Foursquare vs. Gowalla, big differences

Foursquare and Gowalla are location-based social networking services. Users “check-in” while visiting a local venue by accessing the app on a mobile device or the web site and selecting the venue from a list that the application locates nearby. Each check-in can award users with points and or “badges.” Users can also post their current check-ins to twitter and facebook.

Both Foursquare and Gowalla were launched in 2009 but Foursquare seems to be leading in use and recognition. While most people I talk to know about Foursquare, less than half have heard of Gowalla. Yet while researching for this blog I found indications that Gowalla is rapidly gaining ground over Foursquare and that a “location-based” war is raging between the two.

So what are some of the big differences among Foursquare and Gowalla?

Color and design

Starting off as a location-based game the creators of Gowalla designed all of their graphics and icons in color. Foursquare on the other hand was started as a data tracking program so very little effort was originally put into images and graphics. However the blue, black and white design of Foursquare is clean and easy on the eyes.

One advantage Gowalla has over Foursquare is that Gowalla is incorporating the logos of actual business into the game. While most places are tagged with a generic icon, business like Starbucks, Holiday Inn and Walmart have their own icon to represent their venues. Also the number of different generic icons Gowalla uses is more elaborate than Foursquare.

Checking-in / Creating new venues

Using both an iPhone and a Droid I have notice that Gowalla is far more accurate with your location. Both services use GPS and WiFi to acquire your location but I find that with Foursquare I can sometimes be a hundred or more yards off target. This can be a problem when creating a new venue. If the location (coordinates) of my new venue is off in Gowalla I can go to the web site and actually move the location icon and save it in the correct spot on the map, changing the coordinates of the venue. Foursquare does not allow you to do that. If the location icon is in the wrong location in Foursquare you will have to contact them and ask to have it moved.

Your reward

You’ve checked-in to several locations and are earning points, badges, stamps and pins. Oh and you’re the mayor of McDonald’s. So what does that mean? Well in a nutshell they are rewards for using the service, incentives to play the game.

In Foursquare you can earn points for checking-in to locations, creating new venues and the distance traveled among them. What do you get when you earn a lot of points? Nothing. All the points you earn during the week expires every Sunday at 11:59 p.m.

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 Leaterboard.

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 checked-in to all the Charleston County Libraries. Then using the “Create a Trip” option on Gowallas web site I selected all the libraries and created a trip called Charleston County Public Libraries. Now when anyone checks-in to five or more libraries 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 Leaterboard 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 Foursquares Mayorships, the Leaterboard is not prominent on the app or web site, you actually have to do a little digging to find it.

Checkout where I’ve been

In Foursquare it’s called “Friends’ Recent Check-ins,” in Gowalla it’s “Friends’ Activity.” It’s a list of all the places that you and your friends have visited in the last few hours. Both show avatars of you and your friends, where everyone has been and when. In Foursquare if someone uploaded a photo a camera icon is displayed. Select it and the photo appears. In Gowalla the actual photo is shown in the activity list.

Another cool feature that Gowalla provides is when you checked-in to several different locations a map will show all the venues with a zigzagging line from one location to another in the order you visited them in.

Finders keepers

Have you found an “Item?” Items are virtual icons that you find as you check-in to different venues while using Gowalla.

Items can have different uses. If you are one of the first people to check-in at a new venue, you can drop one of your items to become a founder. You can try to collect them all. Or you can trade them with your friends.

At last count there are 160 items that you can find world-wide.

Unfortunately Foursquare does not have “items” or any things like it.

Who’s checking-in

So where do you check-in? 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.


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About Chris Hall
Hi, I'm Chris, also know as Daddy from the blog "The Adventures of Jaydon and Daddy." I am a stay-at-home dad who loves spending time with my son Jaydon. In my spare time I work evenings and weekends at the Charleston County Library. Be sure to check out our blog, "The Adventures of Jaydon and Daddy."

9 Responses to Foursquare vs. Gowalla, big differences

  1. Pingback: SERPD

  2. Ramon says:

    Great review cmhall9. This helped me verify some unclarities. However, you forgot to mention how Foursquare provides specials/discounts for checking-in. For example, free small McCafe at Mcdonalds or 20% off at Radioshack. I think that’s a big weapon Foursquare has in this war. I just started using Gowalla so I’m not sure if they do something similar.

    • cmhall9 says:

      I can’t remember if Foursquare specials/discounts was available at the time I researched this topic. Never-the-less you are right about that. Thanks.

      • Ed says:

        Gowalla also gives this option once a business owner claims the gowalla spot. This gives them the ability to customize the info and “lock” it to prevent editing by others. One of the items they can customize is the check-in message users see. We just recently visited Austin and were greeted by a 30% off check-in message at Austin Java.

        Just FYI. thanks for the comparison. I was recently asked about this and will forward yours. :)

    • Not only can Gowalla business owners do this, but you can always check in with Gowalla, which will check you in to foursquare, switch apps, and get the special from 4square.

      It always amazes but EVERY special I have had, I had to practically talk the company in to it.

      It’s like their employees are totally clueless the special even exists. (Yes, i am talking about you Chili’s)

  3. George says:

    3 Features that are killer about Gowalla:

    1) You can have Gowalla push your check ins to foursquare. You check in on Gowalla, and you actually get credit for BOTH, keeping your mayorships and earning any badges, etc.

    2) In the Gowalla activity feed, you can see your friends’ checkins from Gowalla, Facebook Places AND foursquare. This is also a great feature that is unique to Gowalla.

    3) In Gowalla, when you search for a place, like say McDonalds, it returns them to you in distance from you order, closest to furthest. foursquare returns the spots in some crazy order I can’t figure out. (Definitely NOT distance order.)

  4. “Foursquare does not allow you to do that. If the location icon is in the wrong location in Foursquare you will have to contact them and ask to have it moved.”

    That’s not true. If you’re the creator of a certain venue you can edit it, it’s location and the pin on the map.

    Personally I’m using Foursquare on a daily basis, but I want to use Gowalla as well, it looks interesting.

    • cmhall9 says:

      At the time I wrote the blog Foursquare would not let you move the location icon even if you were the creator of the venue. Foursquare has updated quite a bit in the last few months.

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