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December 07 2009

foursquare vs. Gowalla

Since I first heard about foursquare, I’ve been eager to try the service for myself. But as you probably know foursquare has this city concept, so I couldn’t take part from Germany at the beginning.

I found Gowalla, a more or less similiar location based gaming network. Despite some confusion at the beginning (there is no such thing as a newbies tutorial), I grow used to the gaming thingy.

In mid November foursquare launched in some german cities. I thought I couldn’t join either because I used to work and study in other towns. Now the interesting part: It turned out I’m wrong. You can use the app, even if you 240 km away from the next foursquare city. Made not so much sense to me¹, but hey let’s just try it out.

So I’ve using both services for about two weeks. I consider myself as a web geek, but even for me it’s way too geeky to log in two networks when I arrive at a certain place. I had to decide which one to use further.


The common: Get better through creating and checking in venues. I’m not going to explain the Trips, shouts and To-do lists. Nice ideas, but you need a established userbase to see these kind of things roll.

More motivating is the Badge-system (called “Pins” in Gowalla). In foursquare I can get badges like “Local” (check-in the same place 3 time in one week) or “Bender” (for night-outs in a row). It would be interesting how they hand out the “Gym Rat” - you can only set the name of the venue, not that it’s a fitness center. Personally I like the categorisation you have to take when creating a place in Gowalla. The icons tell you instantly what’s behind the name of the spot. Unfortunately there’s no option to tweet your Pins automatically.

In Gowalla everything aims at getting items. Over time you get the feeling which items are rare and important. You can drop items on a spot to become a “Founder”, switch them and see which persons had this particular item before you.

Let’s break it down: Foursquare’s point-system is far more easier to understand for the newcomer. I’ve got 5, he’s got 4 = I’m better. The leaderboard stats gets reset weekly what makes sense for beginners. I takes some time to understand for which actions you get how many points, but the algorithm is well balanced.

A problem I see with both services is how they deal with double or false entries. I suddenly made one too, because the GPS sensor in the iPhone sometimes lagges behind. Where is the button to join this spot with the other?


Just look at those two screenshots from the main screen when you open the iPhone app. Huh, they focus on different things, but it’s not so hard to decide which one you wanna look at every day.

Here’s the Spots/Places screen:

The Android one goes to foursquare, because they have one and Gowalla doesn’t. Same thing seems to appeal in the near future for those on Blackberry handsets.

Mobile-page again goes to Gowalla:


I recognized, the more you went south in Germany, the more users are on Gowalla. Overall foursquare is the more known. That’s important, it just makes more fun to play against friends you know already. For me, it’s a tie.


Overall, it’s hard to decide. The concept is really a little bit more thought-out on foursquare, but I got used to the item collecting and the friendly interface in Gowalla.

What made me switch for the moment² was the newly introduced foursquare API. Everybody just saw the last couple of years on Twitter that a good and open 3rd party connection can make the difference. There are already some applications that use “Connect with foursquare.”

  1. They don’t explain on their Twitter or tumblr blog why not all cities above, let’s say, 250,000 inhabitants are in and others aren’t, how they pick the cities and if some time every city will be supported.
  2. When you read this blog post, the information may be outdated because Gowalla introduced their promised item overhaul, foursquare gets a good iPhone designer (Jason Hewitt is free at the moment ;-), or whatsoever. Just imagine what happens when finally Facebook enters the location market.

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