Analysis of Gowalla and Foursquare at WWDC. Not Apples to Apples

Apple’s World Developer Conference is going on right now. It is the epicenter of the app creation world and should represent the greatest collection of taste makers and thought leaders in the mobile space.

This seemed like the perfect opportunity to read the tea leaves of the Gowalla vs. Foursquare battle.

I started tracking the check-ins 30 minutes before the keynote. This started at 8:30 am pacific in San Francisco.

Some information about the setting: this event for 5700 sold out in 8 days. People from all over the world come in for it. The people I follow in Twitter who are there are from UK, Netherlands and Frisco, TX. The line to get in wrapped around the entire building. People are most likely to check-in when they have downtime, and want to advertise where they are. In line at WWDC is ideal.

Once the presentation started at 9:00 AM,  people are most likely absolutely riveted by the presentation. These are people who live and breathe apple and this is a big deal.

Searching Google News yields 2,104 Foursquare mentions vs. 264 for Gowalla. So Foursquare gets about 10x of  the press, and that generally reflects market share.  “Ford” yields 17,693 results and GM yeilds 14,988. When compared, that’s a rough anagram to their market share.

So, given that information about the scene and news coverage, who won the checkin war?

Well, 30 minutes before Steve Jobs took the stage, Foursquare was ahead 286 to Gowalla’s 187 check-ins, or 60.5% of the total. That doesn’t quite live up to the 10x media coverage.

If you were going to get into the keynote, you were likely there 30 minutes before. I wish I had started watching this comparison sooner.

By 9:00 am, Foursquare was up 332 to 199, or 63%. Why would they be building share?

Now, 1 hour into the presentation, and 1.5 hours after I started tracking, Foursquare is up to 67% of the checkins.

The interesting thing is that in the 30 minutes up to the keynote, Gowalla went up 6% and Foursquare 16%. Ok, so maybe Foursquare users are tardy.

In the 30 minutes after the keynote started, and everyone who is there would have checked in, Gowalla went up 2.5% and Foursquare went up another 6.5%.

An hour in, Gowalla went up another .5% and Foursquare went up 7.6%.

Why would Foursquare get 24% of its checkins in the hour after the keynote started while Gowalla only got 3% after the keynote started?

Because 24% of the Foursquare users are not there! They’re cheating and diluting the experience for everyone else, and Gowalla’s users are actually there and paying attention to the presentation.

Ok, so that was the theory. How do you go about checking that?

Both Gowalla and Foursquare have checkin pages that you can monitor. Check Foursquare’s here and Gowalla’s I figured I’d check out where people with the most recent checkins were from.

As I suspected, I had to go through 20 Foursquare users to find one from outside San Fransciso and only 3 Gowalla users.

To take out less chance, of the last 10 checkins for each (84 minutes in)

Gowalla 01011 01100 = 50% based in San Francisco

Foursquare 11111 11111 = 100% based in San Francisco.

Since Foursquare has less control and precision requirements than Gowalla, you have to be somewhere to check in. With Foursquare allowing users to check in places that they aren’t, the temptation to lie is too great and many people will.

This rings some bells for me.

History Repeating Itself

Something else like this came along 3-5 years ago that is remarkably similar. MySpace was the first breakout player in social networking. It started out simple enough. Then, people got the ability to customize their pages, and it got awful. It’s amazing how awfully most people will decorate when given the chance.

Facebook came along with less ability for people to muck things up and trounced MySpace.

This is just a fun opportunity to link to ugly MySpace accounts: 1 2 3 I would have added more, but the last one started playing awful music loudly.

What Wins, and Why

In the long run, I see quality outpacing quantity, and it will be more so for the location wars. If I’m going to be connected to someone on a check-in service, I want to know where they actually are, and not simply where they want to say they are. Those who “fake check-in” will turn their friends off and ruin their experiences.

Foursquare could tighten up their requirements, but they won’t. They have too much of a precedent for flexibility (positive spin) or sloppiness (negative spin). I don’t think they have the guts to remove the ability to lie.

Gowalla does this right, and as long as they keep doing it right, hopefully the press and the user base will support them.

Advertisers and investors should care about reaching the people inside WWDC and not the people outside, who are just lying about being there.

Raw Data

Timestamp Gowalla Foursquare Relative use G Late Checkins F Late Checkins
8:29 187 286 60.47%
8:41 192 310 61.75%
8:44 192 311 61.83%
8:51 196 322 62.16%
8:53 198 325 62.14%
8:58 198 332 62.64% 6.0% 16.0%
9:07 199 346 63.49%
9:14 201 353 63.72%
9:28 203 369 64.51% 8.5% 22.5%
9:39 203 386 65.53%
9:57 203 410 66.88%
10:04 204 413 66.94% 9.0% 30.1%
10:23 204 424 67.52%

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