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Gowalla vs Foursquare – Battle of the apps!

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
1 March 2010

iphoneAs a recent convert to the iPhone, I’ve really enjoyed trying out some of the many apps I’ve heard people talking about for the past, what – year or so? Two of the apps I’ve heard a lot about are Gowalla and Foursquare, which both exist in the same ‘space’ – the space my esteemed colleague Milly just termed the “Geo-location-based competition / collection / recommendation type app”. Catchy ain’t it?

If you’ve not used either of them before, essentially they’re applications that rely on the GPS to pinpoint your location, then tell you what ‘spots’ are nearby. Spots can be anything from shops to tube stations, restaurants to historic monuments. When you visit a spot, or add on of your own, you get a selection of rewards for doing so – whether it be a virtual badge, a special offer or a virtual gift. You can also share tips, recommendations, reviews and the like, helping to make your visit a more rewarding experience.

Aside from hearing a lot of buzz about both, they seem to sit in very different camps – I haven’t seen that many people that, like me, use both. Foursquare users tend to be very defensive of their app – when I tweeted that I was trying both out, I got a few replies that were VERY dismissive of Gowalla, one going as far as to call it “mainstream pants”! So I’ve been using both for the past two weeks, with the aim of comparing / contrasting, to find out which one is for me. Here’s some of the similarities and differences I’ve found, along with my all-important conclusion…

Similarities

  • Both essentially follow the same model – figure out where you are, tell you what’s nearby and reward you for sharing your experience.
  • 89-00a4ed7860170facb04d6b17e245d4f3Both run very slickly on the iPhone, and both are available (though to a less-sexy extent) on other mobile devices too, as well as through their websites.
  • Both allow you to post updates to your friends on Twitter and Facebook, whether it be your location or ‘achievements’ you’ve received.
  • Both were developed in the US, though Foursquare *seems* to have cracked the UK market a bit more quickly.
  • As they become more popular, both seem to be falling foul of inexperienced new players creating multiple copies of the same spot – a bit of a pain, particularly in built-up areas.

Differences

  • specialsDespite the obvious opportunities, only Foursquare seems to make it easy for businesses to add offers and ‘rewards’ – you can visit the Foursquare Business Page to submit an offer for your business, just like Sams, the restaurant next to Tamar HQ recently did. I suspect Gowalla has business deals going on, particularly for their ‘featured spots’, but it’s not very obvious how a small business would go about doing this.
  • Gowalla LOOKS a lot nicer than Foursquare – the lovingly designed icons and interface on Gowalla knock the industrial-looking interface of Foursquare in to a very big cocked-hat. As a fan of another AlamoFire application, Packrat (see my previous blog post on the game here), I can see they put the same artistic geniuses from that game to work on Gowalla, and it really pays off.
  • Only Gowalla lets you categorize your spots – Foursquare simply lists spots nearby, meaning unless the creator has kindly listed what they actually ARE in the description, it can be a confusing mess at times. Gowalla on the other hand breaks spots down in to any of almost 100 categories, with beautiful icons giving you an at-a-glance guide to what is what.
  • badgesFoursquare’s ‘rewards’ are a lot more straightforward, though a little bit less fun if you’re a collector like me. A series of badges show you what achievements you have gotten, and what you have left to get. Gowalla uses objects which you can drop, pick-up and vault to make the task a bit more interesting, though badges aren’t available.
  • Gowalla also gives you ‘trip‘ functionality – the ability to set up collections of spots in a certain theme, which you are them rewarded for completing. For example, the closest ‘trip’ to me is the grandly-title ‘London Championship Chase‘ – a collection of 5 famous sporting venues in London, which you can work your way through. It might be considered silly to some, but in my opinion it adds another element to the app/game.
  • Proximity – this one is a crucial one for me, but maybe I’m just anal like that? With Gowalla you can only ‘check in’ to a spot when you are within 200m of the spot – whereas with Foursquare, the radius is a LOT bigger. What this basically means is it’s a lot easier to cheat with Foursquare, and say you’re somewhere when you’re not. Whilst this can be a little buggy at times (it relies after all on the creator of the spot having created it in the right place, which often they don’t) I think it makes much better use of the GPS element of the app.

Conclusions

Annoyingly, I’ve still not really made up my mind – and plan to continue to use both until I do. What I can say though is that for a BUSINESS, Foursquare offers a lot more opportunities to monetize the app in some very interesting ways. It’s review functionality is also a lot stronger, making it crucial to keep an eye on what users are saying about your business, as with all social media. But for a user, a lot of what you get out of the two apps will be, like social networks, dependant on which of your friends are using each one. So at the end of the day, it’ll probably be another case of survival of the fittest – or most popular – for these two babies.

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