Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

The Demise of Gowalla

KangarooOn Monday, Gowalla announced that the two co-founders of Gowalla and several of its staff were moving to Facebook shortly and that the service would be closing sometime in January. Having formally launched at SxSW 2009, the site will therefore be gone before its third birthday.

This hasn’t come as much of a surprise for those following Gowalla over recent months. Foursquare has been the big elephant in the room, attracting more attention and having a much larger user base. For a while, Gowalla had a niche – the design of the web site and app was much better, and there were features like Trips (where you could create a list of venues, or ‘spots’ to visit) and virtual items that you could collect. But earlier this year version 4.0 of the app was announced, which removed several features, including items, and tried to focus on travel guides.

This was not well-received. For a while I’d been trying to use both Foursquare and Gowalla, as they both offered something different, but the 4.0 update put me off. Gowalla wanted to focus more on ‘stories’ – not just individual checkins taken in isolation, but say catching a plane, staying in a hotel, visiting attractions and then coming home as one story – or at least this appeared to be the intention. Sadly this wasn’t the reality – ‘stories’ were just individual checkins.

There have also been problems with the API, as mentioned in this blog post by Ben Dodson, which saw several third-party services turn away from Gowalla recently – especially since the 4.0 update. All the while, Foursquare was adding new features to their site, without removing anything or alienating its core user base.

So what now? Gowalla is presently still around and you can still download the app from the iOS App Store, but presumably new user signups will end soon. An export feature has been promised to allow you to retrieve your data but it isn’t live at the time of writing. Even though several of the developers are going to Facebook (the others have been sacked, apparently), it’s a ‘talent acquisition’ which means that Facebook is essentially buying out the staff and not the product, so any data you have on Gowalla will not be transferred to Facebook. This isn’t the first time Facebook has done this – was one of the most recent services to be ‘aqhired’ by Facebook where the developers moved to FB and the service shut down. Still, if you think Facebook is an evil privacy-stealing flying purple people eater, then once you’ve exported your data you can delete your account.

While it’s sad to see Gowalla go, this is potentially good for Facebook, and its new profiles that are aiming to document your life as a story (as far as I can tell). Gowalla’s talent could well be very important in making this a good feature.

As for Foursquare? On the one hand, with Gowalla out of the picture, it has less competition, and could gain favour with ex-Gowalla users if it allows them to import their data and gain badges retrospectively. However, this new deal with Facebook could see Facebook Places resurgent, and while Foursquare has over 10 million users, Facebook has hundreds of millions. Quite what Facebook plans with respect to its location based features remains to be seen but this acquisition shows that it’s more serious about it than some of us thought.

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