The geeks have been watching the geosocial showdown between Gowalla and Foursquare this past week in Austin. We’ve chronicled a flurry of app updates and everyone from Bloomberg to the tech blogs have been reporting every nuance of the competition.
For my money I think Gowalla is the clear winner of SXSWi 2010. They rose to the challenge and put a significant dent in Foursquare’s dominance. However, the most eye opening events came from 3 non geek friends that have no idea that SXSWi even exists.
The SXSWi scoreboard (or why Gowalla won)
Comments – Their latest apps allows comments on friends checkins. It isn’t perfect and better notification of comments is needed but they understand all social networks need conversation. Last week when I checked in a doctor’s office a friend left a comment asking about my wife’s health. He can’t do that in 4sq. Point:Gowalla
Photos – I can now add photos to locations that I’m checked into. Honestly this is a no brainer. It’s not as slick as Loopt but pics in 4sq? Nope Point:Gowalla
Popularity – While 4sq still holds the lion share of the market (500k vs 100k) there is good evidence that Gowalla had an equal number of checkins at SXSWi. This is a major coup for the underdog. Point:Gowalla
Coverage – I don’t have hard data but it seems that Gowalla has gotten a good bit more coverage on major tech blogs and news outlets shows. Add in the fact that they won the SXSWi web award for Mobile tech and the were chosen as the overall winner of the second annual Statesman Texas Social Media Awards. Point:Gowalla
Intangibles – I’ve got a friend in the biz that has evaluated 4-5 checkin services and he was most impressed with Gowalla’s roadmap and offerings for his clients. Since I’m part of the huddled masses I’m not privy to Gowalla’s future but he’s one of those folks that you can bank on his opinions. If he’s impressed with Gowalla then Point:Gowalla
Moving beyond the Geeks
The story of 3 non-geeks and Gowalla
- A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference in Memphis. After checking into our rooms our group gathered in the lobby. One of the guys mentioned, “You’ve already checked in to this hotel on Facebook. How’d you do that?”
- During praise team practice tonight a friend commented on an update I posted from a new Thai place in town. She was interested in trying the place out and was thankful she saw my unflattering review.
- Then tonight I get home from a revival and I’ve got a Gowalla friend request from a third friend from church. Based on the timeline I assume she’d seen my post Gowalla Facebook status update from church tonight. When I looked at her stream she’d already checked in and dropped an item at a location.
All 3 friends are savvy web users and facebookers and none of them have ever heard of geosocial or SXSWi. Yet all 3 found something interesting in my Gowalla Facebook posts and 1 of them even signed up.
When non-geek folks start taking notice of a technology you’d better pay attention.
Beyond its usefulness it made me wonder. Why Gowalla?
At the risk of oversimplification which status update would you click?
If you are a non-geek, I’d say the answer is likely Gowalla.
Sure the geosocial war reaches far beyond icon design and user interface but appeal is important. In general I’d say Foursquare appeals mostly to geeks while Gowalla may tap into a larger audience.
The road ahead
Gowalla still has some signficant challenges ahead.
- Search – Gowalla desperately needs to enable venue search. @JW (Founder,CEO) says it’s coming in 2.1
- Parnterships– Foursquare is moving quickly to partner with everyone from Starbucks to Zagat. Gowalla needs to play catchup.
- Business Accounts – Gowalla hasn’t enabled business accounts. Business promotions and incentives is the real battle ground. I know the initial focus must be on building a user base so I’m hoping that Gowalla can begin this new phase soon.
- API – 4sq’s API has encouraged other apps like @Waze and @Foodspotting to allow checkins. As this market grows Gowalla needs to have a robust API to encourage 3rd party app integration.
- BlackBerry App – Gowalla needs a native Blackberry app. BB users can use m.gowalla.com in the meantime but a native app is needed for widespread adoption. They say more devices are in the works.
The way I see it Gowalla has made a significant leap both in the geek world of SXSWi and the more important market of everyday folks.