Posts Tagged ‘gowalla’

Check In, Get Acquired, Check Out. Farewell Gowalla

With the benefit of hindsight, it was probably inevitable but 5 years after the location based, check in social network we know as Gowalla launched and 3 months after they were acquired by Facebook, Gowalla is no more.

Despite launching in 2007, 2 years prior to Foursquare, Gowalla never seemed to be able to capture attention from either users or from the media in quite the same way as Foursquare. The similarities were many; both social networks used location as a key facet, allowed users to check in to locations they were at or near and to share those locations with other users and other social networks. But while Foursquare’s game mechanics of badges and Mayors seemed to hit the right note with users, Gowalla’s ill explained and ever morphing system of virtual items, spots and trips never seemed to make sense. No-one I’ve ever spoken to could explain exactly what the point of Gowalla was, whilst Foursquare’s mechanics were simplistic and easy to grasp.

After loosing ground to Foursquare, Gowalla tried to act less as a sole source of checkins and more as a central aggregator of the disparate checkins from itself, Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter, amongst others, but this move did little to slow Foursquare’s ascendancy.

And now, 3 months after they were acquired by Facebook in December 2011, both the Gowalla smartphone app and website started to announce

Thank you for going out with Gowalla. It was a pleasure to journey with you around the world. Download your check-ins, photos and lists here soon.

So long Gowalla. You were one of the first movers in the so called check-in economy. It was fun while it lasted. Only time will tell whether Foursquare’s seemingly unbeatable lead will continue.

Wikipedia’s Gowalla entry has the final word on the subject.

Gowalla was a location-based social network

The past tense says it all.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Deliberately (and Unexpectedly) Tracking My Journey

I’ve been tracking my journey and in doing so inadvertently uncovered a sea change in the way in which we view the whole thorny issue of location tracking.

Yesterday, Ed Parsons and I drove from London to Nottingham and back to attend the one day Supporting the Contextual Footprint event run by the Horizon Digital Economy Research institute at the University of Nottingham and I had Google Latitude running on my BlackBerry, with location history enabled, as I usually do.

Unofficial Google Latitude T-Shirt

Using the pre smartphone, pre GPS, pre Latitude method of writing it down, the journey went something like this:

  • On Thursday afternoon, leave the Yahoo! office in London.
  • Walk to Piccadilly Circus Tube station and catch the westbound Piccadilly Line.
  • Alight at Heathrow Terminals 1,2, 3 station.
  • Pick up a rental car at Avis.
  • Go home and sleep.
  • On Friday morning, wake up, and leave London.
  • Drive to Nottingham, stopping at Warwick Services on the M40 for coffee.
  • Attend the event in Nottingham.
  • Drive back to London, stopping at Warwick Services on the M40 for more coffee.
  • Drop rental car off at Heathrow.
  • Take car home and sleep.

Nothing too controversial there. Using the smartphone, with GPS and with Latitude method of using my BlackBerry, the journey becomes much more detailed and visual but also shows curious blips where I appear to dance around a location. All the more mysterious as they seem to happen when I know I’m in one place and not moving, until I realise they’re probably AGPS locks from wifi or cell tower triangulation, kicking in for when my GPS can’t get a satellite lock. Playing back the journey on the Google Latitude site looks like this:

Despite the fact that I i) explicitly installed Google Mobile Maps on my BlackBerry, ii) explicitly enabled Latitude in Google Mobile Maps and iii) explicitly enabled location history in my Google Latitude account, a little over 12 months ago, this would have been controversial enough to whip the tabloid media into a privacy infringing frenzy. Looking back to February 2009 in my Delicious bookmarks shows headlines such as Fears that new Google software will spy on workers and Google lets you stalk your friends (which are just plain factually wrong), together with the pointed MPs claim Google Latitude is a threat to privacy: Irony-meter explodes from cnet.

As I went about the events of the day, I checked into my accounts on both Foursquare and on Gowalla. Just take a look at where I checked in and the sequence of check ins.

Tracking my journey; Gowalla

To start with I check in at the Yahoo! UK office, followed by

  • Piccadilly Circus Tube Station
  • Terminal 1 (Heathrow)
  • Avis (Heathrow)
  • Warwick Services (M40)
  • Park Inn (Nottingham)

… which is pretty much a simplified version of the above two journeys. I’m tracking my journey here too but where location based social networks are concerned, the media is far more accommodating and enthusiastic; 12 months after Foursquare’s launch, 500,000 users, 1.4M venues and 15.5 checkins (with Gowalla either neck and neck, out in front or lagging behind according to differing sources) the most shrill piece of negative publicity that Foursquare was able to garner was a mashup which looked for people publicising check ins on Twitter and inferred that this was an open invitation to the criminal element.

The value proposition of Google Latitude has always been in getting the consumer comfortable with sharing their location with a third party and with your social graph, which isn’t good enough for most people to grasp. The value proposition of checking in, keeping tabs on your friends and seeing what they’re doing is far more palatable and easier for the consumer to grasp with media coverage pretty much limited to ohh, look at the funny people obsessively checking in sort of article.

As an aside, if I was at Foursquare or Gowalla I’d be looking to mine the rich vein of stealth data that their users are generating at each check in, as it’s producing a geotagged and categorised set of local business listings and points of interest. For now though, there’s no public sign that either company are doing this, choosing instead to continue to grow their user base and to roll out into new cities and countries.

In the space of a year and with a different face, location tracking has gone from being Big Brother to being one of the hottest pieces of social networking with people at the recent SXSW in Austin TX actively complaining about check-in fatigue because there’s so many of these services (FoursquareGowallaLooptWhrrlBrightkiteBurbn,MyTownCauseWorldHot PotatoPlancast) to choose from and trying to check into them all can take anything up to 10 minutes.

If all of this talk on location tracking sounds interesting and you’re in San Jose CA the week after next at O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 locationfest can I strongly recommend that you check out the founder of, fellow Brit John McKerrell‘s session on Why I Track My Location and You Should Too. As long as it doesn’t clash with my Where 2.0 session of course!

Photo Credit: moleitau on Flickr.
Written at the Park Inn, Nottingham (52.970538, -1.153335) and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Location is a Key Context, But Most People Don’t Know This

Like a lot of people, I get most of the information I use, both personally and professionally, from the web; from RSS feeds, from keyword search alerts and from Twitter. The genesis of my recent Theory of Stuff slowly accumulated out of this mishmash of feeds, alerts and status updates.

Firstly I read about EchoEcho, a new location based service which promises all manner of good stuff by showing you where your friends are regardless of which location based service they currently use. Let’s leave aside for one moment that the service independence of this app seems to be based around the concept of getting all your friends to use EchoEcho and then consistently getting them to report their location. Let’s look at something far more fundamental than that, the strong sense of location deja vu harking back over two years ago.

Haven’t we been here before? Hindsight seems to have proven that concepts such as “who’s nearby” and “show me where my friends are” aren’t, on their own, enough to build a business around. The brief flare of enthusiasm over services which tried this approach such as PlayTxt and DodgeBall were soon extinguished as users, fickle as they are, got bored and moved onto the next big thing.

Then there were two articles looking at “checking in“, both looking at FourSquare and Gowalla but each one coming at it from wildly differing ends of the experience. On the one hand, there was Business Week quoting the eye watering “I don’t feel complete unless I check in” from FourSquare, Gowalla and Yelp addict Diane Bisgeier. Though the article focuses on this as a San Francisco and the Bay Area phenomenon, this has crossed the Atlantic with vigorous checking in going on in the UK and in mainland Europe. I may even have contributed to this, from time to time.

A totally contrasting view was shown by Andrew Hyde who was fed up of “the needless ego boost” of saying where he was and “committed location based suicide” by deleting his accounts from FourSquare and Gowalla. We’ll leave to one side the irony that this was done very publicly and with an accompanying blog post.

All of the above moved Thierry Gregorius to lament that “if ‘normal’ people don’t see the point of location-based services, how can the geo-industry claim being mainstream?“. A valid point but one which confuses the very visible front end view of location, as seen in LBMS and the less visible back end view of location. Ed Parsons summed this up succinctly by comparing back end location with the DNS system, which “normal people don’t see the value of but use every day“.

It was these three themes, “who’s nearby” as a raison d’etre alone, maintaining an audience by check-ins alone and selling location based services to a wide audience that made me sit down and write up my Theory of Stuff. The full text of this is in a previous post, but the short version of the theory states that in order for a business to succeed you need three things, some Stuff, be it data, inventory or something else, some People, your audience and some Secret Sauce which allows you to connect the audience to the stuff in a bidirectional manner. So how do these three themes fare against the theory of stuff? Surprisingly and thankfully, they all seem to validate it.

The concepts of “who’s nearby” and “where are my friends” on their own, fail the theory of stuff. 

You have People, and in some cases a very large and quickly growing audience. You have some Secret Sauce which connects those People via their locations. But because there’s no Stuff to start with and the secret sauce isn’t bidirectional, no Stuff is created. The effect of this is that monetization opportunities are non existent or severely limited and the service isn’t sustainable. Both PlayText and DodgeBall are no more and the omens aren’t looking good for EchoEcho as a result.

Then there’s FourSquare and Gowalla, both of whom seem to have been inspired by Google. Cast your mind back to when Google announced the concept of Street View which was met with sneers and derision from some. Before Street View even went live it was written off as a loss leader, a waste of time and money and it would be Google’s white elephant.

Others of us in the location industry took one look at a Street View car and noted that the cameras weren’t just pointing parallel to the road surface to take photos of surrounding buildings. They were also pointing at the road and up at the road signage which, when combined with the fact that the (GPS, cell tower and wifi triangulation equipped) StreetView cars actually had to drive down the streets in question, would provide Google with their own mapping data that was also capable of powering routing and direction algorithms. A short while later and Google completes enough of North America to remove the need for TeleAtlas mapping data and makes massive savings on data licensing into the bargain.

Street View passes the Theory of Stuff by providing new Stuff to be connected and monetized by their existing Secret Sauce and the People who make up their substantial audience.

It would be easy to dismiss FourSquare and Gowalla as more up to date versions of the “where are my friends” service. While they seem to have created the current cultural phenomenon of checking in, which may well be their lasting legacy, both services have their own quirks (FourSquare’s Mayors and Badges and Gowalla’s items) and need to show they’re capable of holding onto their existing audience and growing it, substantially. 

So this surely means that both FourSquare and Gowalla fail the Theory of Stuff? Not necessarily. Just as StreetView generated valuable Stuff for Google, so both FourSquare and Gowalla are also generating a detailed set of local business listings and points of interest, all of them neatly categorised and geotagged as a bonus. That’s a lot of very valuable Stuff. This doesn’t seem to have been something that’s been noticed or commented on as much as it should be. If both these services can retain their audience and if they connect them with all the Stuff that is being captured and generated via Secret Sauce then they can most definitely pass the Theory of Stuff.

The idea that location is analogous to the Domain Name System is slightly more challenging to fit into the Theory of Stuff’s model but it’s still possible.

In the previous two themes, location has been the dominant factor in the provision of a service (PlayText, Dodgeball, FourSquare and Gowalla) or location data has been generated in order to create Stuff (FourSquare and Gowalla). In the DNS theme, location is not the prime reason for a service to exist, it’s a context, part of the Secret Sauce, that helps the service provide its users with relevant information. This was highlighted by Kevin Marks and JP Rangaswami in last year’s excellent The Impact of Context on the Mobile User Experience discussion at the Heroes of the Mobile Screen conference in London. Of course, you still need Stuff and People in order for this to work; Secret Sauce on its own is not a recipe for success.

As nomadic devices have proliferated, the difference between The Web and The Mobile Web have vanished; it’s just the web, regardless of how you experience it. A parallel can be drawn here with location. As location becomes more and more ubiquitous so the whole concept of a Location Based (Mobile) Service will also vanish, at least as a label. Location will just be a context. And there’s nothing wrong with that; quite the reverse, as the location industry will have achieved their aim of ubiquity, of providing a service and information that everyone uses but which no one actually bothers to think about it being there.

Photo Credits: Angelskdpstyles and leff on Flickr

Written and posted from  Yahoo! campus, Sunnyvale, California (51.5143913, -0.1287317)

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous

The Location Battle Between You and Your Phone

Whenever I talk about the privacy implications inherent in sharing your location with an app or service, I keep coming back to the idea that it’s essential to be your own source of truth for your location. This is a slightly verbose way of saying that you need to be able to lie about your location or that you need to be able to say “no, I really am here” despite what other location contexts such as GPS, cell tower triangulation or public wifi MAC address triangulation may have to say on the matter.

Of course, it’s never quite as straightforward as that and here’s why. The two location based mobile services that are getting a lot of coverage at the moment are FourSquare and Gowalla. They both rely on their users checking into a location by saying “here I am” and as a neat side effect they’re generating a geo-tagged set of local business and POI listings, thus verifying and adhering to my Theory of Stuff. But more about that in my next post, for now let’s concentrate on their user’s location.

Much has been made of FourSquare’s approach to checking in; you’re presented with a list of places nearby, generated according to your A-GPS location, for you to check into. But you can also search for places and check into them as well. Some commentators view this as a failing in their model, allowing for someone to check in to a location and maintain their Mayor status, from their comfort of their own sofa. Now granted if you wish to game FourSquare this will allow you to do so, but it also allows you to be your own source of truth. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stood in the middle of the concourse in London’s Waterloo Station and Waterloo has not been amongst the choices of place that FourSquare presents me to check into, yet I’ve been able to do so by searching for the place and then forcing FourSquare to accept that “yes, I really am here“.

Gowalla takes a different approach and relies entirely on the accuracy of the A-GPS system on my phone. If your phone doesn’t agree with you on the matter of location then you can’t check in, as the screen capture below shows.

I’m currently in California visiting the Yahoo! mothership; at the time when I took this screenshot I was seated in Yahoo! Building E, which already exists as a spot in Gowalla. My iPhone disagreed with me and insistent I was some 120 meters away in the middle of the Lockheed Martin parking lot on nearby Moffett Field and as a result it just wouldn’t let me check in. FourSquare, also taking its cue from the A-GPS on my iPhone had the same problem but was quite happy to let me override this and check in to its version of the Yahoo! Building E place.

So which approach provides the best user experience? I’d strongly argue that the Gowalla approach frustrates users by effectively saying I know better than you, whilst FourSquare’s approach, whilst able to be gamed and abused, allows the user to insist that they do know best in these circumstances. Only time will tell which approach will succeed, but being your own source of  truth continues to be of major significance when sharing your location with the world at large.

Written at the Sheraton Hotel, Sunnyvale, California (37.37159, -122.03824) and posted from the Yahoo! campus, Sunnyvale, California (51.5143913, -0.1287317)

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous