Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Foursquare Thursday – Competition: Gowalla

This is the elevnth post in a series about Foursquare – read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five. part six, part seven part eight, part nine and part ten.
I managed to forget to do a Foursquare Thursday post last week. I don’t have a specific excuse but anyway, here’s today’s, which will be the first in a few posts about Foursquare’s competitors – where the similarities with Foursquare lie, what they do differently, and if there’s anything that they do better that Foursquare can adopt.
When thinking of a Foursquare competitor, Gowalla is the one that comes to most people’s minds first, as it is the most like Foursquare in that it’s purely a location-based social network. Others have location based services tagged on, and I’ll be looking at those in the near future.
Gowalla pre-dates Foursquare by a couple of years, having launched in 2007; Foursquare was announced at SXSWi in 2009. Its growth has been overtaken by Foursquare; Gowalla had around 600,000 active users 6 months ago, whereas Foursquare has several million. Both services work around the idea of checking in to venues, and each has their own database of venues to check in to. Recently I’ve been using the Footfeed app to check into both and in my experience Foursquare has the larger database with more venues; on the other hand, I’ve noticed fewer duplicates in Gowalla. Unlike Foursquare, you can only add venues from the mobile app and not the web site, and the venue will be added at your current location – this is to prevent mass creation of poor quality venues, apparently, but means you can’t create a venue at home prior to going somewhere if it doesn’t already exist. When you create a venue, Gowalla sends you an email to ask you to complete any missing details, such as an address and telephone number, which I think is a good idea; speaking as a superuser I find a lot of venues without addresses and makes it difficult to locate places. I guess it’s a quality vs quantity thing and reflects the different approaches by the two companies.
Whereas Foursquare has badges, Gowalla has pins, which you can collect in a similar way – 10 checkins to coffee shops, 50 different venues etc. Unlike Foursquare, Gowalla makes it clear how the pins are obtained, whereas Foursquare only provides clues. In fact, if you’re close to obtaining a pin, Gowalla may tell you on its web site what you need to do – I need a few more friends for the 10 friends pin for example. Mayorships sort-of exist on Gowalla, in that you can be the ‘checkin leader’ for a venue, but they’re not as prestigious as mayorships and aren’t shown on your profile.
As with Foursquare, you can add photos and a message to your checkins.
From there, the similarities stop, and there’s a few things that Gowalla does that Foursquare doesn’t, which makes it interesting. Over time you may receive ‘items’ as you check in, which you can either add to your archive or drop at venues for others to pick up (but you get some as bonuses). Dropping an item makes you a ‘founder’ of a venue (if I understand it correctly) and there are pins for being the founder of a set number of venues.
Your profile on Gowalla is known as a ‘passport’, and each new venue earns you a new stamp in your passport. Certain venues will have a custom stamp, which businesses can pay for. Venues can also be added as a ‘highlight’ if you have certain memories attached, such as where you went to school, had your first kiss and so on.
A major difference with Gowalla’s mobile app is that it allows you to check in to other services as well, namely Foursquare and Facebook Places, as well as sharing your checkin with Twitter and Tumblr. Foursquare lets you share your checkin with Facebook or Twitter, but not any other location-based services. Whilst adding the Foursquare option may be an admission on Gowalla’s part that they are trailing to Foursquare, relations between the two competing services are amicable – Foursquare staff were at Gowalla’s sessions at SXSWi ’11 and Gowalla released a special pin for Foursquare Day earlier this month. All this being said, unfortunately the integration between Gowalla and Foursquare isn’t great and sometimes you won’t be checked-in properly on Foursquare.
The other nice feature of Gowalla are its trips. Any user can create up to 20 trips, which are essentially a series of venues that you may have visited whilst on holiday, or think other people should visit. I’ve created one for Bradford, with 12 sights, but pub crawls are also popular. Alas, this is the only one in the north of England, apart from some around Nottingham.
Whilst Gowalla does offer a few unique features, its smaller user base makes it feel a bit restrictive; there’s a lack of venues and not many people to be friends with. Still, it’s welcome competition, and has managed to innovate in its own way.

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