Feature Friday: Mayorships

I love the new version of the Swarm app from our portfolio company Foursquare so much that I fired off a tweetstorm about it earlier this week.

Among the many great replies I got was this one:

To which I replied:

I know gamification has been overdone and many are tired of it. But there is something about playing the mayorship game that never gets old for me.

Just today I checked in at my favorite coffee shop in Amagansett and got this notification:


Somehow Brian slipped in and grabbed that mayorship away from me a few weeks ago and I’m trying like hell to get it back. That drives business for Jack and brings a little more fun and playfulness to my life each day.

And its not just Jack’s where I’m on the cusp. Here are all the places I’m close.


That’s a list of places I’m likely to go to as I make my plans each day.

When Foursquare separated the core Foursquare app into two apps, Foursquare for venue search, recommendations, and tips, and Swarm for the social checkin and game play, they left mayorships and the leaderboard out of Swarm. That was a big mistake. It’s back and better than ever and I’m loving it.


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    I love mayorships, but why couldn’t they be more than a good gamification motivator?I thought they were supposed to also be a loyalty signal to establishments so they can reward mayors and frequent visitors with something. I have 11 mayorships in various establishments, and the staff, owners or managers have no clue what Swarm/Foursquare is or who I am when I walk-in.Why doesn’t Foursquare make a direct effort to promote its name in stores like Yelp does? And how about those “coins” we’re earning? Are they worth something redeemable?

    1. awaldstein

      They used to with Whole Foods in NY all the time.Every chalk board outside of a Whole Foods two years ago had discounts and specials for check ins.

    2. Jess Bachman

      Yelp should take Foursquare out. Foursquare has better ad products and much better user data. It would be a good fit for Yelp users and business might appreciate better ad products, vs being harassed by Yelps sales team.

      1. creative group

        Jess:so true. And the issue with the bad reviews of a company if they didn’t subscribe. Hopefully an issue that Yelp has corrected.

    3. fredwilson

      i think that will happen. they had to rebuild the whole user base. which is now happening and its growing really well again.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        That’s good to hear.

    4. kenberger

      They totally did achieve this, and it was amazing for a while (2012-2013 or so)! It was amazingly impressive to see the logo alongside FB and Twitter on busses and billboards.And then they killed that momentum around when they made the separation decision.I’m so addicted to this product and can’t quit it because I don’t have a better alternative (I don’t want to use FB for this).But being a “Swarm user” these days is quite lonely. For all of us (even dens, by his decrease in likes #’s).

    5. Dave Pinsen

      Square seems to be moving in on the loyalty business. I went to a Mexican restaurant nearby and paid with a credit card they processed with square. A week or two later, I got this email.

      1. William Mougayar


  2. awaldstein

    I used to care. I also used to love 4square.You had a post this week about winning back customers.Not to be negative but I wonder why 4Square with the best data out there never uses that data to win customers back. That is me back?Seems counterintuitive.

    1. JimHirshfield

      I have found great wine bars and restaurants on foursquare. No complaints.

      1. awaldstein

        it’s not on my phone right now.I”ll refresh and give it a shot.There are never enuf great wine bars especially when i’m up and mid town and a bit of a tourist.

        1. JimHirshfield

          Exactly. I was on UWS and had no clue until I searched 4sq

        2. Ana Milicevic

          A couple of gems up here in Hell’s Kitchen and UWS that you’d enjoy (Ardesia, Caselula, Medi, Wine & Roses, Cotta, etc.).When in doubt, ask the locals 😉

    2. fredwilson

      there are two apps. foursquare for reviews, recommendations, search, and leaving tips. think of Yelp, but better with lots of data driven recommendations.then there is swarm which is fun and socialone is a utility the other is a social network

      1. William Mougayar

        That separation honestly messed them up.It resulted in 2 brands, and they could barely manage one. Brand extensions are tricky if not done right.

        1. pointsnfigures

          Usually we see it in only in consumer products. In B2B it ends in customer confusion. In tech, different since the two are targeting different segments of the market, although the user might have both and be in both markets.

        2. Jess Bachman

          And one of the brands is called “Swarm” … which isn’t such a fun word and has some negative connotations.

        3. LE

          Not to mention that using “foursquare” as the brand for what it does doesn’t work. They should have rebranded that as well.

        4. Richard

          Hard to believe that FS couldn’t unseat yelp.

        5. kenberger

          Respect, William, for saying that here (as some of us predicted privately before).And actually, Fred too has said this previously in a comment here before.

          1. William Mougayar

            That was a symptom of a product-focused mentality instead of market/marketing awareness.Splitting / enhancing the product doesn’t solve everything.

        6. JamesHRH

          I don’t think it is a brand extension exercise, to be technical about it. They had 2 value propositions and split them, which I agree is a viable idea.However, they have made some very very expensive and likely debilitating mistakes (not terminal mistakes, but we will see):1) Foursquare was ‘the check in app’. The local social network that is Swarm should not be called Swarm, it should have kept the original Foursquare brand name. After all, 4Sq = check in + mayor to 80% of people that recognize the brand (all #s made up but accurate enough that I bet you a galaxy class steak dinner @ Caesar’s in CGY that I am in the ballpark ).2) The double trouble on this mistake is that Foursquare had 100M’s of impressions (B’s??) as ‘the check in app’. Those impressions have to be rewired in the market, now that they are repositioning the brand. That takes much longer and is more expensive than launching a fresh brand.3) Repositioning 4Sq also negated the potential to leverage all of those brand impressions in the social directory brand…..say “CheckedOut, powered by 4Sq “And, the decision to run head on at established market leaders ( TA & Yelp ) is the most expensive way to get to be #1 in a category. I can’t think of any strong consumer brand pro consciously doing it if they had any other alternative.And, the belief that strongly connected social reviews will overcome the quantity and coverage advantage of weakly connected social reviews is far from a slam dunk. I would love to know the raw number of frequent posters on 4Sq versus Yelp & TA.That’s your Uber v Hailo & Lyft battle, right there.These basic branding errors are going to take a long long time to overcome and the warchest – even @ a16z – isn’t limitless.I also think the Swarm brand name is really poor – connoting bees and violent street attacks. The likely argument for it is that it has an edge and that it has an intellectual underpinning….but negative connotations don’t drive mainstream adoption very often.I do not have the data on the demographics of Swarm, but my gut says that it skews so young that it is non-existant above 35.Certainly a fair bet to see where they get in 5 to 7 years, but tough, tough sledding in my book

          1. William Mougayar

            It wasn’t driven by a brand extension purpose, agreed. But the result was 2 brands, which needed to be managed as such.

      2. awaldstein

        thanks.i hope it works and its a bold move.invariably on the social web the major source of content and intrapersonal sharing is reviews. separating the two is initially hard for me to grasp.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Has any social network ever recovered after losing momentum? I think some have pivoted to serve niche groups. Maybe Swarm could do the same as a network for frequent business travelers.I wonder if this was a case of a product appealing more to VCs like Fred, who travel and go to lots of interesting places even when they don’t, than average stiffs who go to the same half dozen or so places every week.I followed a guy for while on Twitter who checked in every day at the same gas station convenience store in Texas. Turned out he worked there.

          1. Drew Meyers

            “I wonder if this was a case of a product appealing more to VCs like Fred, who travel and go to lots of interesting places even when they don’t, than average stiffs who go to the same half dozen or so places every week.”4sq solved a problem very few ever really cared about. Definitely a use case for frequent, frequent travelers such as Fred…but most people only travel 2-3 times per year, and visit the same dozen places every week as you mention..

    3. Richard

      Feels like an episode of Seinfeld, hey Kramer, what’s the point of using the app to be the mayor of your local coffee shop when you are standing in the coffee shop… everybody already knows, you are the guy who is always at the coffee shop. You are the guy who is making life boring because you are always at the coffee shop. Get out of the coffee shop already.

      1. Russell

        love it, thanks for the chuckle!

  3. Twain Twain

    Not all of us can be Usain Bolt, Tom Brady, Serena Williams and other sports stars.Not all of us will make it to Forbes 30 under 30 list either.Or Top 100 Rich List / Top 100 Movie Stars / Top 100 Geniuses etc.However, every one of us has the same chance to be “mayor of Place XYZ” on apps like Swarm.I’m in favor of leaderboards. The difference in my approach is that it’s not the customers who are being listed by rank.It’s the brands as chosen by wisdom of the crowds.

    1. Jess Bachman

      Well, not all of us can afford the time or money to go to Jack’s Coffee 24 times a month to unseat Brian “The Usain Bolt of NYC Coffee Shops” but your point is well taken.Does Foursquare not have a leaderboard of places with the most checkins? I haven’t used the app in a while but I’d be shocked if they didn’t, what a missed opportunity.

      1. Twain Twain

        Hold the merry-go-round! Jack’s Coffee has a ‘Dirty Harry’ which is a vanilla soy latte?!!!That’s a misnomer if ever there was!!!A ‘Dirty Harry’ should be a triple espresso: strong, hardcore, shoots caffeine straight up no-nonsense!

    2. brian piercy

      Asking out of pure ignorance (I’ve never used this app): is it subject to the “crowdshaming” trend that you see on Yelp?

    3. LE

      However, every one of us has the same chance to be “mayor of Place XYZ” on apps like Swarm.A close second for sure!!!! Anyway raises the question of why all they have is the “Mayor” and not any classifications of “runners up”… like mayor elect, council head and so on.Unless scarcity is the idea. [1]The question is. Is it better to have a bunch of customers think they can almost be mayor or to have a bunch of people see that there are runner up positions thereby devaluing the goal of achieving mayorship?Don’t forget the other advantage of having a mayor. You can a group of people that think it’s silly and talk and make fun of it but they pay more attention to your brand by doing so. [2][1] Amazon indicates”only 2 left” to get you to buy something. So there is the scarcity principle. By only having mayorship it’s a form of scarcity you could say.[2] Call it the Trump effect..

      1. Richard

        Swarm sure feels like a feature and not a product.

      2. Twain Twain

        Scarcity’s prized and earns a premium.In NYC, I’d be the Mayor of Marie Belle on Broome Street which does the best hot chocolate anywhere!

        1. LE

          Just looked at their website http://mariebelle.com/marib…Someone should put together and maintain a printed directory (to give out in hotels) strictly of these bespoke owner occupied non-chain non-franchise uniquely New York types of places. Not talking about a website or an app (although that could be done later). I am talking about printed matter for tourists solely listing cute places such as this that have character or unique owners (even the soup nazi..)NYC has enough critical mass to support this type of publication. It’s not difficult to do. You simply list everyone for free and offer advertising to those who want to pay. Just something that can be left at the concierge desk of the hundreds of NYC hotels. Issued quarterly let’s say.

          1. Twain Twain

            In a parallel universe, my dream job would be to get paid to travel and stay in chic boutique hotels and eat in hidden gems like Marie Belle, and then design and publish stylish mini-quarterly A6 guides on those magical experiences.So if anyone at AVC bar wants me to take a year off from doing clever Machine Intelligence and frontier IoT things….RSVP with “Indiegogo” in comments! Haha.

  4. Jess Bachman

    Mayorships have always been on the fun side of gamification. That said, you can’t play the same game forever. They could have turned the the mayorship into a real-world clash of the clans type battle… that would have been something.

  5. JimHirshfield

    After a while it reminded me of my boring routines… checking in at all the same places. But it’s fun. And I like seeing what my friends are up to.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Meet me for pizza this evening at Marcelo? It’s on Lake St. in Chicago. You might see that on Swarm. Allows for popins and random interaction, and also conversation starters the next time we see each other. Want to find out what to order at Marcelo? Check Foursquare. FS also knows my habits, and might recommend Macelo’s for me.I use FS and Yelp. But, Yelp has more comprehensive reviews. Although on both, it seems like everything is 5 stars and I know everything isn’t 5 stars.

      1. JimHirshfield

        I’ll meet you there next time I’m in Chicago. It’s a date. A bottle of white, a bottle of red… a bottle of rosé instead… Meet you anytime you want, in an Italian restaurant.

        1. pointsnfigures

          Billy Joel played Wrigley last night. When he whistled during The Stranger, his dentures slipped. FooFighters there this weekend, I am pumped for that one.

          1. JimHirshfield

            Aging. It’s a real struggle.

      2. Drew Meyers

        “Although on both, it seems like everything is 5 stars and I know everything isn’t 5 stars.”Yup, that’s precisely why I’m actually not a huge believer in the value of ratings:http://geekestateblog.com/r

    2. William Mougayar

      How about that digital confetti and slot machine-like bells and whistles when you earn points or whatever silly trophies 🙂

      1. JimHirshfield

        I’m not sure I’ve seen that.

  6. obarthelemy

    I must be terminally antisocial: to me mayorships sound like the spendster version of “mine is bigger than yours”?

    1. David Barnes

      You’re the mayor of this comment thread!

      1. Nick Ambrose

        You’re 5 upvotes away from being the mayor of this comment sub-thread

  7. Shaun Dakin

    Sorry, I was a religious user of fs and then swarm came. I pretty much deleted the app immediately and replaced fs check-ins with Facebook. I have not missed fs for a moment.

  8. jason wright

    is this the ultimate use case, or is it the initial momentum behaviour that will in time give way to something more ‘meaningful’ (subjective)?

  9. creative group

    Fred:appreciate the repush for FS app but the app is just not one that if you left it for a legitimate reason and replaced it with a better app a person would be convinced to return. We considered FS dead in the water long ago.

  10. John Pepper

    I liked 4square personally and for our business. We had special mayor cards for each location created and it was a big deal. When they split the brands everyone split. Now it’s confusing for most unless one has a vested interest. I’m sure it’s more complicated than this, but going back to old Four Square would be like when Coke reintroduced Coke Classic after their big stumble in the 80’s. I think people would be excited.

  11. Tudor

    I’m also happy to see mayorships and leaderboard back. Sad it took this long. Everyone I know agreed it was a mistake the first day it happened. I would be interested to see user data from before the split, through now. I know a lot of people who dropped FS after that. I get the idea behind separating FS and Swarm, but I miss having all in one place. For me it just means that I never use FS anymore. Wish I had the reviews/recommendations in Swarm, but now in the habit of going elsewhere for that.

  12. David Barnes

    Personal behavioral analytics and benchmarking could be a game changer. But it’s been underexplored because of the hype and disappointment around gamification.Measurement and feedback affects our behavior in subtle but significant ways. Swarm makes Fred a more loyal customer. Google Fit makes me walk that little bit further at lunch time, or walk to a further train station for my daily commute. I compete with my wife to see who is the most economical driver.I hope there’s a lot more around this space, both commercial and non profit. One simple idea that occurs to me — an app that keeps track of how often you skip the coffee shop and make your own. Then every week it tells you how much money you’ve saved and gives you a quick one-click way to donate a proportion to charity.

  13. JamesHRH

    Always got check ins professionally, never did much for me personally.Cannot imagine the rationale for leaving mayorships and leaderboard out of Swarm, initially.

  14. Paul Sanwald

    I had a pretty awesome foursquare moment the other day, last saturday my wife and I were walking around the west village from hudson river park and were early for our dinner reservation, so wanted to find a place to have a cocktail. I checked foursquare and on that same block was Orient Express, a really really cool spot that wasn’t crowded and had great service and great drinks (I had the hercules, which had scotch foam).I have never cared about the social network aspect of foursquare and I like the split.

    1. Ana Milicevic

      What would you have used if you didn’t have FSQ on your phone? Yelp? Something else?

  15. Pranay Srinivasan

    I love the new Swarm App. Esp the nearby feature that shows me who else is nearby and if they are friends of friends or just random.

  16. pointsnfigures

    The King of Your Castle. The Master of Your Domain….ha.

  17. Richard Strong

    A couple of years ago I had a small network who played the checkin game. It was amusing trying to one-up them and win mayorships. I was starting to use Foursquare for recommendations, too.After the split, we all tried both apps and were dissatisfied. I don’t think anybody uses either of them any more. Public data suggest that we were typical and the whole initiative was a disaster for the company.I would be very curious to hear Fred’s honest thoughts on the matter – and his feedback to those responsible! But in public he is (correctly) a charming and subtle diplomat and advocate for his portfolio companies so we will probably never know – at least not any time soon.Whether the idea was correct is an interesting discussion. Good apps usually have a tight scope, but I didn’t personally find checkin+reviews/recommendations to be too much for 1 app.One thing I’m sure about is the execution was inadequate. Simple user-tests should have shown that Swarm was unsatisfactory in multiple respects (feature-set & UI at the least). Constructing a product with viable acquisition, churn & virality is tough! Was it internal time-pressure? Or the old story of successful founders suffering from hubris?Anyway Fred’s marketing has worked a little. Gonna try out Foursquare on my forthcoming trip. But my network is dead so Swarm no longer appeals.Lesson: beware network collapse, it can devastate years of work in short-order.

  18. Eric

    I know I’m backseat CEO’ing, but it’s simply mind boggling to me that they left that out of Swarm in the first place. What could possibly have been the rationale for that?Swarm needed to have all the game elements of Foursquare *and more* to get users who weren’t happy with the split to adopt it. Instead they killed half the features that made it fun. The handful of friends I have who had used Foursquare quit and never returned.Foursquare itself is noticeably superior to Yelp at giving me good recommendations. But I’m disappointed that all it became is a Yelp competitor; it could have been so much more.

    1. Ana Milicevic

      I so hope that at some point in the future their product team will expose the decisions, thinking and rationale behind the split into two apps along with how they managed execution (e.g. did they re-org the eng teams, what were the considerations of user data, etc). It would be such a valuable use case for training new product managers.

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        ++ !

  19. Sebastien Latapie

    Kava Cafe is my favorite spot when I make it down to NYC! The courtyard, so nice.

  20. daryn

    +1 to the return of mayorship. Also, for me at least, the initial game of mayorship and points was very much a game (it is what motivated me to check in often, alongside the social/personal journaling). Now, as a more seasoned user, it feels more like a nice reward for doing what I already do.

  21. Richard

    If swarm wants to do this, go all in , mayor, deputy mayor …

  22. Ana Milicevic

    I never got into the gamefied aspects of this and used check-ins primarily as a way to record places I’ve been to (I found it to be really useful especially in cities where you visit only occasionally and don’t really have a lot of urban memory built in). For me, 4SQ was bookmarks for places. I uninstalled Swarm shortly after the split.One giant area of opportunity for me were place recommendations based on preferences or curation. For example, knowing that I like Little Branch in NYC, can the app recommend similar places in a different city? Alternatively, I have similar tastes like my friend Anton who lives in Budapest; I want to surface places that he’d recommend when there (or while traveling to a third location). The last time I used FSQ was on a short trip to Madrid when the app suggested I check out McDonald’s near Puerta del Sol (a stone’s throw from Huertas, one of Madrid’s most interesting gastro neighborhoods and definitely a far better fit to my likes, preferences, and checkin history). That recommendation made me uninstall FSQ too. If they’ve addressed recommendations I might give it another go.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      I’ve struggled to enjoy the new FSQ as well. There was a point a couple of years ago where I had an “aha!” moment with it in Penn Station, of all places. I learned a great ‘insider’ secret that made my experience there 100x better. At that moment, I became an addict, using it constantly.I tried using it this weekend to up-vote a new place in Asbury Park. I was able to “heart” the restaurant but not until I’d gotten rid of the prompt to install Swarm 🙁 And somehow the whole interface and info seemed, generic, lacking the old uniqueness.Perhaps the genius of splitting the two off will become apparent to us over time. But I just plain miss the old FSQ.

      1. Ana Milicevic

        Oooh, was it the secret platform hack by any chance? That’s my favorite ever bit of usability info that truly makes all the difference in the awfulness that is Penn on most days.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Yup! And also a good bathroom advice (always important).

  23. LE

    Somehow Brian slipped in and grabbed that mayorship away from me a few weeks agoBrian looks like Emilio Estevez.

    1. BrianPitz


  24. BrianPitz

    Sorry Fred for stealing the mayorship! I totally agree that gamification is still very much alive and well, and ties user engagement to vast quantities of relevant data (and much cheaper vs other free2play options!). But I still struggle with the mix and match of the Swarm and Foursquare apps. I agree the Foursquare is superior vs Yelp in its local information, at least from what I can see in the NY and SF markets. However, it is still a bit clumsy to toggle between the two apps – e.g. checking into Jack’s but also leaving thoughts on how great the croissants or mocha latte’s are. This point is underscored in a less familiar market – I stumble into a coffee spot and check in for breakfast – but would love to have the closest, top rated, unique lunch spots within walking range served up to me at the same time, in-app. This type of relevant and real-time information is a killer local app for me. Since Foursquare has a treasure trove of data and knows when I am new or an experienced user / consumer in a given market – this should have huge potential implications for delivering the right data to me as a user on a regular basis. The other question is also how to get people (new users) excited / re-engaged around the fun of a little competition and checking in with the app again. My sense is that most Swarm users that I know are still old hardcore Foursquare users post the very successful 2011 SXSW launch, and have invested a lot of time with the app to date. It is great for me to have the historical context of the 8k+ checkins I have made, which is a large reason I continue to do so – but what incentivizes the new user to be as excited to check in and become mayor?

  25. Twain Twain

    Breaking News!!! Love the graphic of how more diversity (potentially) = more $$$.@MsPseudolus:disqus @fredwilson:disqus

  26. Dan T

    I am happy with old school mayorships – if they know my name and what I want because I go there so often, that is fun. I like it when Warren says – “hey Mr. T. you want the usual”. . .I don’t have to get my phone out either.

  27. Richard Kain

    Competition to become mayor gamified the opposite of discovery, which is what the Foursquare of yesteryear was best for. Seeing two friends each repeatedly check into the same place(s) sent the signal to noise ratio way off. The vast majority of users had no aspirations to office. That customers also got financial incentives for a check in further worsened the experience.It’s the opposite of generating data which is where I know a lot of the enterprise value lies but had there been some limit to check ins per day (aka curation) I think FS would be in a stronger position now.

  28. Donna Brewington White

    Fred I was just thinking the other day how strange it is that you are not the mayor of Jack’s Coffee. Was just a random thought.Enjoyment of mayorships is my guilty little secret. So glad this feature is back!Today I checked in on Swarm during orientation at my daughter’s new college and became mayor! I don’t dare tell her. It’s only been three times in one year but I guess not many people are checking in there. That was too easy of a win.

  29. Prokofy

    I found the separation of these two services confusing because I couldn’t just check in on FourSquare anymore and had to get Swarm working and it’s interface is confusing and hard to just hit once and check in and be done, it’s always pushing friends at you and other junk. As a result, I went to Yelp. Because I never really liked checking in all that much.I also began to get creeped out by arriving at a place, looking at my phone, and FourSquare would push at me instructions to go check out some other place nearby. But I wanted to be in the place where I was and didn’t want to hear from 4S. I must have authorized it to do that but I don’t recall. Undoing it is too much trouble. And there it is, all these discomfort-inducing services.