Gowalla is a location based social network, and even though they’re considered underdogs compared to Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, I think their approach to location is more fun, meaningful, and social.

I first heavily started using Gowalla when I was tired of the competition for mayor status and badges on Foursquare. Each of those two mechanics which foursquare revolves around pressured me into checking in and it made me guilty if I didn’t do it. Even while they were completely arbitrary and provided no benefit at all, getting the “Mayor” status of venues, defending that title, and trying to collect the different foursquare badges, was something I found myself thinking about too much.

I wanted the social benefit and interactions that came from checkins. I didn’t want to deal with artificial game mechanics, or be in the stuck in a heavily marketed playpen where users participated for the benefit of brands.

Gowalla’s approach to location is a lot more fun. They’ve make the “check-in” more social than any of their competition.


Gowalla’s “Highlights” are more like bookmarks or favourites.

Despite having a vague name, Highlights are locations that you mark as meaningful in your life, some different spots available to choose from are:

– Favourite place to get coffee
– Favourite after work pub
– The place you got married
– The place you proposed
– The best place to get pizza

Even though not all places are equally i mportant, this is a nicely conceived and executed way of marking places as favourites. It communicates your relationship to places in a more meaningful way than battling with strangers for the title of mayor.

Instead of having a connection to everyday places based on the frequency of your checkins, which are often associated with commercial gain (free coffee, a coupon), Highlights let users make the everyday places special.

The introduction of Highlights is good for Gowalla. It continues their pattern of not duplicating their competition, and of viewing the social possibilities of checkins in a different way.

Checking in with Gowalla has always been the beginning of social interaction, where as with Foursquare it’s the end. Checking in using Fourquare gives friends a stream of user checkins to see, while Gowalla checkins give users the option of commenting on checkins, and uploading photos of the venues.


The design of their web application, and their website, is friendlier, colourful, and feature beautifully designed art which make using the system a lot of fun. When I compare Gowalla’s design to foursquare’s, one thing that comes to mind is that foursquare features modern icons, colours, and lines. The result is that foursquare really looks like “professional’s choice”, or at least, it’s the choice of businesses and marketers who want to capitalize off of a location based social network.

Some decisions that made me reject foursquare early on are the same ones I think helped it gain popularity quickly, grow dedicated users, and attract the attention of businesses.

The statistics foursquare provides for users about their checkins and the ones offered for business owners on the checkins that are happening in their stores are really neat. They look good, and given enough penetration and usage,, can provide some useful insights for businesses. I have no problem and I think it’s smart and creative.

But, from it’s earliest iteration, foursquare provided no options for users to limit the ability of the service to post updates to their Facebook and Twitter accounts when they earned new badges or new mayorships. It also didn’t include email options to control the ability for foursquare to email users when their mayorships were lost to other users, or when they got new friend requests. Each message foursquare sent out over Facebook and Twitter increased it’s visibility and drove more traffic to the service, while each email sent to users got them more engaged with the service and increased the cost of not participating.

Gowalla: http://gowalla.com
My account on Gowalla: http://gowalla.com/users/malcolmbastien 

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