Tag Archives: geosocial media

The state of geosocial media, 5 years later

In March 2010, I wrote a four-part blog series on geosocial media and its potential for the future. In addition to being fascinating to research, the series earned me invitations to speak at conferences and write articles in real publications. And while I saw great potential for what I called “geotagging” social at the time and the players in the field, the closing paragraph of the series may have been the most prescient:

Building bonds — with other users and with establishments favorite and unfamiliar — remains the big draw to geotagging, so we can’t underestimate its future. Since, as this series has shown, each comes with different drawbacks, neither Foursquare, Gowalla nor Yelp seem like that killer app that will become that next service with Facebook-style popularity. But the potential is there if some of these apps merge. Or if a developer can build a better mousetrap, the world may beat a bath to his or her door … since, with geotagging, we’ll know exactly where to find it.

The sad truth is that the past 5 years have seen most of the major players in the market change, get bought or fold. Consider:

  • In 2014, Foursquare mystifyingly launched a sibling app, Swarm, that relegated Foursquare itself to irrelevancy. I just looked and none of my friends recently checked in anywhere nearby. Zero. I occasionally see Swarm checkins pushed into my Twitter feed, but nowhere near what Foursquare was in its heyday. (UPDATE: Apparently Foursquare will partner with Twitter to provide the opportunity for check-in ability, which is the first promising thing in a while.)
  • Gowalla was consumed by Facebook in 2011 and disappeared into the void by the following year.
  • Whrrl, my personal favorite of the bunch, was bought in 2011 by Groupon, which essentially cannibalized its best features.
  • The promising social scavenger hunt app SCVNGR disappeared from app stores in 2012, having transformed into LevelUp … and you’d have to hunt to find any mention of them.
  • Out of the major players, only Yelp retains any semblance of itself. Its Monocle feature that adds a bit of augmented reality for what’s around you and its robust reviews keep it relevant.

Yelp’s innovative Monocle remains a constant. You can find eateries around you even while admiring toddler art.


Strangely where do I see more people check in than ever? Facebook. In terms of geosocial capability, Facebook doesn’t let you do much more than check in, but it’s still a relevant social platform that’s been too big for anybody to buy it out, so it kind of garners check-ins by default.

So what happened here? So many companies tried to build a better location-based mousetrap, and the world beat a path to their door oh so briefly … but then buyouts and changes of strategy sent people away from the promise of location-based media. Everybody instead rushed to the next big things, whether Instagram or Snapchat or Yik Yak or whatever the same technology press that called Foursquare “a game changer” decides to (probably misguidingly) hype next.

We can take away that because no one app was perfect or at least all-encompassing (the Facebook goal), most were more likely to become tools not of users but of the desires of larger companies. The way business works now is that if you can’t build that better mousetrap, you buy out the company that does and use it however you please.

We’ve also learned that all the hype in the world doesn’t buy a market category, let alone a company, a future. As much as we all like to think otherwise, what we see as social media communities many just see as tools. Something newer and shinier is always coming next. Maybe all of us (me included) need to realize that in the world of technology, change is the only constant.


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5 social media questions for 2012.

In a field like social media, expanding, extending and exploding in so many different directions and pieces, it’s hard to make rock-solid predictions as 2012 prepares to become mayor of the calendar. In lieu of trying to be Nostradamus or a Mayan prophet, let’s instead look at where we’ve been and ask 5 questions about social media for the year to come.

1. Will geosocial converge or diverge? We saw plenty of shakeups in location-based or geosocial media in 2011. Facebook Places fizzled, but Zuck and Co. subsequently bought Gowalla. Promising platform Whrrl was purchased by Groupon, who celebrated by shutting it down. Foursquare made some tweaks, but mostly I still see people just checking into their workplaces. SCVNGR’s Jeffrey Kirchick and I tend to believe that what’s next in geosocial media goes beyond merely checking in and into the realm of checking out: By which I mean geosocial-driven purchases, more reviews-based activities (like Yelp) and location-based dating apps. Yes, dating. Whether new platforms and communities will drive these innovations or existing players will lead into these more practical areas is a big question.

2. Will Google+ meet the hype? Is G+ the best thing since sliced bread or is it already stale? Depends whom you ask. My opinion is that their invitation-only beta release unnecessarily segregated users; I was in early but by the time many friends joined, my interest had waned. Similar rollouts didn’t exactly put over Google Buzz or Wave (RIP). Now my streams grow ever quieter while most people adding me are scary-looking strangers with unpronounceable last names. Despite all that, Google+ presents a user-friendly product with great connectivity and avenues for quality content. So it may yet make a big move this year and live up to the hype many have (baselessly, if we’re being honest) heaped upon it.

3. Will Facebook innovate or atrophy? Facebook may be expanding and ubiquitous, but did it really accomplish much in 2011? It gave us a ticker many folks hated, a timeline no one really asked for, the ability to flood friends’ streams with new promotional partners and an took Places to purgatory. User reactions to the developments tended to range from upset to annoyed to nonplussed. I didn’t hear anyone (outside of their flacks and claques) rave about what Facebook accomplished this year. Does this leave them vulnerable to user erosion or will they provide reasons to retain primacy?

4. Will social entertainment platforms go mainstream? People posted what they were watching via GetGlue, wannabe DJs jumped on the Turntable.fm bandwagon and Facebook friends’ musical selections bombarded us through Spotify. Nice starts by all, but none moved that far beyond technophiles and fans. The immense untapped potential of iTunes Ping remains an unknown. (Have you ever heard people actually discuss Ping? Me neither.) But users love/crave entertainment, share musical tips with friends and tweet while watching Glee, Modern Family and awards shows, so huge demand for social entertainment platforms exist in the market for a company, or competitors, to plug into.

5. What don’t we see coming? Since at least the time of H.G. Wells, society has held a fascination with fantasizing over future technology. I’m currently enjoying the fascinating and entertaining Max Headroom complete series DVD set. While the dystopian 1987 cyberpunk series shows a future where megacorporations and media companies control the government (sounds familiar), a striking gap between the rich and poor (check) and the potential for surveillance everywhere (ditto), it omits two key developments — the emergence of smartphones (everyone calls old-fashioned phones or uses video chats at terminals) and the rise of social media. And even as we gaze forward from the precipice of 2012, all the experts, gurus and ninjas of the world will miss at least one big, viral and influential development that will impact social media. What will it be? Stay tuned.

So that’s my take. What questions and trends do you think will drive social media developments in 2012?


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the fall of whrrl and the future of geosocial.

Between the announcement Whrrl will check out at the end of the month and speculation over whether checking in has jumped the shark, the past week gives us pause to ponder the future and direction of geosocial, or location-based, media.

As stated previously, I liked Whrrl for its Societies (connecting users with similar check-in habits), its clean interface and its functionality. But with Groupon acquiring Pelago, Whrrl’s parent company, the geosocial service will spin off into oblivion. Groupon will likely take on some of Whrrl’s better features, but since Groupon already has some location-based elements to it, one could argue redundancies existed.

Way back when I started studying geosocial media, I predicted some players would fall by the wayside and others would be acquired by other companies with similar interests. Whrrl had a low user base and, despite some pretty decent promotional ideas, more prone to being rolled into something else. They may have been the first, but they won’t be the last.

Jeffrey Kirchchick of SCVNGR, who first let me know about Whrrl’s demise, likes to (accurately) say the future of geosocial goes well beyond the check-in. You can find a more extreme position via a RWW guest post by Goby CEO Mark Watkins declaring 2011 as the year that check-in died. Leaving aside the very legitimate question as to whether it’s in Watkins’ self-interest to declare the check-in dead, he notes:

In July 2010, Foursquare had 2 million users performing 1 million check-ins per day. By the end of the year, that number had risen to 5 million users performing 2 million check-ins per day. Impressive growth, yet this means check-ins per user declined from 0.5 per person to 0.4. It also suggests that many of those five million users aren’t active.

Between that and poor data on Facebook Places — always the weakest of location-based offerings — Watkins explains that the mere art of the check-in may not be enough to sustain these apps. It’s a great point. Yet the article has, at best, a flawed headline and, at worst, flawed assumptions.

Let’s say I own a bookstore. In the span of a year, the number of customers coming increases 150 percent. And my sales double. True, my average sale nets 20 percent less than the previous year, but … did I mention I had twice the sales of my previous year? Would I declare my bookstore dead? Of course not. It’s silly overstatement and cherry-picking of numbers. If I were a smart bookstore owner, I’d work with customers to see how I could better meet their needs … and I’m pretty sure geosocial media companies are smart enough to do the same. It’s too bad Whrrl won’t be among them, but I suspect these companies have plenty of sharp mind to help them navigate solutions.


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yesterday’s newspapers = tomorrow’s geosocial community builders?

It’s no secret the entities once known as newspapers continue to transform into multimedia, multipurpose organizations. But can they also use new tools — especially geosocial media — to lead the process of online community-building? The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s score! app raises such intriguing possibilities.

While the company did not return an interview request from this lowly blogger, this interview on WXXI and this Nieman Journalism Lab story provide interesting context — the project started as an alternate-reality partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology, then had another short civic-engagement run around the midterm elections. It relaunched a few months ago as a full-fledged social gaming site with location-based challenges.

“[T]here’s this huge community in Rochester that we can send people to all these cool places they don’t know about,” project developer Mark Newell told WXXI. “We have reporters and contributors that are trying to get more stuff out there. … We have this amazing cache of knowledge that I think we’re trying to get out in more ways than just writing newspaper articles.”

Sign-up takes less than a minute if you connect via your Facebook ID, and the site is pretty easy to navigate. You can pursue missions, which may include logging onto the score! mobile site for checkins like any geosocial app. Missions point users to both known places and hidden gems, such as New In Town with Driardonna Roland by the D&C’s young professionals beat reporter or Ashish’s Sport and Spice by an intern on local spicy food and sports hangouts.

And score! represents a merging of user with content and, for the D&C, revenue potential. The missions tie in advertisers as destinations, while giving users a chance to discover local flavor (perhaps literally), all the while promoting Rochester as a vibrant community. Quite a brilliant concept, really. User activity seems decent, albeit not overwhelming, and it’s hard to predict a development curve.

The question at the heart of this is: Could colleges or other businesses create a similar homegrown solution? (By which I DON’T mean: Drop a huge chunk of change to an app developer.) The D&C benefits from economies of scale — they already have a large staff of content providers, backend development support for their website and a well-used communication vehicle. Some colleges have those advantages as well.

Colleges establishing their own rich geosocial applications and networks — to better connect students to each other and their institutions — would require not just resources, but a paradigm shift in some traditional roles and expectations. But hey, if print media, (erroneously) considered dinosaurs by some, can jump on this kind of innovation, why shouldn’t other industries consider it too?

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whrrl: geosocial graduations, building societies and more.

If not for the piece I wrote on geosocial media for the January issue of CASE Currents, I may not have checked out Whrrl. It’s not as well-known as the likes of Facebook and Foursquare but, in some ways, it holds as much promise as any location-based platform.

Whrrl allows you to do all the things we’ve come to expect of geosocial apps, such as check in, receive mysterious points and leave metadata (in this case, a Note). You can add photos as well, although this feature is not as novel as it was when I wrote the initial geosocial blog series. It also has perhaps the cleanest, most intuitive interface of any location-based service.

But one feature I love is the Society function that allows you to find, connect and interact with those whose checkins show similar interests … i.e. coffeeshops, live music, etc. within a geospatial construct. Unlike most geosocial apps, Whrrl’s Society feature actively promotes the possibility of expanding one’s network.

I also like the Ideas tab, a memo-like function that allows you to record thoughts on things you’d like to do in these spaces (“try the Al Roker sub,” “check out the organic vegetable section,” “look into renting kayaks”). This links users more tightly with spaces and real-life activities. (There’s also the Fun Fact, which I haven’t figured out yet.)

But one of the coolest things (as mentioned in the January CASE magazine article) is how St. Edward’s University in Texas used Whrrl to create, as the college’s director of communication, Mischelle Diaz termed it, the first “socially-connected graduation ceremony” last year. For its 125th anniversary, St. Edward’s partnered with Whrrl to create an additional level of connectivity and excitement to the event.

“With Whrrl, we were able to capture real-time texts and photo submissions from graduates and other audience members,” Diaz said. “This allowed graduates and their families to see photos and texts from everyone at the event, not just the photos they were able to take themselves.”

They faced the challenge of Whrrl’s low user base — its main current drawback for any user — by using various campus communication and social-media channels, pitches to student and regional media as well as a pre-graduation Happy Hour signup event. They focused less on the technology (shiny object) and more on, as Diaz called it, “a significant life experience” and “recording a moment of history for the university.” Putting people and goals in front of technology! How excellent.

“Given this was our first attempt at using social media at such a large event, live, in such a visible way, we were very pleased,” Diaz said. “We took our cues about the success of the project from the audience reactions during the live slide show. There was lots of laughter and enthusiasm. After the event we did more Facebook posts with links to the Whrrl slide show, which is still accessible.”

If, as SCVNGR’s Jeffrey Kirchick said on last weekend’s HigherEdLive, the future of geosocial is not merely checking in, but in connecting and creating memorable experiences, then the underdog Whrrl may yet become more of a destination for users.


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top 5 takeaways from #heweb10.

I’ve returned from my first full HighEdWeb conference (#heweb10), also full of other firsts: First time riding a mechanical bull, first time petting a penguin or shark, first time singing karaoke in a gay bar. The conference was full of win (not just two victories in Just Dance or our luck-infused undefeated record on the pool table at Madonna’s) as great information and connections virtually poured like Skyline Chili over pasta. I could never, in manageable length, blog about every takeaway, so I boiled it down to a top five.

1. People matter. Yes, we talk about tools and technology all the time, but this business is really about people. One of my favorite lines came from Mark Greenfield, on institutions not being brands or logos; they are all the people who attend (or attended or want to attend) that college or work at it. This ties in with my love for storytelling as well, and underscores that we’re really in the people business. Also, the conference is about meeting, interacting and learning from some of the best damn people on the whole planet.

2. Use it or lose it. Any conference where the keynote speaker is the king of usability, author Steve Krug (“Don’t Make Me Think,” “Rocket Surgery Made Easy”) is bound to teach a thing or two about creating user-friendly websites and why we need to test them to ensure they work. Krug is great at disarming all the usual excuses people (including me) have and essentially said: If you’re going through all this trouble to make a beautiful and rich website experience, is taking steps to ensure it works too much to ask?

3. Location, location, location. Given the explosion of geosocial media, I anticipated more sessions about location-based at the conference. But Tim Jones from North Carolina State did marvelously with a 45-minute overview that also showcased some neat things his college is doing … and a cross-platform aggregator they plan to launch. QR Codes and related services mentioned elsewhere offer tantalizing potential: Imagine a campus tour where a smartphone accesses text, photos, videos and other context from a chip on a building, or a code at a theatre performance gives more interactive information about the play, actors or academic program.

4. Count it up. One of my goals is to better understand and utilize analytics tools (where next week’s Stamats SIMTech also will help). Many robust and free services giving you figures exist, and Kyle James particularly brought it home simply with things to look for in your analytics to help improve your site (i.e., what gets hit most often and from where, whether people find what they want or bounce from your stie, what throws up the most 404/page not founds). Figures to back up decisions and new directions can prove worth their weight in gold.

5. Count your blessings. Yes, working in web communication is no picnic. We’re asked to do a lot with few resources. Deal with frantic emails that want things yesterday. Shudder at the mention of words like “meeting” and “committee.” And yet. Working with the web means what we do matters. It’s the medium of choice for most prospective students, general users seeking news/information/entertainment and some 500 million Facebook users. The web and what goes on with it is only expanding, so it’s an exciting field. And, as I learn every time I’m blessed enough to attend a conference like #heweb10, the field abounds with awesome people who are incredibly generous with their time, advice and energy.


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facebook places: right move or out in left field?

The trouble with trying to keep up with geosocial media developments is how the landscape changes all the time. Like last week, while I finally wrapped my blog entry on SCVNGR, Facebook sailed out of left field in unleashing its new Facebook Places feature. My quick take: It brings all the good and the bad of Facebook into play.

The good: Facebook has an immense user base — in the neighborhood of 500 million and counting. You can check in somewhere and learn your friends are nearby. Or catch up with friends if they’re already out somewhere. Or stalk somebody … er, forget that last one. Anyway, even with the surging numbers for Foursquare, chances are a lot more of your friends are on Facebook and you can see what they’re up to while staying connected to this huge social media community. Anyone can create a place, anytime, anywhere.

The bad: Because anyone can create a place anytime, anywhere, you could end up with duplicates (which detract from shared experiences), erroneous/misspelled entries or intentional misinformation. Facebook’s track record shows little interest in data hygiene if these happen. The app itself brings no value-added. You can check in and comment and … that’s about it. You can’t become a mayor or earn a badge or post a review, tip or photo. Maybe those are coming. But maybe these aren’t so much bad as just streamlined. Let’s save the true scorn for …

The ugly: If you run a business or work at a college, your venue may exist but good luck making it a place of true engagement. When I look for a check-in on my campus, the created venue is State University of New York at Oswego, a name almost no one uses (please call us “SUNY Oswego”). I could create SUNY Oswego, but then you’re into duplications and you can’t consolidate dupes as easily as on Foursquare. Nor can you claim a venue as easily as Foursquare. If at all.

OK, let’s say I want to claim the Facebook Place of State University of New York at Oswego, being the college’s director of web communication and social media canary and all. If I try to claim the venue, I get to this screen:

Hm. I don’t happen to have a digital copy of our articles of incorporation, since SUNY Oswego was founded in 1861. Nor a local business license, BBB accreditation or, well … does Facebook — which started, remember, in the higher education market — expect any college to have these articles?

This Facebook maneuver seems the wicked stepsister of the community page. Not the actual fan page we manage (with some 7300 often-engaged fans) but the spam-filled artificial construct by Facebook where the info comes from Wikipedia. The one I inquired about helping months ago — in case anyone has questions or seeks legit information — but haven’t heard from Facebook about. When community pages rolled out, creating more problems than solutions, Michael Fienen penned an excellent blog entry titled Facebook Hates Your Brand. With unclaimable, unverifiable and uncorrectable Places proliferating, this observation is more apt than ever.


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another layar of augmented reality.

For a while, I’ve wanted to blog about Layar, the augmented-reality aggregation app, but seems every time I start, the app changes. And not always for the better. In the game of geosocial media, Layar is like that young baseball pitcher with all the talent in the world but still working on his delivery.

Put simply, the Layar app lets you see what’s happening around you in several layers — who’s tweeting, who’s posted pictures or YouTube videos near you, what Gowalla locations exist, where to eat, where to drink, where crime is happening (the scariest one), who’s looking for love (or maybe that’s the scariest one?), etc. Sounds like a lot of great hyperlocal stuff, eh?

Hypothetically it would be, if the app had even decent usability. You’re allowed to select favored layers, but have to access and use each one separately through not-quite-intuitive navigation. Sometimes it will show hits around you but they won’t come up in either the list nor map views. Sometimes it says you’re nowhere near where you actually are. And just when you’ve figured out its latest reinvention, Layar seems to change the way it functions.

Note that Layar had layer functionality before Foursquare added its layer for users around you. And Foursquare toyed with a partnership with Layar — which, given its greater use than Gowalla, could have been promising — but a beta version that doesn’t work for all devices is as much as I ever saw. And while Layar theoretically offers more functionality than augmented reality competitor Yelp — which focuses on local points of interest and reviews — it’s nowhere near as reliable or easy to use.

One interesting thing about Layar, which also points to its potential, is how it resembles an app store within an app. Many of the popular layers are free, but Layar also offers paid layers, such as guides to Walt Disney World, an “EyeTour” of Puerto Rico, a service for finding local deals and even augmented-reality greeting cards. Thus, unlike Foursquare and its ilk, Layar has a built-in monitization avenue … if it can score a decent adoption rate and develop apps people find of value.

With all its power and potential, it’s too soon to know where Layar will go. To return to the baseball analogy, it could flourish into a Stephen Strasburg or flounder like a Hideki Irabu. But there’s enough going on both within Layar and the whole geosocial game that this app remains worth watching.

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foursquare next steps: claiming and consolidating.

By now quite a few of you have read (or been subjected to) my basic primer blog about Foursquare. In the months since, many institutions (mine included) have become more serious about using this geosocial platform. But how do we bridge from grappling over mayorships to serving institutional purposes?

The first (and dreadfully obvious) step is creating a location or locations for your institution, if such doesn’t exist already. The next step involves claiming your official Foursquare location. Weeks ago I applied to claim SUNY Oswego online and heard nothing. When the subject came up earlier this week on Twitter, the ever-helpful JD Ross at Hamilton College mentioned the email address of bizhelp@foursquare.com, so I sent a follow-up email with the site I wanted to claim, my Foursquare account ID and contact information if they had questions. Within _minutes_ Foursquare responded to say I had successfully claimed the venue.

The next step is consolidating locations if duplicates exist. In our case, one could find 3 SUNY Oswegos and 2 Suny Oswegos. Many users wander concentric circles but don’t share a neighborhood. I had noted the duplicates in my follow-up email and someone named Ian from Foursquare asked me to provide him the locations and they would consolidate. First thing Wednesday morning I emailed the duplicate locations and after around 4 hours Ian told me it was taken care of. Fast and effective service!

What to do next? We have the opportunity to create a special for the mayor of SUNY Oswego. This would be easier if my social media budget were more than $0 (zero dollars). Or, more accurately, whatever I feel like paying out of my own pocket.

I also want to create more sites (buildings, key attractions) around campus when I find time; I don’t have any social media interns until fall, so that would be an assignment if I don’t do it in summer. I’ve claimed a Foursquare user account (sunyoswego) for my institution, but whether I remember to change back and forth from my personal account to the institutional one (let alone recall the respective passwords) while creating venues and checking in remains to be seen.

Since I emphasize goals over tools (aka chasing shiny objects), with Foursquare, my overarching goal is to build connections both among the campus community and with the campus itself. Sure, new students and visitors can use it to discover and explore things or become mayor of our library. But I’d like to throw in some other fun, engaging initiatives; as a geocacher I think maybe we could put hidden prizes in some locations and use tips to find them. But these are things to brainstorm and develop … the first step is (was) to claim the space and consolidate to bring our users together.



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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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