In a wyn-style nutshell: Gowalla and FourSquare are “games” you play primarily from a GPS-enabled smart phone to make your mundane and exotic activities more fun. When you arrive at a venue (from school to the supermarket to a nightclub to a lowly subway station), you can fire up Gowalla or FourSquare applications and “check in” to the location, i.e., tell the game and your friends where you are; then you can potentially see how many other game-savvy people are/were around and get some cool deals that may be offered by the proprietors of the venue.
I’ve heard alot about FourSquare in my Vancouver Twitter feed crowning it in my mind (with undisguised distaste, mind you) a “social media darling”, what with it’s splashy launch party in Vancouver and other tricks that I’ll get to below. Apparently, Gowalla also debuted at SXSW (a “music, film, and interactive conference and festival”) this year but I had heard nothing about it until I saw it in the “Featured Section” of the iTunes App Store last weekend. A couple of screenshots in the product description were eye-catching and I was game to try it. Both applications can be downloaded for free–so, no arguments about the price.
As with Twitter, Facebook, etc., I was hesitant. The way people go nuts over some things can turn me off–who would have thought I would be that kind of “rebel”?–but playing these games, like blogging, tells a handful of people that “I’m alive!” and “I’m getting out and about!” That’s why I’ve kept blogging despite having, like, only ten readers :D and why I don’t mind having just one friend each on Gowalla and FourSquare. They are two different friends, mind you. :D
First, FourSquare, since I’ve heard so much more about it. You can connect your 4Sq account to Twitter and Facebook to broadcast FourSquare updates on those feeds instaneously and simultaneously. When you check in somewhere and have FourSquare tweet about it, the tweet is in a template form1 that I enjoy very much. If you are such a big shot that you check in to a venue more than anyone else has, you are named the “mayor”. I’ve seen people become “mayor” of large venues like a stadium and lame places like a subway station. And the traditional/literal part of me cringes at the thought that someone can be “mayor” of City Hall, no matter how tongue-in-cheek that “honour” is. Frankly, I would be mortified if I became mayor2 of someplace.
For now, FourSquare is only available in 99 cities, giving it an air of exclusivity and giving you some meager bragging rights if you are so lucky to be in a city cool enough to have FourSquare. What I like most about FourSquare are the badges and how the cities I have been to are lined up on the screen with badges (and I love badges).
On the other hand, Gowalla is “crowdsourced”, building all(?) of its database of information from data submitted by its users. (I hope someone is checking behind the scenes.) It means that although Halifax is not cool enough to be part of FourSquare yet (or ever), I can still play with Gowalla and add locations when I’m back home. It all gives me a warm and fuzzy sense of contributing. :D Gowalla is operating with GPS coordinates so I do not have to fret about finding out the exact street address of the supermarket I am in to add a location–because these things, I like to do them right (go me). I love the interface of Gowalla–it’s a little dark but the icons that pictorially display the category of a venue/location are eye-candy so long as they keep up with the times and innovate. It stands to reason that Gowalla can gain a lot of traction in the hundreds of cities that want FourSquare game-playing but don’t have it yet–here’s to hoping.
It seems to me that the “geocaching” aspect of Gowalla is underhyped in reviews I have read. I don’t get caught up in geocaching either, but Gowalla functionality lets you unlock “prizes” at seemingly random intervals and you can drop them off for others to find who check in next. My conclusion (for now) is that I will use both services (Gowalla with some reservations, unfortunately3) until one just can’t keep up and gets snuffed out… or I get a life or move on to The Next Big Thing.
1 e.g., “I’m at YVR – Airport Canada Line Station (3211 Grant McConachie Way, Vancouver). http://4sq.com/blcKK”
2 It is geek humour, truly and through-and-through. I’m glad I understand it, but so glad I’m not caught up in it. I speculate it has some roots in “nerds taking over the world” and mayorship=power. Except no one cares, thank goodness.
3 I have two final notes about Gowalla, though. My Facebook account got hacked one night and just earlier that day, I gave Gowalla access to my FB account to search for FB friends also using the service (nil, of course). Is there a connection? As far as I can tell, FourSquare has built in more privacy than Gowalla so far. I don’t mind sharing my FourSquare page here because you are not automatically viewing the list of places I have been. As for the Gowalla page–let us borrow Michael’s page–it just screams out to everyone where someone’s been without having to have an account with Gowalla. That needs to change.