Article by Chantal Tode at Luxury Daily.
Substantially more shoppers want to use their smartphones while shopping compared with a year ago, but retailers are not moving fast enough to meet consumers’ increasingly sophisticated mobile needs, according to a new report from Accenture.
While retailers, for the most part, have adopted basic mobile strategies such as offering a mobile-optimized Web site, very few are addressing more sophisticated needs, such as offering real-time promotions or in-store navigational capabilities. A key takeaway from the findings is that retail capabilities once considered nice-to-have are increasingly becoming must-haves.
“Retailers must make every effort to improve their mobile commerce capabilities and keep up with consumers expectations,” said Patricia Walker, senior managing director, products and North America retail practice lead at Accenture. “To be an adaptive retailer, the experience needs to be seamless experience for consumers who expect mobile devices to ease the shopping experience, both online and in-store.”
Millennial gap increases
The report, Accenture’s 2015 Adaptive Retail Survey, is based on a survey of more than 10,000 consumers in 13 countries. More than 160 retailers in 10 countries were also benchmarked for the report.
A key finding is that consumers continue to make mobile a bigger part of their shopping journey. For this year’s report, 48 percent of respondents said they found it easier to make purchases using their mobile devices, up from 42 percent last year.
Additionally, 40 percent used their smartphones to track down goods and services, up from 36 percent last year. And, 27 percent expect to purchase more via mobile devices in the future.
The gap between millennial and baby boomer shoppers grew wider, with nearly three times as many younger consumers planning to increase their smartphone-based purchases compared to boomers.
Millennials are also three times more likely to say the mobile channel needs the most improvement.
“Despite the desire for the ultimate personalized experience, shoppers still have reservations about some retailer capabilities related to mobile use,” Ms. Walker said. “The Accenture research found that 75 percent of shoppers believe that a retailer’s ability to automatically adjust the price of items for loyalty points and other discounts is a ‘cool’ offering, whereas six percent consider such ability ‘creepy.’”
Retailers are addressing the mobile basics, with 93 percent offering a smartphone-optimized Web site and 89 percent a tablet-optimized site.
However, only 58 percent offer a smartphone app with purchasing capabilities.Retailers are even further behind when it comes to addressing consumers’ more sophisticated shopping needs.For example, while 47 percent of shoppers want to receive real-time promotions, only 7 percent of retailers send such promotions.Additionally, 37 percent of consumers want to order out-of-stock items via their smartphones but only 43 percent of retailers enable them to do so via free Wi-Fi in store.
Another 37 percent of shoppers want to use their phones to access a shopping list or find in-store items. However, only 31 percent of retailers offer mobile shopping lists and just 4 percent provide have apps that help shoppers navigate a store.
Offering shoppers the ability to scan products in store using their mobile device is another area where retailers are lagging behind shoppers, as 32 percent of shoppers want to be able to do so, up from 27 percent, but only 17 percent of retailers provide scanning capabilities,
Retailers are also lagging behind shoppers when it comes to automatically crediting coupons and discounts via a mobile phone, something 42 percent of shoppers want, up from 35 percent last year, but only 16 percent of retailers can do.
Google and Facebook
Additional key findings from the report include that trust continues to be an issue, with 57 percent of shoppers worried that their personal information could be stolen, up from 49 percent last year.
Retailers also still need to tread carefully with how they leverage shopper data, as 41 percent think it is creepy for sales associates to know the items on their online wish list.Accenture also found that Google and Facebook are playing a bigger role on shoppers, with 57 percent saying they are most impacted by Google and 41 percent saying this for Facebook.
“This year’s survey confirms that retailers have begun to adapt to the evolving needs of their customers,” Ms. Walker said. “However, the challenge they face is investing in building the important digital elements of their channel strategy while remaining focused on driving profits, which in many cases is still primarily driven by stores.“Retailers need to understand however, that they are actually involved in a race that will likely accelerate as consumers continually seek more value, greater convenience, and better customer experience across all channels,” she said.
As the environment Trends have changed, tactics have too. And if your business hasn’t adapted, or is not prepared to, you’re going to be left behind as your competitors (or others) do.
According to CEO of the predictive platform SimpleRelevance Erik Severinghaus, many companies fail to optimize messages in pivotal ways that would help them reach customers.
“Customers are inundated with messages through various channels, making it essential for a company to use its data to strategically reach out to customers if they want any chance of breaking through the noise of digital marketing,” says Severinghaus. “Learn what your customers want, offer relevant content, and your marketing efforts will sharply increase in value.”
But with all the options on the table today–paid media, social media, paid search, SEO, thought leadership, event marketing, cause marketing (to name just a few off the top of my head)–which are the winners? Or, even more importantly, what communications tools will be essential to breaking through in 2015?
Here are my top four predictions:
SEO–It may be too easy to start with the no-brainer answer. Search has been the non-optional tool for smart businesses for years now. But it’s only going to get more and more important. Those businesses which can squeeze even the smallest advantage in search engine optimization will find a big return in their ability to find customers. Or, have customers find them. Either way.
As search engines become more complex and harder to game, the value of SEO experts will increase. But the question going forward may not be “Can I afford to engage an SEO expert?” to “Can I afford not to?”
Credibility–The explosion of communications has, naturally, exploded the number of places for businesses to communication. But they are not all equal. Getting your brand and businesses in 100 blogs which no one reads aren’t worth nearly one mention in an outlet like the Wall St. Journal.
The company which can get their message in–or get covered by–major outlets which are known in business rooms will stay ahead of the pack. Take a quick scan of start-up websites and see how many list major media coverage prominently.
Getting coverage in major media outlets is a key strategy in any successful launch according to Emily Collins, CEO of Seedkicks, a crowdfunding platform for startups.
“We encourage clients to build relationships with relevant press, and then pitch an interesting story. Often times people don’t do their research and reach out to press blindly. It may seem obvious but don’t reach out to a food blogger when you are a tech startup.”
Like SEO, cracking this nut may be enhanced by bringing in experts such as affordable public relations and media firms who keep relations with key reporters and can leverage those to help.
Content–Is content still king? Maybe. But even if it’s not, content is still at least a member of the royal court of communications. To break through, your business will need to produce great quality content. Whether you put great content on your business site, a personal outlet such as LinkedIn, or a larger platform, doing at least one of those will continue to be important.
You can, like SEO and credibility, leverage resources to develop great content for your business. Or have a member of your leadership team do it. But however you produce it–make sure it’s content that delivers real reader value.
“With specific and company focused content, your company can share its expert advice with targeted prospects and clients meeting their specific needs”, says Elizabeth Dodson, Co-founder and CCO of HomeZada. “Leveraging resources both internal within your company and external to your company to help build this content will provide valuable data to help your audience educate themselves thereby creating more credibility for your brand.”
Personal branding–We’ve all heard how entrepreneurs are rock stars. What individual business leaders do–at least in the business space–makes news. As that reality continues, building and keeping a personal brand, in addition to a business one, is important too.
“Taking advantage of the personal branding powerhouse called YouTube is a no-brainer decision for small business owners all across the globe due to the intrinsic power that videos have to engage and establish rapport with target audiences” says online video guru and founder of ‘TotalVideoMastery‘ Brian Magnosi.
People and places change all the time and it’s impossible to know what you’ll be working on next year–or a decade from now. Therefore, make sure people like reporters, investors and other business leaders know you.
It’s not inconsistent to have your business media team promote business leaders. Since people are covered on their own–in this case, press is press. And a good personal brand can elevate a business one. And vice versa. Going forward, the businesses which get this balance right will stay a step ahead.
Two years after acqhiring read-it-later startup Spool, Facebook today launched a basic Pocket competitor called Save. It’s a feature for iOS, Android, and web that lets you store links from News Feed and Facebook Pages for Places, Events, Movies, TV shows, and music to a list where you can view them later.
While Save doesn’t cache content behind links like Pocket or Instapaper, it should give all Facebook users a quick way to stockpile links and content they find so they don’t have to interrupt their News Feed reading flow. As it rolls out over the next few days, Save could let people browse the feed in shorter bursts without worrying about forgetting things they don’t have time to explore right away.
The “Save” button or a little bookmark icon button resides in the bottom right of stories in the mobile and web News Feed, and you can also Save by using the drop-down menu accessed from the arrow in the top right of each story. On Facebook Pages for Places, Movies, TV shows, and musicians, as well as Events, there’ll be a more prominent Save button next to Like or the RSVP options. A link to Saved items appears in the web homepage’s left sidebar list of bookmarks, and the More apps list on mobile. That More list is where features like Nearby Places and Nearby Friends have been buried, and Save too could get forgotten by average users.
What you Save is only visible to you. From your Saved list which is categorized by content type, you have the option to share an item with friends, or archive it. You’ll need web connectivity to visit any links you Save, as Facebook isn’t currently caching them. Facebook will remind you to check out what you’ve stored with occasional News Feed posts featuring carousels of your Saved content.
Going back to read links you didn’t have time for makes sense, and Saving Places could help you compile restaurants and attractions to check out in your city or while traveling. But I’d bet few people will use Save to store movies and TV shows to read later. How hard is it to remember “everyone says I should watch Game Of Thrones”? And you can just RSVP “Maybe” if you’re considering going to an event, unless you’re really paranoid and like to travel by cover of darkness.
Facebook’s blog post announcing the new feature is brief and leaves some open questions.
I’ve asked Facebook whether websites and Page admins will get analytics on how often they’re Saved, which could help refine their content and promotion strategies, and better understand what to share on Facebook. It tells me “Not at this time.” There are currently no plans for an API or external Save button that developers could use to let people add to their Saved list from outside of Facebook. You also can’t natively export from Save to other read-it-later apps, which would be nice.
When I asked if Saved could power ad targeting, Facebook told me “We use the information we receive to enhance all of the services we provide, including by creating more relevant advertising for people and compelling value for marketers. Currently you cannot target ads specifically to saved content. We will explore this more in the coming months but don’t have anything more to announce right now.”
If Save proves popular, Facebook might consider spinning off its own standalone read-it-later app, or at least integrating it into its feed and news reading app Paper.
It’s curious that Facebook took so long to release this feature, especially since the final version isn’t that different from its tests in 2012. Since then Pocket (originally known as Read It Later), has grown to 12 million registered users. That’s massively dwarfed by the potential market for Save, thanks to Facebook’s 1.28 billion users. Still, some early adopters may have already settled into Pocket. It offers caching of content for offline viewing, as wells as content suggestions, tags, favorites, and inbox, plus a $5 a month premium tier with permanent copies in case content is removed from the web.
There’s a very good reason Facebook may not be caching content: it would rob its publisher partners of ad views. If Facebook simply scraped the destinations of links for their text, images, and videos, and let you view them on a stripped down page in Save, why would you go to the actual Page? Facebook likely doesn’t want to piss off these publishers since they contribute content to its service through Pages, and buy Facebook ads to grow their audience.
Save might not have the caching that hardcore read-it-later users love, but Facebook may not be focused on this demographic. Instead, it’s focus may be creating a read-it-later feature that’s simple enough for everyone, and designed to increase cross-platform usage and mobile feed reading. Saving could make the feed better by teaching Facebook what you and everyone thinks are high-quality stories.
Save from the web could let users squirrel away links they find to read on mobile during their commute or odd moments of downtime. That creates a new use case for Facebook’s apps, where you visit to specifically to read longer content and actually learn something rather than just breezing through the feed.
Saving from mobile could make feed reading more valuable when you only have a few moments, like while waiting in line for coffee. Right now, it can be a bit daunting trying to get something out of News Feed if you’re on the go. Knowing you can Save links for later and skim by them in favor of quick-to-consume content like photos and status updates could make brief feed sessions more pleasurable. And Facebook only needs to show you a few organic stories to slot in an ad alongside your fix of ambient intimacy.
“In my Portuguese language, it’s bom dia — good morning,” he says. His voice is calm and direct, and he clears his throat softly before answering.
He discusses a new technology initiative to help Kopenawa and his community document rights abuses committed by outsiders. Spearheaded by the Survival team, the TribesDirect project will set up a solar-powered, satellite Wi-Fi network in Kopenawa’s community, with a camera the Yanomami tribe can use to quickly relay important messages. Survival is designing easy-to-use software, and will provide training to members of the community.
The project is the first of its kind — a unique, albeit controversial, way to amplify indigenous voices.
The project is the first of its kind — a unique, albeit controversial, way to amplify indigenous voices.
In recent years, outsiders have posed a renewed threat to indigenous peoples in Brazil, including territory colonization, gold mining, logging and disease. The Brazilian governmenthas been accused of blatantly disregarding indigenous rights, failing to address outsider abuses against the dozens of tribes in the Brazilian Amazon.
The idea for TribesDirect is to spread awareness and report these rights abuses in near-real time, and to help the Yanomami follow and comment on tribal issues across the globe.
If successful, Survival hopes other indigenous peoples around the world will be able to adopt this technology model, allowing them to speak for themselves to an international audience, encourage governments to take action and, ultimately, change the way outsiders treat them.
Among the atrocities committed against the Yanomami and their land, Kopenawa cites cattle ranchers, or fazendeiros, who “are prepared to use firearms against the indigenous people. They use pistoleiros [gunmen] and they also cut down thousands of trees. They pollute the springs, and they take out all the natural plants and vegetation,” he says.
The Yanomami are also worried about big mining companies. More than 1,000 miners are currently working illegally on Yanomami land, according to Survival, transmitting diseases such as malaria and polluting the area.
Over the past several years, the National Congress of Brazil has considered proposed billsthat would open up indigenous territories for mining. The current legal framework for miningdates back to the 1960s.
There’s also the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), a government agency that has been accused of some of the worst deforestation and land divisions, not to mention rural workers who carve roads throughout the territory.
We call their machines ‘giant beasts,’ because they open up everything.
We call their machines ‘giant beasts,’ because they open up everything. Once you have the big road, it enables colonization of our land and opening up lots of smaller roads,” Kopenawa says.
And although SESAI, Brazil’s indigenous health department, has improved its work on health conditions, tribes still face low-quality services and a lack of universalized medicines and vaccines. Ida Pietricovsky Oliveira, a communication specialist at UNICEF, tells Mashable that the 2013 SESAI Management Report cited several alleged problems, including insufficient data for planning, difficulty buying supplies and inadequate training for intercultural care.
The National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), the Brazilian government body responsible for policies and protection of indigenous peoples, did not respond to a request for comment.
When the Yanomami experience such issues, they can use TribesDirect to communicate with the outside world, Survival’s director Stephen Corry tells Mashable. It enables someone like Kopenawa to comment on challenges other tribal people are experiencing, especially if his community moves. The Yanomami people are nomadic, staying in one place for about two years and then moving elsewhere.
They live in round, communal houses called shabonos, which can fit hundreds of people divided into families. Shabonos are spread anywhere between 12 and 125 miles away from each other, so they can occupy a large amount of space and store plenty of food.
We don’t live like the city people, where you all live on top of each other
We don’t live like the city people, where you all live on top of each other,” Kopenawa says.
It’s in one of these shabonos where TribesDirect will likely be set up.
As the largest relatively isolated indigenous tribe in Amazonia, there are between 30,000 and 35,000 Yanomami living in more than 200 villages along the border of Brazil and Venezuela. The population is made up of various groups, some of which are still considered “uncontacted” — their existence is known, but they have never had peaceful contact with outsiders (or, sometimes, even with other Yanomami communities).
Kopenawa is president of Hutukara, an indigenous association founded in 2004 that comprises 12 Yanomami communities. Indigenous associations like Hutukara are common, including the Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), which is the main organization of indigenous peoples of the Brazilian Amazon.
“We know how to work together. Hutukara plays a very important role for the Yanomami. That is because Hutukara is a weapon for our people to defend the Yanomami’s rights,” he says.
A Survival spokesperson tells me that Hutukara members will likely be the ones to use TribesDirect, becoming the project’s very first tech pioneers. All footage will go to Survival first, whereupon the organization will encourage viewers to take action on its website. For example, viewers will be able to send letters to the Brazilian president about the gold miners in Yanomami territory.
“We are going to try this,” Kopenawa says of the TribesDirect project. Survival only just revealed the project to him during his U.S. visit in early May. But he still has speak to his community about it.
“I think this equipment is a real weapon for our defense. It will send messages everywhere —our message … It’s like an experiment. If it works, it will help us communicate with the cities and the whole world,” he says.
Many Yanomami, especially the younger people who sometimes travel to local cities, have encountered technology before. Communities talk to each other via a network of radios (radiofonia), health workers use microscopes to test for malaria and Hutukara’s offices have computers for letters and newsletters. And TribesDirect is visual; it doesn’t require the user to be literate, and it’s less expensive than setting up radio equipment.
They’re living in the 21st century just as anybody else is, just differently
They’re living in the 21st century just as anybody else is, just differently,” Corry says. “I have absolutely no doubt that … once the problems are sorted, [it] will be no harder for an average, younger Yanomami than it will be for anybody else [in the world].”
They’ve already experienced some hiccups, though. Survival doesn’t have a technical backup team to help with testing; it took them a while to realize the first iteration of the equipment was broken.
“The Amazon is extremely humid, and there are a lot of insects that tend to get into delicate electronics. The gear has to be able to withstand all that,” he says.
Because of these glitches and the NGO’s limited funds to replace the equipment, the timeframe for the TribesDirect project is taking at least three times longer than Corry would have liked. He hopes to have everything up and running within six months.
And for anyone worrying that introducing such technology will disrupt the Yanomami culture, Corry argues that since it’s completely under the community’s control, TribesDirect can only benefit its users.
“They can switch it on, they can switch it off. If they’ve got nothing to say, then they don’t say anything. A people’s culture is not shaken by the presence of some kind of external artifact. It’s the … outsiders stealing their resources, stealing their land, stealing their labor, and often just killing them all, and bringing diseases that kill,” he says.
When I tell Bruce Albert, a French anthropologist who has worked with the Yanomami since 1975, about the TribesDirect project, he says he doesn’t see any immediate drawbacks. He has faith in the younger generation of Yanomami, and tells me in an email that they’ve attended bilingual schools since the 1990s and, as a result, have developed a strong grasp of modern technology.
“Many of them have emails and Facebook pages,” says Albert, who is also the research director at the Research Institute for Development in Paris and associate researcher at the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) in São Paulo.
ISA worked with Hutukara to help set up the network of radios in 18 strategic regions of Yanomami land.
“Today more than ever they have to count on international support to counterbalance the very unequal power relations in which their society is embedded,” Albert says. He believes the project has potential to help indigenous groups around the world, but it would take time and widespread effort.
But is technology really the best way to spread awareness and protect indigenous rights? Albert says there isn’t a single best way to do so, but the more advocates galvanize the greater public, the better. Books, documentaries, academic writings and articles are still important, he posits, but technology is a necessary addition.
“The Internet is changing everything, shortening time and space, and the Survival project is a very clever way to adapt the struggle…to this new context. Quick and direct access to social and traditional media from the field can be…a fundamental weapon for new Yanomami generations to defend their land, culture and way of life,” he says.
More than anything, Kopenawa wants the world’s support, and for people to understand what is really going on in his home.
“We Yanomami people don’t want to die,” he says. “We want the government to respect us and to guarantee our lands, because our land is ours.”
(This article was written by Matt Petronzio for Mashable on July 18, 2014)
When foursquare split its app into two and launched Swarm, I decided to take some time to get to know it before sharing some thoughts. As a New Yorker who has never been sold on social location apps, I’m pleasantly surprised by its ability to make me act, remember to use it, and to create the possibility for great experiences. That goes far beyond what any app like it has managed to do — for me at least.
But I have complaints, many of which are compounded by the fact that foursquare is our New York City champion. It’s the darling of Silicon Alley. You’re here in NYC, foursquare. So why is the app so confused by our great metropolis?
Let’s start with all the great things about the app.
Matthew Panzarino sees Swarm as a strong signifier of change in the mobile app landscape, where once attention-hungry products disappear into background, ambient services. And while Swarm’s background work is part of what makes it great, I hardly agree with Matthew when he says that it’s in a category of apps that either don’t want or deserve your active engagement.
Swarm, with its push notifications galore (more on that later) and almost constant promise of something to do, has me opening the app all day. Not always with satisfaction, but I’m using the app nonetheless.
No longer do I hit that ugly old blue check mark whenever I’m offered a deal for a foursquare check-in, but I’m randomly opening the app throughout the day.
I’m not sure how things work outside of the city — I’ve been here for eight years now, which is the adult third of my life — but here plans are made on the fly, in many cases, and they’re based around a certain level of convenience. I live within a couple of square miles of almost all of my friends, and the rest are just barely further than that. The difference between friends who are five miles away and friends who are one mile away is a big one. To see the former, I probably need to get on a train, and maybe even venture from Brooklyn into Manhattan. It’s a whole thing. The latter I can probably walk to see, or even better, it’s close enough for them to come to a place near me.
Because Swarm doesn’t rely heavily on the check-in to give me this information, I’m actually morelikely to use the app regularly. No longer do I hit that ugly old blue check mark whenever I’m offered a deal for a foursquare check-in, but I’m randomly opening the app throughout the day, to see who’s nearby.
As long as your neighborhood locator is turned on, I can see how close you are whether you check in or not. Perhaps it sounds stalkerish, but I think we’re beyond that, and besides, everyone’s a stalker on the Internet.
And why does Swarm feel different from every other location social app before it, like Highlight?
Because foursquare. Foursquare knows better than to send me a push notification that a total stranger, who is also interested in “How I Met Your Mother” on Facebook, is just a few blocks away. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?
Continuing with gamification only turns most of their users into losers.
Foursquare has been around long enough to know (at least to a much greater degree than other startups) what we want to know and who we want to know about. We’ve handed over all of our friends, and all of our favorite restaurants, and in some cases, the path we take to work and back home.
Which is why gamification has been stripped right out of the app. This has many people upset, and if you’ve been fiercely competitive on foursquare for a long time, I understand your frustration. But think of it this way (and I’m sure this has been said before): Foursquare only relied on gamification to incentivize check-ins at a time before location data was as precise as it is today. Now they have that data, and continuing with gamification only turns most of their users into losers.
With Swarm, we all have the chance to be actual winners who go out and spend time with their friends. Who can turn seeing a check-in into actually hanging out.
I say this with conviction because I’ve been using Swarm for a few weeks and have had fun experiences with multiple people on different occasions so far, just from opening up the app. The balance of friends, serendipity and convenience is perfect for the way I spend time with friends. And I consider myself a pretty average twenty-something New Yorker.
But as such, I see multiple opportunities for improvement, mostly where push notifications are concerned.
“Push notifications have been tough,” Swarm product director Nick Burton told me. “We have people who have two different use cases for push notifications: when any regular friend is nearby, and then notifications about someone they really care about being anywhere. Balancing that, as well as the complexity of the settings within the UI, has been difficult.”
I have a friend who lives less than a mile away named Sean. Sean and I both use Swarm pretty actively. More than once, the app has notified me that Sean is in Uptown Manhattan, which is at least a 30-minute trip for me. I don’t want to know that Sean is uptown. That does nothing for me.
Swarm has a “Plans” functionality that lets you post what you want to do, like “Drinks” or a “trip to Central Park” for later in the day. If, late Saturday morning, Swarm sent me a push notification telling me that Sean was planning to go uptown to Central Park that afternoon, I may very well have texted him and seen what was up. We could go together. But at 4 p.m., when I’m doing my own thing in Brooklyn, I don’t care that Sean is far away on a push notification level.
I’m much more interested in when he’s coming back to Williamsburg. I’m also interested when a friend who lives uptown is in Brooklyn, or near my office downtown, or even hanging out in an area that’s on my usual train line. I’m interested when a friend who lives in the Lower East Side is on my side of the bridge. These occurrences warrant a push.
My sister lives in Georgia, but I don’t mind seeing push notifications for everything she does. It’s nice to follow her along through the day, because I love her. I don’t feel the same about pretty much anyone else who is outside of my direct lower Manhattan/Brooklyn area.
Alongside the ability to turn off nearby notifications and check-in notifications, Swarm has tried to master this balancing act by giving users control over push notifications on a per-user basis. You can see all check-ins, check-ins in your city, or none at all.
Two problems here: if you have a lot of friends, it simply takes too much time and energy to turn off most of them.
“If you have a growing group of friends, the notifications can get pretty noisy, which is why we let you turn them off entirely if you want to,” said Burton.
The other problem is that foursquare considers “within my city” to be within 26 miles. The furthest that I ever go is the 15-mile trip to Newark Airport — in another state. New York is simply too condensed for 26 miles to be a good in-between designation for which push notifications I want and don’t want.
Social planning has been damn near impossible. I’ve heard pitches from dozens of companies about how they plan to get people hanging out together, using gamification and messaging and event ticketing and, of course, ambient location services. The problem is that none of them had the balance of structure and serendipity. Swarm risks losing that balance as well.
These apps need to have some rules — like who I’m seeing information about and how I can interact with them — as well as a running list of past data (such as check-ins). Beyond that, there need not be any rules. You can’t force people to make plans; you have to simply give them the opportunity.
I remember an app called TheWhoot that asked you to always post your plans for the night, into buckets like Hanging At Home, Going Out, Raging, and Working. Your friends were then supposed to propose places and times, and chat out the details within the app. And then everyone was supposed to show up.
That app is long dead.
Swarm understands that we can’t be pushed into action, but rather given the tools to act ourselves. And the push notifications from Swarm are an effective method of reminding us to engage with it. But, as we all know, push notifications are hard.
Each push notification is weighed by the user: Would I have wanted to know this if I didn’t get a push about it? Each time the app gets it wrong, the effectiveness of the notification wanes.
Foursquare, more so than any company trying to do this, has a solid foundation from which to make these push-notification decisions. Years of experience with social apps and enough data about its users to know everything from their taste in pizza to their daily route to work should translate into an amazing push-notification experience.
But Swarm hasn’t quite figured that out.
Burton tells me that, internally, the team has been fiddling with two different features that may solve these problems. “Very nearby” tells you when anyone on your friends list is within 400 meters, as that’s literally just a few steps to connect to otherwise oblivious people. In my opinion, this is totally worth it. Ship that sucker.
The second feature is even better: “Unusually Nearby,” which is pretty much exactly what I’ve been asking for. It sends you a push notification whenever someone who isn’t usually hanging in your neck of the woods turns up nearby. According to Burton, these features are still in internal testing and haven’t exactly been tweaked to the point where they significantly increase engagement. In other words, these features have not been stamped to actually appear in the app at all, but here’s to hoping.
The Swarm alert flashes across the screen as a beacon of opportunity, and that’s a powerful feeling to get from a notification.
In speaking with Burton, it’s clear that a lot of time and attention goes into the user experience of Swarm, from the little emoticons on a check-in all the way to push notifications. If Swarm can get its push notifications right, maybe the app won’t need to rely on them as much. But he also admitted that the app does rely on them, to an extent, to get people engaged with the app. The beautiful thing about Swarm is that it doesn’t need many push notifications.
The ever-updating chart of people nearby and the will to check in every time I visit a new place are more than enough to keep me visiting the app. On Swarm, the outright declaration of what’s going on mixed with the more vague murmurings of my general proximity is a beautiful thing. There’s no need to depend on push notifications or the check-in any longer.
I will admit that when I first downloaded the app, the notifications were what reeled me in. They’re different from any other kind of notification I got. Rather than seeing action going down in the virtual world, as I do with an Instagram like, a Swarm notification means that people are on the move. Things are happening. And I could get in on it.
The Swarm notification flashes across the screen as a beacon of opportunity to spend time with someone you care about, or someone you haven’t seen for a long time, or someone you see every day. It’s a powerful feeling to get from a push notification.
But when the honeymoon phase is over, and the majority of my notifications are the same old check-ins from the same old people, those pushes stop being friendly reminders that “Swarm means opportunity” and start becoming really annoying. And then I get numb. And start missing actual notifications I care about.
I want to check in to Swarm. I want to open Swarm every once in a while, unprompted, to see who’s doing what. And each time I get a push notification that tells me Sean is within a few blocks instead of a mile away, I’m more and more likely to open the app on my own.
My hope is that foursquare thinks of this big leap into the future as a small step, one that can be improved upon greatly. It could go either way. As the app reaches critical mass, the usefulness will diminish. When everyone is around you then no one is around you. However, with a bit of curation and some sensible updates, I can see Swarm taking me places that foursquare never could.