Gowalla was a location-based social platform website and app that allowed users to check-in and share with others their location. It was launched in 2007 and had as a major competitor Foursquare, also a location-based app. The latter, however, has had way more success and currently boasts a user base of 45 million people while Gowalla shut down in 2012 as it reached 600,000 users.
Gowalla’s main feature was the check-in option for its users when they were close to certain “Spots”. The platform also gamified and encouraged users to actively share their location. Users could achieve a higher role and gain access to certain features if they demonstrated a high level of engagement with the app and sometimes received “items” that were provided by partner companies as promotional tools.
When the Gowalla team realized that their competitors in the check-in service were far ahead of them, it reinvents itself and tried to come up with a different design which was to support the newfound focus as a traveling and storytelling platform.
The main problem with Gowalla seemed to be that it tried to do and be too many things at once, whereas Foursquare, for one, focused on one or two basic services that users would infallibly go back to.
Gowalla had a better design and was aesthetically more pleasing, and yet FSQ, which launched in the densely populated New York, saw a rapid growth because users recommend it to their friends for the check-in and rewards features it offered and received social validation for using it, since ‘everyone’ was using it.
Funding was also probably not the main problem for the startup as Gowalla raised 3M in investments and partnered with giants such as Disney, National Geographic, and several major U.S. Universities.
Gowalla’s team joined Facebook in December 2011. Facebook claimed that it acquired the app but that it wouldn’t make use of the user data that it had generated over the years. FB representatives stated that they were rather more interested in partnering with the developers that brought forward the startup since they shared similar values and vision and could help enhance certain aspects of FB’s platform.