. Though you can access a list of your check-ins by year and month, Swarm's map feature is tiny and only accessible by smartphone. Why not roll it into a large, high-resolution map? Even better, how about printing hardbound books, filled with beautiful typography and cartography, illustrating where users have been throughout the years. Posters would be awesome too! These guys totally understand where I'm coming from:
For now, the best I can do is download the raw KML files, parse the data, and import into Google maps. It's not easy, but it's a start.
Not super pretty, but I'll continue seeing the world and checking in along the way!
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