In a recent interview with Om Malik, Gowalla CEO Josh Williams mentioned that an Android version of the location/check-in based social network would be available in around three to four weeks, and that a BlackBerry client was “a priority”. On top of that, it sounds like they’re going to have a big announcement in two weeks. By and large, Gowalla looks like they’re cashing in on the burgeoning popularity of Foursquare, but these guys are doing a few things differently.
For a company that has a background in gaming, Gowalla has significantly less to do with points and leaderboards than Foursquare. While Foursquare badges are more akin to Xbox 360 achievements, Gowalla’s rewards are more like collectibles – every time you check in at a new place, you get a new graphic for your collection, and some especially signature locations have custom-made icons. Each location also has what you might call a virtual geocache of digital items – you can nab one for your collection, and leave another. These encourage people to visit a wider variety of destinations to collect more “spots”, while Foursquare users will hammer the same destinations repeatedly in order to earn (or maintain) a special title and crank up their score. Gowalla also refers to the home screen as a Passport, which right away markets it to the traveller, rather than, say, the foodie demographic that Yelp might rope in.
On the one hand, I’m worried that the banality of checking-in at every place you go and incessantly transmitting notifications over Twitter and Facebook is just going to produce social network noise pollution, but on the other, I’m interested in how services like Gowalla, Foursquare and Yelp will push GPS past a strictly utilitarian, navigational role, and into something a little more fun and mainstream. If these kinds of check-in apps continue to gain popularity, more cell phone buyers will be looking for GPS in their next device, which in turn helps push the tech into lower and lower-end handsets until, eventually, GPS is as ubiquitous as cameras.
In any case, it seems to me that Gowalla will be a good choice for those who are compulsive hoarders and fans of fancy graphics, while Yelp will be for mobile critics, and Foursquare for the competitive sort. Foursquare has a bit of a head start right now, but maybe once it’s become oversaturated, folks will start checking out the alternatives.