Foursquare vs Gowalla

January 13, 2010 at 9:48 AM 1 comment

The battle of location-based social media apps has begun.  The two heavyweights in my opinion are Gowalla and Foursquare (or 4sq for short).  Though Foursquare has been around for a while, it was only accessible to those in a limited number of cities until the first week of 2010.  I had been stalking it for some time hoping it would add Cincinnati to the list of cities.  So when Foursquare finally became available across the US last week, I immediately signed up and added the iPhone app.

As for Gowalla, I’ve been using it for over a month now and have continued to increase my usage over the past several weeks.  Unlike Foursquare, Gowalla hadn’t required the user to be in a limited number of cities to use it.  Though I’ve had the apps for a relatively short time, I think I’ve gotten a good feel for each.  Here’s my findings:



  • By far the best thing going for Foursquare is the user submitted tips/comments for a location.  Both apps answer the question “where are you”, but this feature helps give Foursquare more substance by answering “so what?”  I was very impressed when I checked into a restaurant and immediately received a notice that one of my friends had been there and added a tip to try the tater tots and $1 burgers on Wednesdays!  The ability to immediately see recommendations (or warnings) is fantastic, and unfortunately something that Gowalla does not currently offer.  The iPhone app also provides a link to Yelp for each location.
  • Competition/Stats.  Though rather trivial, it is fun to obtain points and badges for checking into places and then “compete” against your friends.


  • My biggest complaint about 4sq is the poor utilization (or rather enforcement) of GPS.  The iPhone app gives the ability to check into places that are quite a distance away from your physical location (Gowalla requires you to be so many meters away or you can’t check in).  Furthermore, their website provides the ability to check in anywhere in the US (whether you are actually there or not).  For an app that stresses competition through checking in and earning points/badges, I would expect 4sq to be a little stricter here.  Perhaps the issue is that not all smartphones have GPS.  In that case I would argue against watering down the app by catering to ill-equipped phones.  The primary idea here after all is location-based.  If you are not physically at a location, you shouldn’t be able to claim you are.
  • It is annoying that the iPhone app requires a user to know the physical address before they can create a new location.  While keeping a record of addresses is helpful, it could certainly be added after the fact and shouldn’t be a requirement as it is rarely common knowledge or easily available when checking in.  Again, GPS enabled phones should have no problem getting an accurate read on location. (Note: The most recent iPhone update now makes adding a physical address optional, yay!).



  • The true fun of Gowalla involves discovering and “re-locating” items.  When you check into a location, you may be surprised to find a virtual item ranging from a Big Bag o’ Swag, to a Slice of Pizza, to a Muscle Car.  You can then drop those items somewhere else.  What makes this great is the history that stays with each item.  You can see all the previous owners of an item, where they got it and all the places it has been dropped along the way.  It reminds me of Where’s George.
  • Shiny!  The graphics, user interface and ease of use are brilliant.


  • The app is only available for iPhone.  There is a mobile web version for Android users and apps are are being created for other platforms.
  • Lack of comments/tips.

Bottom Line: I’m currently using both apps to check in when I visit places.  After about a week, this has already become burdensome.  Still, I hate to commit to one or the other just yet, as I doubt this battle will end any time soon.  I think it would benefit both apps to come together and form the ultimate in location-based social media.


Entry filed under: Apps, Tech. Tags: , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Andi  |  January 15, 2010 at 7:38 AM

    I don’t know the breakdown of iphone to blackberry to other smartphones, but the lack of viable apps for non-iphone users for these social media applications creates a wedge, makes it less enjoyable to keep using and people will look to move to the next shiny thing.


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January 2010

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