By: Tim Baker
A little less than six months ago, Gowalla was riding very high. They were the darlings of SXSW, at least in the eyes of the Austin residents, and were in a promising position as they stood toe-to-toe with Foursquare. My, how a lot has changed.
Despite just being named one of Time’s 50 best websites of 2010, Gowalla has lost a lot of steam in the geolocation wars. Foursquare, the New York City-based startup, has been racking up win after win with many high-profile deals including Zagat, TLC, Bravo, VH1 and Starbucks. With Facebook throwing their hat into the ring with “Places,” I believe Gowalla is at a make-or-break point if they hope to survive.
Despite the beautiful aesthetics of their mobile app, Gowalla has been criticized by some as being too confusing or even childish. The feature where random virtual objects are left behind for others is often cited as the most confusing aspect of the service. However, in the world of tech startups, having the prettiest service doesn’t always resonate with consumers.
The data is not on Gowalla’s side. Analyzing their website traffic stats shows a sharp decline after their SXSW peak in March, compared to Foursquare who’s site hit over 1.8 Million unique visitors in July.
Granted, website usage isn’t the best metric as these services thrive on the mobile app experience. Analysis of the social media data is also very telling. Aside from small spikes for Gowalla when they announced their iPad app and their use of the Foursquare Places API, their mentions throughout the “blogosphere” have remained very flat.
If you’ve been following the “checkin wars,” none of what I’m talking about is surprising. Foursquare has been the hottest startup in 2010 and the service to beat. Facebook Places, with an install base of over 500 million, is not as well received initially as some may have thought, but it’s way too early to call it a flop. Facebook has the money and the muscle to compete with anyone on this front and their biggest obstacle is their users who already have trust issues after previous privacy missteps.
Geolocation is a crowded space and is only getting more crowded. With very promising services on the rise such as Shopkick and SCVNGR pushing the checkin experience into valuable consumer rewards, even Foursquare shouldn’t be (and isn’t) resting on their laurels. In the end, Gowalla may end up being the next Pownce – a beautifully designed and well coded service that couldn’t break out of their small core audience and resonate on the big stage.