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At the beginning of August, Dennis Crowley, the founder of Swarm (formerly known as Foursquare), laid out a new vision for the company in a Medium post called, “Say Hello To the New Swarm 5.0.” The goal for Swarm, says Crowley, is to become a sort of “life log” of all the little places that you visit during the day or week.
Life-logging as a social behavior
In fact, Crowley specifically mentions “life-logging” as the main user activity for Swarm users. Checking-in is no longer about “being seen” at a place, or about broadcasting to others all the cool places you’ve been to lately. And it’s not about signaling to others where you are at any point in time, so that they can stop whatever they’re doing and join you.
No, the main goal is to make Swarm more of a daily “life log” of your actions, building a searchable history of all the cool little places and destinations that make your life special and unique. You are using your mobile phone to record a permanent record of places you’ve been and places you’ve seen.
The classic use case, of course, is to remember something like the hole-in-the-wall restaurant that you discovered on a vacation or business trip and are trying to find again. (How many times have you been on vacation, dragging your family along with you as you try to find that restaurant, saying to anyone who will listen, “I know it has to be here somewhere!”)
Social media and nostalgia
At one point in the Medium post, Crowley writes, “We all create so much content on our phones every day that there’s almost no way to archive and organize it all… never mind take the time to remember about it.” So the life log is really about nostalgia. It’s about taking time to look back and see what you have done in the past. It’s also about spotting patterns in your life – are you “stuck in a rut” and just going to the same places, over and over again?
That’s actually a fascinating observation. If you think about it, almost every social media app is designed around the “now.” What are you doing NOW? What are you thinking NOW? The only thing that matters is the present – you’ll never have time to check out every single item that has appeared in the past in your Twitter stream, all that matters is what’s trending now on Twitter.
In that regard, Swarm is something new: a social media app built around nostalgia. And, to be quite frank about it, it’s not nearly as social as it used to be. In an era when people have thousands of Facebook friends and tens of thousands Twitter followers, Crowley admits that the median number of friends on Swarm is 6. In fact, Crowley suggests that Swarm is really an app you use for yourself. It feels (or at least, sounds) a lot more introspective than other social media apps, which are all about broadcasting and going viral and being heard by a huge audience.
Building a social strategy around nostalgia
But is it really a viable social media strategy? If you’re being cynical, you could argue that Swarm has never really found its footing ever since it became the huge, breakout hit of SXSW back in 2009. At that point, the company was routinely being touted as the next big billion-dollar social media company.
But flash forward to 2017, and it feels like Instagram and even Snapchat (with its new Snap Map feature) have far out-innovated and out-grown Swarm. Maybe Swarm is trying to reposition itself as a social media app with a strong emphasis on nostalgia because it’s more comfortable to look back at a time when Swarm (then known as Foursquare) was a social media darling and the talk of the town than it is to confront a more uncertain future.