Today, Foursquare unveils its newly refreshed self to the masses—and we got an early look at the overhauled app. The verdict? Falling closer to Yelp than Facebook, the decidedly less-social app is better suited to travelers than ever before.
One of the most striking things you’ll notice about the new Foursquare is that there’s no way to check in via the app—that’s all left to Swarm, the Foursquare-owned social network for finding friends nearby, which was released this May. (That app, which launched with little fanfare or explanation, has more or less fizzled—though perhaps traffic from Foursquare will lend it a needed helping hand.) And some of Foursquare’s other classic features are also gone: among them, mayorships and badges.
But the folks at Foursquare HQ didn’t entirely throw the baby out with the bathwater. The new app focuses on exploration, and finding great places nearby. And it takes a page out of the Instagram play book, by letting you “follow” brands, local insiders, friends, and other profiles for their favorite recommendations. (Follow T+L, for example, and you’ll see all of our favorite restaurants and shops as you’re looking for things to do in a new city.) “Experts” are so-dubbed because of how many well-liked tips they leave for a relevant subject, which could be as broad as “fancy restaurants” or as narrow as “eclairs.” Similarly, users can become local experts by reviewing enough places in a particular neighborhood or city. (And yes, you can look for local experts in, say, Trestevere, if you’re planning a trip to Rome—in fact, their tips may soon be one of your best bets for insider travel information.)
Perhaps the biggest asset to the new Foursquare is the insane amount of data available to the company. With hundreds of thousands of tips that the app uses to “tag” venues, users can input hyper-specific search parameters, such as “cozy cafes with free Wi-Fi and good pour-overs” and still turn up recommendations in most major areas. When big events hit town—Outside Lands in San Francisco, perhaps, or even a screening of Sharknado in Brooklyn Bridge Park—you’ll also be able to access recommendations that fit the theme, courtesy of Foursquare’s new editorial team. It makes it fun and easy to find what you’re looking for—no matter how picky you might be feeling. And if you feel like doing some research ahead of time, you can also star places and add them to a wish list.
As for deals, which lured many non-believers to Facebook in its earlier days, they’ll still be part of the new app—but they won’t be tied to check-ins (which, for the record, live exclusively in Swarm). Instead, you might see promotions that restaurants and shops already have in place show up as part of their listings. A rep says more of these may surface, as businesses will no longer need to hatch exclusive deals for the app.
With a fun design, trusted sources, and familiar interface, it all adds up to the biggest threat Yelp has seen to date. Your move, Yelp.
Nikki Ekstein is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.