Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Foursquare Update Update: What Happened to Check-in?

So as of yesterday, I updated the Foursquare app on my phone. My first issue when working with the app -- what happened to check-in?

Once upon a time, the Foursquare team seemed to understand that check-in was an important part of their app functionality. To streamline the process, they made a simple button at the bottom of the interface and tried to reduce the number of clicks required for checking in.

When I first opened the new app, preparing to check-in at the restaurant while I sat down to dinner, I couldn't figure out how to check in. I wound up clicking through several screens before I got back to the main screen. Keep in mind that, unlike the computer with the ability to hover over buttons and links and see where they go, the only way to test functionality on the phone is to click it. This is one reason why good design and simple functionality is essential.

I finally clicked the push-pin button tucked in the upper right corner, which, location and size-wise, seemed to indicate sort of a secondary function. Unsurprisingly, it pulled up a map interface (what I would expect from a map push-pin). However, it turns out that this is the new check-in interface, because from the map and "nearby locations", you select the place where you are and then a small check-in button will appear in the top right corner.

Interface changes can be difficult. We humans struggle to break habits and cope with who moved my cheese. In this case though, I think it's kind of funny -- in the search to find other meaningful, synergistic functionality (whether it's responding to the 'check-in is dead' technology pundits, to their own 'voice of the customer efforts', or whoever else), they have managed to kluge the core functionality that helped them win the 'check-in wars'.

Different Players Look for Different Styles of Games
Back on the gamification theme, this reminds me more of the transition between Dragon Age and Dragon Age 2. With Dragon Age, the Bioware team created what might be the ultimate version of their role playing, multi-party character and story engine. It was an immersive multi-dimensional game that combined great story telling, great game play, and a variety of ways to approach the game. Combat in Dragon Age was typically -- pause, issue commands, play, watch, pause, issue commands, etc.

But when they cranked out Dragon Age 2, it was like they simply reskinned Mass Effect. Instead of multiple story variations, you had one story experienced through one character and unfolding in a one dimensional path. The in-game combat engine moved from a realistic fantasy role playing experience brought to the computer to something closer to a first-person shooter game where bad guys just pop in, appearing behind and around you as if from nowhere just to tweak your fast twitch nerves.

Long and short, it went from selling to the semi-realtime (I need a pause for a snack) crowd to a game more suited for reaction-based players. And as most people that play games will tell you, those are two very different audiences. Game mechanics can mean totally different demographics.

So, is the new Foursquare better or worse? Did they just jump the shark? By the looks of it, they seem to be focused more on trying to address critics that are looking for a different game as opposed to maximizing the game that they have come to dominate.

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