FourSquare vs. Gowalla at SXSWi 2010: We Have a Winner!
I’ve been using the iPhone version of both FourSquare and Gowalla for months now and have thoroughly enjoyed both apps. As similar as they are, FourSquare does a better job as my social compass while Gowalla serves as my digital passport.
After obsessively playing with both FourSquare and Gowalla’s updated apps this past week at the SXSWi conference, it is pretty clear FourSquare wins at being the best geo-based, social app of the two and here’s why:
The Social Aspect
Gowalla is great at helping me find venues and using beautiful stamps to help me keep track of places I have been. Unfortunately even in its latest revision, it lacks a usable search for (possibly) missing venues and it doesn’t make it easy to find your friends. As of this writing, the friends list is buried beneath new friend requests and the list is not sorted or limited by distance – this means if you have a long list of friends who were not at SXSW but in other parts of the world, it would be hard to isolate the focus to just those that are near you.
On the flip side, FourSquare did an AMAZING job of helping me discover hot (trending) spots and where my local friends were this past week. Coming from Atlanta where it’s hard to get a swarm badge or even a “player please” badge if you are a guy, I found myself loving the FourSquare experience at SXSWi. For the first time I was actually using FourSquare like it was meant to be used, seeing where my friends are, when a party actually picks up and more importantly, when and where the party moves in real-time if the group is bar (or hotel) hopping. With FourSquare, it’s now unnecessary to make calls in loud clubs or text multiple friends to try and coordinate a disjointed group.
Geo-Location and Businesses
With regards to promoting local businesses and encouraging patronage, both FourSquare and Gowalla are testing great ideas for promoting specials, coupons, hidden items and trips. While finding hidden items and redeeming them on Gowalla can be great for one-off promotions or if you are a virtual pack rat, seeing nearby specials even if you’re not checked in at the promotional venue on FourSquare just feels more inviting.
For example, prior to the conference, Gowalla announced their party list was overflowing and to be guaranteed entry, one must find the Tiki Room Wristband virtual item. I was not one of the lucky Gowalla users who found it thus I did not even try to go to their party.
The Fun Factor!
One of the first thing I noticed was that while Gowalla and FourSquare both have SXSW specific badges, FourSquare’s badges had a bigger set of night-life related achievements. Even the pages themselves differ in highlighting personal achievements vs. the mob’s achievements. I guess I should start off by thanking @dens and @mari18 for not creating an “if your friend jump off the bridge” badge cause as a FourSquare groupie, I probably would have done stupid things during questionable hours on the Congress Rd. bridge just to try and earn the badge. Sounds dumb right?
At SXSWi I found myself pushing the limit and getting out of my comfort zone on several occasions just to earn new badges on FourSquare. Do I like BBQ and tacos? Yes. Would I normally eat it 3 plus times in one week? Probably not if FourSquare hadn’t made it a game. On the fun side, in the pursuit of unlocking the achievements, I did discover amazing breakfast and Korean BBQ tacos and the awesomeness of the Karaoke RV in town – and I’m not even a karaoke fan!
While Gowalla certainly does not have a shortage of trips and activities in the Austin area, the lack of social convergence within the app just didn’t do it for me. The trips within Gowalla are mostly self-rewarding and unfortunately resemble a bucket-list of things to see while in Austin vs. a set of activities to be performed. As beautiful as Gowalla is, their pins just don’t communicate the fun as well as the colorful badges of FourSquare. If I was visiting Austin for other reasons, it may have been cool to check out the moonlight towers or the stairs of doom but during SXSW, those achievements just take me away from the partying crowd.
Why FourSquare Wins
As much as I like both services, I found myself leaning towards the more useful service as the conference and parties progressed. By the latter half of the interactive conference, I found myself relying exclusively on FourSquare to plan my social calendar and using Gowalla only if I stepped in a new venue that I wanted to check off on my digital passport. While I’m sure both apps will iterate with more changes in the weeks to come, I definitely made a better use of my time in Austin with the help of the FourSquare app.
Although it is still unclear which service will ultimately come out on top in the overall category, FourSquare clearly was the sociable winner this past week. Not only did it help bring together my group of friends with ease at SXSWi, it did for many groups I’ve talked to as well. For those that prefer Gowalla’s virtual items and stamps, I’d be interested to know if personal trophies/checklists outweigh the social friend-finder aspect for you. Just because the check-ins equal in number doesn’t necessarily mean they are both good at bringing crowds together. Then again, we don’t all play these games for the same reasons but that’s why competition and uniqueness is good.