Foursquare vs. Gowalla: Location-Based Throwdown
Based in New York City, Shane Snow is a graduate student in Digital Media at Columbia University and founder ofScordit.com. He’s fascinated with all things geeky, particularly social media and shiny gadgets he’ll never afford.
Just when you thought you had enough social networks in your life, two hot new ones are vying for your attention. Combine the benefits of sites like Yelp, Twitter, and Google Latitude, add in social gaming and some privacy measures, and you have the recipe that Foursquare, the app that’s been called “next year’s Twitter,” by Mashable’s own Pete Cashmore, and its chief competitor, Gowalla, are cooking. Each has attracted a rapidly growing user base in 2009, and each is rushing madly to beat the other to your smartphone in 2010.
A Quick History
Many of the world’s great inventions – television for example – have been developed in parallel, unbeknown to their authors. Both Foursquare and Gowalla started development in late 2008, and both launched in Austin at SXSW in March this year. At the time, Foursquare stole the show, drowning out any fanfare that the then-buggy Gowalla tried to muster.
When asked if he was nervous when he heard about Foursquare’s simultaneous launch, Gowalla founder Josh Williams said, “On the contrary, I felt like the presence of other innovative location services was simply confirmation that we might be onto something interesting.”
Nine months and millions of dollars of funding later, Gowalla has positioned itself as a serious contender in the space. Bugs have been ironed out, and according to Williams, Gowalla is now seeing 20,000 checkins a day. While each app has its own specialties, they share some remarkable similarities, even in the liner notes:
I’m not sure who ripped off whom on this one, but at least we all love everyone!
Which Should You Use?
Regardless of who developed what first, these networks may soon work their way into your own social circles. The big question: Which should you use?
The answer may simply be, “Whichever one your friends are using.” But if you’re the early adopter in the group, the blow-by-blow comparison below can help you sway your social circle to sign up for the one that fits you best.
Cells shaded in orange indicate a feature that favors Gowalla, those in blue favor Foursquare, while crosshatching indicates a toss-up. However, opinions will vary on this, so please tell us what you think in the comments.
As you can see, Gowalla trumps Foursquare in design and availability, but Foursquare takes the cake when it comes to check-in location accuracy, device support, friend management, and value added features like a city guide, and to-do list. Both apps are equally impressive in the way they dole out in-game and real-life perks and rewards.
The Problem with Gowalla
While Gowalla is very cool looking, my main beef is its tendency to emphasize you more, while Foursquare emphasizes your friends. One of the best things these apps have over other social networks is the ability to meet and interact with new, real people, meet up physically with your actual friends, and get recommendations from people you trust. I’m not saying you can’t do this with Gowalla, just that Foursquare seems to do it better. However, for those who enjoy the Pokemon-style gaming aspect, Gowalla with its pins and item swapping, is a definite first choice.
Also, likely because of Gowalla’s slow start, although the service is available everywhere, even in New York City, where I live I rarely check in somewhere where an actual Gowalla user is also checked in. I bump into Foursquare users all over the place, though. If this were the board game Risk, Foursquare would be the guy who’s got 1,000 armies in Australia while Gowalla has one army everywhere else. Unless Gowalla is really lucky with the dice, it’s probably only a matter of time before it gets edged out everywhere else too.
As the location-based battle rages on, keep an eye on semi-competitors like Loopt and Brightkite who may soon enter this particular fray. “I think both Foursquare and Gowalla are great apps – using the real world as the backdrop for a game is a lot of fun,” Loopt CEO Sam Altman recently confessed. “It’s probably a safe assumption that we’ll add some gaming elements.”