Earlier Monday, Foursquare revamped its service with the addition of photos and comments.
The new features may seem like belated additives that merely keep Foursquare on par with its location-based competitors, but this update is replete with service-wide improvements that drive home the social utility and post-checkin possibility of the platform.
The new features can be instantly experienced via the updated iPhone app and the web, and support for Android and BlackBerry is coming soon. If you’ve already downloaded the update, let us know what you think in the comments.
The best word to describe today’s improvements is social. Photos are social, comments are social and now the entire Foursquare experience, by extension, is exponentially more social in nature.
Photos and comments have been adroitly molded into the Foursquare experience. The new checkin screen includes an empty photo box that politely begs the user to share a photo, and each checkin displays camera and comment box icons to denote social activity happening around a place or picture. The net effect is an app experience that is noticeably more compelling and engrossing than before.
Other words that come to mind are context and depth. Prior to today, CEO and co-founder Dennis Crowley would speak of Foursquare as a service that seeks to reinvent what happens after the checkin. It’s a nice sentiment that, in theory, sets Foursquare apart from the rest, but the startup wasn’t really delivering features that made the what’s next? aspect of the service tangible.
The addition of photos and comments are a big step in that direction. Now, after you check in, you can continue to add photos to further document your experience. Plus, you can leverage the comments to better facilitate meet ups or solicit feedback and advice from friends on a particular locale.
Photos associated with checkins are nice, but photos added to tips and venues are also quite significant. Tips, especially, come to life with photos and we’re curious to see what happens as Foursquare partners and users add color to recommendations through their photos.
The new iPhone app and the website are littered with subtle design enhancements. The first time you fire up the app, for instance, you’ll notice a nicely stylized loading screen.
There’s also a cute mayor crown that appears in the lower righthand corner of the app anytime it takes a few seconds to process an action. After you check in to a venue, you’ll see a redesigned checkin page that more clearly denotes the venue mayor and the points you earned for the checkin.
Push notifications alerting you to comments on photos make for a richer, more engaging mobile experience.
On the web, your history page now highlights checkins with attached photos and comments using the same camera and comment icons as the iPhone app. Venue pages and tips are also decked out with uploaded photos on the web.
Best of all, though, is the immediate symbiosis between your Instagram, Picplz and Foodspotting photos and your Foursquare activity. If you’re actively using one of those mobile photo sharing apps, then you’ve probably noticed that the photos associated with checkins from the past few days have already been pulled into your Foursquare timeline.
Room for Improvement
Foursquare concedes that photos and comments were pushed out quickly to users in time for the holidays. Certain features including the ability to export photos to Facebook and Flickr and an easier way to track comments and access your collection of photos are still in the works.
We’d also like to see Foursquare build ways to allow users to simultaneously attach a photo to a checkin, tip and place. Right now, these are all separate actions and that feels unnecessary and a bit counterintuitive if the startup designs to get users to enhance the venue and tip experience with their photos.
Noticeably unavailable is the now ubiquitous “Like” option popularized by Facebook and present in most mobile photo sharing services. It’s not as if the app needs a “Like” button, or suffers because it lacks one, but it does seem relevant to note its absence.
Crowley agrees that something of this variety is missing and says that Foursquare will consider adding a way to favorite tips, checkins and photos. “There’s a lot of things we still need to build into photos, but it’s useful for us to see how people are using it, listen to feedback from users and then evolve the product from there,” he says.