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Check-in’ out the location-based apps, Pt 2 – Gowalla

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
12 October 2010

This is the second in a series of five blogs, looking at some of the major players in the location-based app business – FourSquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, Yelp and SCVNGR. As well as looking at the pro’s and cons of each for users of the service, I’m taking a look at what opportunities they present for brands and services who might choose to use them. Yesterday we looked at FourSquare; Today, part 2 of the series takes a look at…

Gowalla

By no-means the most well-known of the location-based apps, but definitely a contender for the most stylish…

gowalla_logoHow app-y does it make you?

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably know that Gowalla is my favourite LBS app – historically it was the first one I tried (having been a big fan of AlamoFire’s previous creation, PackRat) and I’ve stuck with it ever since.

As a big fan of ‘collecting’ things (just ask my poor wife how full our garage is…) the big appeal of Gowalla to me is the combination of virtual items (often being able to exchange them for real-life equivalents), a wide variety of fun badges and a good selection of trips. It also LOOKS much nicer than all the other apps – beautiful custom-designed location icons for popular spots as well as a full-colour interface makes it really nice to use. Just my opinion of course, but it certainly helps me.

How about the website?

Again, like the applicaiton itself the website is really nicely designed – glossy visuals, a simple navigation and those lovely custom icons make it very easy on the eye. Take a look at the below screenshot from Gowalla.com, of Waterloo Station’s page – even here in little-old England, there are now hundreds of spots with these custom-designed icons, which just makes the whole experience a little more personal.

My one criticism of the Gowalla website is their fairly frequent changes to its design – recent changes have allowed users to add their own Wallpaper (how very 90s!) to their page, as well as taking the emphasis away from items you’ve collected. The latter is probably a response to the increasing challenges from services like FourSqaure – which is a big shame, in my opinion. Conforming is so dull!

gowalla-waterloo

What sort of coverage do they have in the UK?

Gowalla is probably second-only to Foursquare in terms of locations submitted by users – despite not having a pre-loaded bank of locations like Facebook Places launched with, it’s very hard to find a corner of the UK now that hasn’t had large numbers of locations added by users (and fans). As I mentioned above, the AlamoFire team have also spent a lot of time making sure that coverage in countries outside the US is just as good as at home – recent trips I’ve made to Sydney and France have both revealed great coverage in those countries too.

photo (13)What can brands do?

Like FourSquare, Gowalla allow brands to interact with the service on several levels; On a ‘free’ level, brands can customise their location pages with information like website address, phone number and even Twitter handles. It’s worth noting that some of the changes can only be made by official Gowalla reps or members of their Street Team Elite though (of which I am a member…!) – so you may need to contact them to make your changes.

If you’re willing to go a little more off-piste and invest some money in Gowalla, you can do a lot more – claiming multiple locations, adding custom badges and icons, creating branded trips and creating promotions are all possible for brands. The use of the oAuth API also means brands could potentially build their own apps to interact with the Gowalla platform.

Brands like Levis and National Geographic have already created trips and massive branded presences on the service. The shoe-retailer ‘Toms‘ went even further, partnering up with Gowalla to offer their fans the chance to win real-life pairs of shoes (in exchange for the virtual items awarded on the site) and even flying one lucky player out to Argentina for their 1-millionth ‘shoe drop’.

How easy is it for users to set up?

Fairly easy – you can register an account on the website, or through the app itself. Facebook connect also makes it very easy, should you choose to go that root.

Why should I choose this one?

I personally think it’s the most fun of all the apps, with collectible items and prizes making it very appealing for people who enjoy collecting things. The team behind it certainly make the best attempts to keep the ‘game’ changing, with regular updates, promotions and new items to collect making it an ever-changing feast.

photo (10)How ‘social’ is it?

Like most of the apps, Gowalla make it very easy for you to search through your Facebook and Twitter friends to find contacts also using the service. You can also share actions such as check-ins, photos and badges to post straight to your feeds too.

Gowalla are supposedly planning on integrating checkins with Facebook Places at some point, though this doesn’t seem to have happened yet – at least not here in the UK. If it does happen though, it’ll make the experience of using both services at the same time a little less confusing – especially for your friends and family NOT using either service.

In summary…

Easily the nicest of the services to use AND look at, Gowalla will appeal to people who have a little bit of the collector in them; less coverage and a small user-base than FourSquare make for a *quieter* experience than FourSquare or Facebook Places, but if that doesn’t bother you then the functionality and design of the app make it a very appealing draw for users.

Tomorrow… Facebook Places!

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