In terms of geotagging services, Gowalla could recycle the old Avis advertising campaign “#2 and trying harder” in terms of its matchup with the more market dominant — but more frustrating — Foursquare.
When it comes to the basics of geotagging — creating and finding spaces and interacting with other users — I find Gowalla more user-friendly, intuitive and responsive. Put simply, I can do things on Gowalla that I either can’t do easily, or at all, on Foursquare. A big plus is that you can locate spaces via Google map, satellite or a hybrid of the two views.
“I had been trying Foursquare and hated that I had to know the address of my location to add it as a new place, since their app doesn’t use the iPhone’s GPS,” said Seth Odell, media relations assistant at UCLA. “The fact that I could create a new location in Gowalla without the address and just my GPS coordinates was the main reason I decided to give it a try.”
In an oddly Pokemonesque touch, creating sites sometimes rewards you with virtual items — skateboards, slices of pizza, saxophones, you name it. You can “drop” these imaginary items to become a founder of a space, whether or not you created it. Whereas Foursquare provides mayorships and such to encourage repeat visits, “Gowalla rewards EXTENDING your territory more” and “taps into our acquisitiveness, with the concept of items,” notes Jon Boyd, online media manager for admissions at North Park University.
“The fun part about using it is mostly as a ‘hey I’ve been here too!’ tool,” said Wassan Humadi, higher ed diversity consultant for the US Educational Group. As opposed to the more popular Foursquare, “Gowalla isn’t used enough yet where you’re in a spot and can see who else is there. I would think that would be a pretty fun use of it, if you’re at the library on campus, I can see who else checked in here as well.”
In the time since I surveyed users, Gowalla had a major upgrade that amps up ability to interact with others, augments a social-gaming leaderboard function (similar to Foursquare) and adds a very user-friendly way of posting photos of your location. These things move fast.
Among users, the passport function — showing a list of places you’ve been — comes up as a favorite feature. Globetrotter Humadi enjoys that “when you’re traveling around the world, you can make it a bit of a virtual scrap book. I would anticipate that soon I can share the list of places I’ve been to via email, Facebook or other similar networks.” With growing functionality, she could see potential for travel journals created on the spot, perhaps combined with text, photos and video.
A major downside of Gowalla involves poor “data hygiene,” as “only a creator can edit a spot, the rest of us have to live with everyone else’s poor data entry,” Boyd explains. A good example: The entry for Sheldon Hall, our oldest and most historic building on campus, was created by a student. Despite the listing, the Extending Learning office is _not_ in Sheldon Hall, which means the only way I can correct it is by bugging him to edit the description.
Gowalla also occasionally has locating issues, especially indoors. In the test drive so far, I’ve seen Gowalla put me in the wrong place less often than Foursquare, although with either service you can drag and drop a pin to correct erroneous location issues. Also noteworthy, unless I’m really missing something, Gowalla lacks the review feature that makes Foursquare and Yelp attractive options for those in unfamiliar territory.
Users have mixed feelings about its business potential. “Combining a bit of a game idea/scavenger hunt with a more detailed iPod/podcast may be a way of giving a more personalized tour to students who want a more in-depth campus visit than the one the tour guide can provide,” Humadi suggests. She could see benefits from students or participants checking into an activity or class, instead of using roll call or a sign-up sheet.
Odell, on the other hand, doesn’t see Gowalla benefiting businesses — yet. “Down the road I think there will be lots of opportunities for businesses, but right now I think it’s pointless,” he says “For colleges I see absolutely no value right now. The numbers just aren’t there for this to matter. Obviously it’s something to watch though. As the numbers increase so will the value in it.”
Time will tell whether Gowalla plays Betamax to Foursquare’s VCR or becomes the Facebook to Foursquare’s MySpace. Whatever happens, the healthy competition between geotagging services will ultimately make users the winner.
Stay tuned for Part IV: Yelp, Enter Augmented Reality