Oct 04

Dear Gowalla, It’s Not You, It’s Me

Dear Gowalla,

When I first met you at South by Southwest Interactive, I thought you looked pretty cute in your Mini Clubman. It was nice to crush out on a local social network instead of one from San Francisco or New York. As time goes by though, I am not sure I have it in me anymore. Your super hot interface just doesn’t do it for me.

I’m sorry. I went to TechCrunch Disrupt and noticed all the boys were trying to get into the geolocation game with me. I also noticed that although Foursquare is just not as attractive as you are, all the cool kids use it. I missed out on many cool serendipitous meetings because I was loyal to you and don’t use Foursquare. That’s not fair to me. I gave you an award at South by Southwest that I could have given to anybody–I should at least expect some features that compel people to use your service over Foursquare.

I want to come back. Really, I do. I made a list of what it would take:

1.) Talk to people and women in particular, and ask them how many silly rewards or loyalty cards they have in their wallet.
2.) Allow local businesses to upload a rewards card users can redeem once they hit a certain number of checkins. Let the business owners choose the terms, e.g. certain dollars off a purchase or buy 12, get 1 free. This is cooler than Groupon because it rewards current customers rather than generating new ones, who can end up being overwhelming and detrimental to a business.
3.) Tell users this is what they get for checking in. Tell them to meet up with your other users and burn their points cards in effigy.
4.) Kill the badges. I’m not an eight-year-old girl scout and I think at this point, I’ve earned a Sweet Leaf Tea. It’s too much of a hassle to trek somewhere to redeem this, Gowalla. Just make your application useful to me, and then build a network of developers who build useful apps on your platform. You have so much potential.
5.) Make your default profile setting private so that only our friends can see it, because you respect that our locations and personal safety are dear to us. We shouldn’t have to be savvy to the ways of social networks to realize that EVERYONE’s default setting should be private. Let me buy you a cup of coffee and tell you what it’s like to have someone stalk you by stalking your friends’ public profiles. It sucks. This is a side note, but if you do #1-4, you can get users and advertisers a lot easier and don’t have to rely on public profiles.
5.) Please don’t get mad at me for writing this post. I love supporting local, but not if it’s damaging to my abilities to network with people who can alter the course of my career and can help me help Austin.

I believe in you, Gowalla. You can do this better than FourSquare because unlike FourSquare, Michael Arrington can’t check in from Geneva or some other fake random location with your service. Points card systems could actually be somewhat fair with Gowalla. You just have to prioritize this and keep getting more users, because it looks like you are tapering off significantly from the graph above.

It seems that from what I’ve read, you are going this direction. But baby, even the Yelp app crushes you guys. It’s just so much more useful. I don’t need fancy or cool looking. I just need you to be there, providing support, when I need you. That’s all.

Kindest Regards,

  • http://twitter.com/CarleAldrete Carle Aldrete

    Michelle, you are so brave. I find it very strong of you to have come forward and shared this. I gave up on Gowalla and FourSquare MONTHS ago but I found that I am coming back to FourSquare via HootSuite and I like the integration. I am so glad I started following you on Twitter.

    Thanks go out to @AmberAusten for the introduction.

  • Anonymous

    It follows that you don’t necessarily have to be Tech Savvy, but more selective in what information you put, “out there….”

  • Anonymous

    Most people don’t know their profiles are actually readily public for anyone to see. Just ask them.

  • http://www.maczter.com maczter

    Michelle – I think you know by now that I respect you and think you have some great ideas. Nobody hits home runs every time at the plate. I see where you’re coming from on this, but step back for a second and look at how many times you use the word “I” and “me” in your post.

    While I’m sure Gowalla would like your support, it is entirely possible that they don’t intend for their service to appeal to everyone, especially those with the privacy/safety concerns you mention. I personally wouldn’t use an LBS at all if I were in your situation…or I’d at least keep my profile private and accept only a very select number of friend invites.

    Not to defend Gowalla’s privacy setting choices, but this seems no different than folks complaining about things they put on Facebook being seen by the World. If in doubt, leave it out and, if you have a reason to be concerned with others knowing your whereabouts and decide to use an LBS anyhow, you or anyone else in your situation had damn well better take it upon themselves to explore every last option for the privacy settings and get someone not connected to you on the service to try and access your profile to see what data about you that they have access to before you head out into the world and start checking in everywhere you go. It seems a wee bit self-centered to get angry with Gowalla or anyone else for not setting up their social media site to not be social by default solely because a tiny fraction of their users are concerned for their safety yet choose to use their service anyhow without taking five minutes to find out what the world can see about them.

    As for the badges and virtual items, again, it’s entirely possible that these things are not intended to appeal to every person on the planet. My wife and I (and several intelligent friends) actually enjoy trying to collect all the items out there. In fact, at last check, I’m only missing one item right now.

    On several occasions now, I’ve actually met up with other users, some of whom I’d never previously met in order to swap items the other was missing. It’s silly, but it’s a game. Not everything in life must be “useful” to be worthwhile. There are friendships that might never have been made and places I might never have bothered to explore were it not for my enjoyment of Gowalla as more than just a check-in app.

    BTW, Gowalla won’t come busting your kneecaps if you use FourSquare too. Or at least they haven’t shown up at my door yet. Sure, it’s an extra check-in, but it’s you who are missing out on the get togethers with those FourSquare devotees and not Gowalla, so it’s you who must invest those extra few seconds in order to ensure you don’t miss out. Perhaps the solution here is for Gowalla to take advantage of the FourSquare API and let folks check in and see friends on both services from their app…

  • http://www.maczter.com maczter

    Also, this interview with @jw might answer some of your questions regarding their business model and why they haven’t done and may never do some of the things you suggested…


  • Anonymous

    I find it truly hard to believe that most missed Marc Zuckerberg’s announcement that “Privacy is dead.”

  • Anonymous

    Even if they saw that announcement, that doesn’t mean they take the time to realize their geolocation profiles are public, and that open graph gives their information to the sites their friends like.

    I’ve even had to correct people in the TechCrunch comments. While TechCrunch commenters aren’t exactly high brow sometimes, it’s hard to refute that they indeed follow these issues.

  • http://noahkuttler.wordpress.com Noah Kuttler

    I think that you hit upon two very important points in your post:

    1) the “fragmentation” of the Internet into silos. Services (Facebook Places, Foursquare, Gowalla, etc.) that do the same thing but don’t talk to each other and force users to choose one or the other. It then becomes a question of which “club” are you in. CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, etc. did that with e-mail and that didn’t last.

    2) The privacy issue is still a big deal. Per another comment on this blog. We (social media workers) are in the minority. The vast majority of users do not follow the industry nearly as closely as we do. They either a) don’t know of the dangers at all, b) don’t know how to tweak the settings to what they want them to be or c) avoid it entirely. If making toast were as difficult as we make it to use online services…we’d all be eating a lot of stale bread in the morning…

  • http://www.sheilasguide.com Seafarer

    I prefer Gowalla over Foursquare as well, but their “default open” setting means that I often don’t check into places on their service but I do on Foursquare, where I can turn EVERYTHING off and just be registered as checking in “Off the Grid.”

    Why can’t I do the same on Gowalla?

    Yes, I know how to set my Gowalla info to private (many, many do not – geeks need to stop turning up their know-it-all noses and talk to more non-geeks, who aren’t idiots) but sometimes I do want my status public, and that means I’d have to go online into my account and open and close it manually. That’s silly. Make it default private and I’ll pick and choose my notification moments, like I do on Foursquare.

    I always assume anyone can see anything online. No firewall is safe and “only your Friends can see….” is a fantasy waiting to fail on any Web-based service. That’s why I’ll never use TripIt, for example, no matter how convenient it may be.

    However, unlike Michelle I do like the Gowalla badges – was really happy to get digital bats when I checked into the McNeil Bridge in Round Rock, where there’s a big bat colony. Also love the Trips feature and have created two of my own.

    I support Gowalla, but they are suffering from lack of name recognition and awareness outside the Austin bubble.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I’m agreeing with you in general, however, for the most part, it
    follows that you have to give up some degree of privacy when you join
    any social network. I do get what you’re saying, that you should be able
    to opt-in to the public timeline, instead of opting out.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I’ll never like badges. And I love going off the grid.

    You are totally right about the bubble. That’s Austin in general though. When outsiders think of Austin, they think of Sixth Street. It’s a shame, but it’s true.

  • Anonymous

    I’m fine using “I” and “me”. That’s what makes the post funny. Josh Williams and crew are welcome to ignore my suggestions.

    When you decide you are going to apply to YCombinator, and you are at a tech conference where everyone including bloggers and investors is using Foursquare, you can let me know how happy you are with your decision to use Gowalla and get all the badges. That happened to me specifically, and I decided to share the story. That’s all.

  • http://www.maczter.com maczter

    Sorry. I didn’t read it as a post that was intended to be humorous at all.

    I stand by my closing paragraph though. :)

  • http://twitter.com/jdeeringdavis Jenn Deering Davis

    Some great thoughts in this post, Michelle. Not that I agree with everything, but if I did then I’d have nothing to respond to. :)

    For me personally, Gowalla isn’t just about meeting up with people in real time or getting discounts at places (though, I do love those deals when they’re available!). Actually, I’ve found it primarily useful in two ways: 1) as a travel diary, and 2) another way of staying connected with friends and family who live in other places.

    I love the passport with with all my stamps, badges and photos together in one place; it’s way easier to use and much prettier than a travel journal I’d make on my own. It’s fun to look back through the places I’ve checked in, and remember the good times I had there. It appeals to the part of me that only remembers things if I’ve taken pictures of them. I like the almost scrapbooky nature of that.

    And it provides another level of ambient awareness about what’s going on with my friends and family. This is my favorite part. For example, my mom and sister are on Gowalla. My friend Shannon, who doesn’t even have a Facebook account, is on Gowalla. These three people would never use Foursquare – they like Gowalla because it’s easy to use, easy on the eyes and fun. And most of my friends back in Austin are on Gowalla. I love that Gowalla keeps me posted on what they’re all are doing – it makes me miss them less when I can stay updated on simple things like where they are and what they’re up to. It’s funny how important little details – like where you ate dinner and when you went grocery shopping – are to helping maintain relationships. Add that to Twitter posts, Facebook updates, and Flickr photos and suddenly my friends don’t seem so far away.

    (Side note: I also know my mom uses Gowalla to plan her next visit to see me – she looks at places I check into to decide where she wants to go when she comes to town. My check-ins are a great recommendation engine for her.)

    Finally, you’re right that it’s not used very much in the Bay area; Foursquare definitely rules out here. But as maczter wrote, you can use both. It only takes a few more seconds to check into Foursquare, too (well, assuming you have cell service or internet access, which is a big assumption in SF). That’s worth it for me.

  • Tim Hayden

    Michellle – this is a fantastic post. I can’t agree more with you…so pretty, while pretty useless and invaluable.

    For the past year, I’ve wanted to root, root root, for the home team (Gowalla), and they have repeatedly disappointed.

    – They were elephantine slow to embrace Blackberry users (ahem, the smartphone majority), while Foursquare showed them the love just before SXSW this year. When I’ve discussed this with them, they laughed at me and stated, “oh, you Blackberry users miss out on so much fun.” Well, “I could copy-n-paste and send MMS images for four years before your iPhone could,” I would reply in petty immaturity. 😉

    The attitude noted above has resonated in other conversations that I and others have had with the executives of Gowalla where they failed to respond to emails, ghosted a speaking opportunity alongside Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley to discussion LBMS.

    Your post is spot-on highlighting and attitude that goes beyond personality and into the very technology they’ve brougth to market.

  • http://twitter.com/JennaWhidby Jenna Whidby

    I use neither… what would it say…

    “Jenna is sitting in her office”
    “Jenna is in the laundry room”
    “Jenna is now having a kick ass pb&j… with herself in the kitchen.”

    I actually am a little fearful with it’s stalking applications… as in… some creeper know exactly where to find my little sister at any given moment.

    But that’s not what your post was about… but you know me… I’m just going to say whatever I’m going to say anyway.


  • Mmillberry

    Good thoughts! I also wish the GPS worked better. Foursquare always know where I am. Half the time Gowalla told me I wasn’t where I was. I appreciate cracking down on cheaters, but it is the reason I have abandoned Gowalla. I wanted to like it better, it just did not work out for me.

  • Zoujiaofang