Foursquare vs. Gowalla

First let me preface this by saying I am a 40 year old self proclaimed tech geek that is a father of three, have a successful dog training business in Denver, Colorado, and I am running down a dream in Alaska. I am rarely seen without my iPhone in my hand and I hardly ever use it for phone calls.

With that I am also a hard-core user of Foursquare and have been for almost a year now and I am an up-and-coming-Gowalla-nut.

When I first started using Foursquare (for real) last June I had intentions of two things–one to let my business associates know where I was at any given time, and two to refine my business as a personal brand not just a faceless storefront.

[Follow me on Foursquare]

Think about it– would you rather do business with a thriving–living-breathing-active couple of entrepreneurs or a stuffy franchise where people wear uniforms with name tags and call you sir and ma’am all the time and have little experience in life because they are working 80 hours a week on minimum wage?

In this article I want to compare and contrast the differences between these two very popular location-based services.

On Foursquare, a user “checks in” to locations (as pinpointed via satellite) to invite along friends, leave tips glued to GPS coordinates (like ordering advice at restaurants), and compete for digital rewards in the form of badges, or titles like “mayor” (for the user who checks in the most at a venue).

Similarly, Gowalla asked users to check in places in order to collect digital goodies, akin to virtual geocaching.

In my analysis there is a place for both of these services. Both have their place in the marketplace and can be used effectively in establishing not only a personal brand but also a loyal fan base. I don’t know how many times over the past year a client has come up to me and said. “I follow you on Foursquare and I checked out (restaurant, store, park, etc.), thank you very much!”

This is exactly what I am talking about and this is why I use these services.

[Follow me on Gowalla]

Gowalla, at least for me, is more of a game that my wife, Michele and I play together. It is not as widely used as Foursquare and just a few of the places have been added to check in. Gowalla is more like a game. You earn kitschy pins (instead of badges on Foursquare) for things like the states you visit and you have the opportunity to complete challenges. I recently completed the Denver Championship Chase where you get a pin for checking in at the different sports venues around the Mile High City, more on that in a sec.

Foursquare and its Mayorships are a bit diluted. So many people are using the service now that you are seeing a lot of duplicate venues and obscure places like “in my backyard, or in my bed, or driving down the highway.”

Of course in any “game or app” there are people that are prone to cheating. I have no idea why. For example there was this “clown” in Alaska that was friends with me on Foursquare and one night I was using the app and I noticed that he was checking in a lot! In one hour he grabbed a sub at the deli, took a train from Wasilly, Alaska to Anchorage, shopped at Sears and was on a cruise on Princess Cruise lines. Being my sarcastic self, I called him on it and sent him a message…

Which brings me to my next point: Privacy. A lot has been said about location services like Foursquare and Gowalla and the expectation of privacy or lack thereof. I can recall one young lady’s story where she was checked in at a bar (or restaurant) and a creepy guy approached her and introduced himself. That would even freak me out!

[Read more: Flying high with WiFi]

I guess that goes without saying that you shouldn’t put your home on the apps as a check-in–or at least not your picture. Sure there are a ton of creepers out there but come on people, do you think that most of America is running around stalking everyone else? Hardly.

As I mentioned earlier, both services offer the user the chance to accumulate badges or pins. Until the apps really catch on, most of the badges on Foursquare are located in the bigger cities such as L.A., San Francisco, New York, etc. Foursquare does offer badges for events like the Super Bowl, Groundhog Day, Election Day, and national “events” like that as well as brand-type badges for checking in at Apple Stores, Starbucks, etc.

Badges are reward icons that are earned when you check-in to specific venues numerous times or if the venue is special, like the Super Bowl.

Mayorships seem to be the biggest draw to Foursquare. It’s the digital equivalent of the kids game “King of the hill.” If you check-in to a venue more than anyone else, you remain the mayor.

Gowalla does not use a point system or mayorships, instead they have Spots, Trips, Pins and a Leaderboard.

Spots are Featured Places like sports arenas, monuments, and parks created by Gowalla. You earn special badges for checking-in to these locations.

Trips are badges for special locations created by Gowalla and YOU. Yes you can create your own Trip that other people can complete in-order to earn the badge. For example I could check in at all the dog parks in Denver, Colorado then using the “Create a Trip” option on Gowalla’s web site I could select all the dog parks and create a trip called Denver Dog Parks. Now when anyone checks-in to five or more dog parks in my Trip they get a special badge.

Pins in Gowalla are the same as badges in Foursquare. They are icons that represent the venues you have check-in to.

The Leaderboard is the closest thing to being mayor in Gowalla. It shows who has checked-in the most and their number of check-ins. But unlike Foursquare’s Mayorships, the Leaderboard is not prominent on the app or web site, you actually have to do a little digging to find it.

I have found that Gowalla is much more accuarte at pin-pointing your location than Foursquare but both services have a check-in “range” that can vary from just a few feet to up to a 1/4 of a mile.

I know what you are saying… why is a 40 year old guy playing app games on his iPhone? One word– FUN! I am ultra-competitive and so is my wife. It is just something cool to do together. Just yesterday she screeched “Ha! I beat you this week!” proclaiming her winning weekly point total.

Are you a Foursquare fan or do you like Gowalla? Each has it own advantage and disadvantage. While Gowalla has more to offer the biggest disadvantage seems to be fewer users. Foursquare on the other hand could end-up losing users if they do not start adding new elements to its game.

So where do you check in?