Gowalla: Why I Use It, and Prefer It to Foursquare

Gowalla is a mobile check-in application, and a competitor to Foursquare. It’s something that I didn’t understand at first glance, much like Twitter, and have come to appreciate immensely, like Twitter.

This is essentially a reasoned sales pitch from someone who is invested from the standpoint that I’m a user, and nothing beyond that.

How I Use It:

Like all social networks, Gowalla can be used in different ways. It is often marketed as a game, but I don’t get that. I use it primarily as a sticker book. Everywhere I go, when I check in, a stamp is placed in my “Passport” for that place. Looking back at my passport is a nice way for me to be able to re-live trips and adventures.

For example, today we took a family trip to Uptown Dallas to ride the trolley. We took a camera and had a lovely day. I used Gowalla to check in at the Transit Bike Company, Cafe Express, Cityplace Trolley Stop (created) and North Dallas High School. Anyone connected to me in Gowalla could have seen those check-ins real-time and if they were in the area, we could have met up.

The main value to me is the ability to augment my memory of today by looking in my Gowalla history to better remember today, especially to add context to some of the pictures that I took with the real camera.

Now that more of my contacts are actively participating in it, it’s fun to be able to share in the travels of my contacts. One of my contacts is involved with college sports and travels quite a bit. It’s fun to see where he is going in more detail than the selective posts to Facebook.

Gowalla also makes it easy to share your experiences with friends who don’t use it by adding easy integration to Facebook and Twitter.

Felix fell in a fountain today at Cafe Express.  I took a picture and could have uploaded it to Facebook directly. Instead, I added it to Cafe Express’s Gowalla spot, and shared it to Facebook. By using Gowalla to post the photo, it is inherently real-time and location specific, which automatically provides more context than I could have via Facebook directly, because even if I had stated “At Cafe Express, Uptown Dallas, right now”, I could be lying.

The ease of posting pictures/location status updates that easily, with that much context makes it more likely to share things that I may not have thought of, or taken the time to before.

Why I Find Gowalla Preferable to Foursquare

Mainly, Gowalla is prettier in all aspects. Pretty things are more fun. It has custom icons that have a certain cache for marquee spots. It’s easy to navigate and understand. People have profile images that are easier to process than their name.

The experience is far less cluttered. Foursquare doesn’t feel as thought out or polished. It encourages over-checking in through it’s point system that increases with every check in you do during the day. That sort of quantity over quality diminishes the application for me. The abusers of Gowalla stick out like sore thumbs. Lance Klien and Skip Norton, I don’t like all the clutter you’ve put all over Dallas by checking in everywhere. In Foursquare, that sort of behavior is encouraged far more than in Gowalla.

Gowalla integrates features intelligently, in a well thought-out, well-executed way. They have recently added the ability to attach photos and comments to “spots”, comments on check-ins, and for extra slides to come after check-ins. The extra slides seems to be the main way that Gowalla is integrating advertising. Today, after checking in at the Apple Store, I got a link to Twitterific and a custom item for them. It was  a nice little perk that made me feel better about Twitterific.

It’s not that I have any bad feelings about Foursquare, it’s just that the application of Foursquare is more haphazard. Foursquare has found the one of the best tones to communicate with their user base and their founder, Dennis Crowley is a cult of personality who comes across as both an expert and fun.

I strongly dislike the concept of “Mayor” in Foursquare. That title goes to the person who has checked into a spot the most. To me, it encourages over-use bordering on spam. Also, with Foursquare pushing perks for the mayors of places, it’s going to be worse. At the Las Vegas Hilton, there is a sign stating that the Mayor of that hotel gets something special, a discount or something, I don’t even remember. How is that relevant at a hotel? Does the Hilton now need a policy where employees can’t check in there leaving the Mayorship to some local who is the Vegas equivalent to Lance Klien, the Dallas-based Gowalla over-checker-inner? It is irrelevant and sloppy. I much prefer Gowalla’s individual rewards. At SXSW, I won a free taco, along with a bunch of others at a taco stand across the street after a lucky check-in. It felt like a great reward, and there were several other happy Gowalla users at that taco stand redeeming tacos. If the Mayor of the taco-stand got a discount or perk with a purchase, I can see how that may be appealing to just them, but not a larger user base. To me, the Mayorship is exclusive rather than inclusive.

The haphazzardness of Foursquare feels fun, like anything is a possiblity, but it doesn’t match the applied uses that Gowalla does. So, if you have an iPod Touch, iPhone or any Android device, I recommend Gowalla. Please add me. I’d love to see what you’re up to. Search “Ben Guthrie” and I should come up.

Feedback is welcome @benguthrie

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