making a gowalla campus tour: if you build it, will they come?

Part of my ongoing research of geosocial (location-based interactive) media has involved testing the usefulness and usability of it. A more extensive project was creating a visual campus tour via Gowalla. Or, if you prefer, knocking a tree down in the forest to see if anyone hears it.

With its ease of creating locations and uploading photos, Gowalla seemed a good bet for the project. Some locations already existed from previous testing, and a couple of lunch hours making spots for the other buildings and taking photos filled in the blanks. It came together through a few hours of experimenting, mostly in my spare time.

I placed bit.ly links on a couple of well-traveled pages on our website, plus Oswego’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, then waited to see what happened. The good news: People are visiting virtually. The bad news: No one’s engaging it.

We had around 200 folks in six weeks, generally 5 to 10 per day … Gowalla’s lack of metrics means I know little about what happened once they reached that site. But the only people to check in have been two current students and I. Admittedly, you can’t check in if you’re just visiting via web, but it’s too bad no one has interacted with this feature geospatially. On the bright side, while preparing to write this entry, I was pleased to see that visitors other than the location creator can edit place information. This previous data hygiene issue was one of Gowalla’s drawbacks. Alas, this project reveals other shortcomings of the platform.

1. Gowalla’s low adoption rate. If Foursquare had the capability to upload photos, given its larger user base, I would expect the number of checkins to be higher. I’m experimenting with some Foursquare projects now, not yet sure of outcomes.

2. Navigation issues. It’s just not easy to get from one location to another in the application. Gowalla’s usability is better than other geosocial platforms, but the tour comes across more as a list of places loosely connected than a cohesive presentation.

3. Lack of wow factor. People may have been excited when they saw this tour existed, but it has nothing on, say, a Campus 360 virtual tour complete with creepy talking avatar (coming soon to our campus). Just seeing photos with a little bit of information is perhaps less than users wanted.

So if creating a Gowalla tour isn’t a stirring success, at least it’s a learning opportunity. Creating it took only a couple of hours, and I consider experimenting, trying new things and learning new technology time well spent.

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