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,

Mar 24

Why I Can’t Get As Excited About Geolocation as Scoble

I was partially responsible for choosing Gowalla as the Texas Social Media Award winner for 2010. While I am happy to support Gowalla and use it myself, I feel compelled to drop a little vitamin C in the geolocation Kool-Aid to make sure people are okay.

I’ve had some not so pleasant experiences with someone who felt compelled to tell me that I couldn’t block him from certain circles of my life, even though they were circles he didn’t know. When I’d tweet that people should go to an event, he’d friend everyone involved. He was basically trying to be everywhere I was both online and off and it was very scary. I’ve mentioned this to other people who are avid social media users and some of them have actually been targeted as well. It is not fun and it makes you think you are going totally crazy.

Here’s the scoop: it doesn’t matter if you think you aren’t going to be stalked. By accepting friend requests from people who you don’t know in any way shape or form, you are jeopardizing yourself along with all of your friends. Why? Imagine I hang out with Person A a lot. Person A befriends Person Q who just so happens to be someone who makes me feel generally unsafe or uncomfortable. Person Q can generally assume that they can hang around along the peripheral of Person A and eventually, I’m going to show up. Thanks a lot, Person A. You’ve just put me in harm’s way because you like the idea of having a million friends on FourSquare. That sucks.

Or, say I check in to all my local spots on Gowalla. I have fairly consistent patterns. If I tweet where I am at, it goes into a public timeline which Person Q can easily see. Person Q can figure out my routines and intercept me this way. That is why I do not care how friendly you are. If I can’t track you in person, I will not friend you. Even if I’m met you once or whatever. I don’t care if I lose out on a few serendipitous meetings.

I’m not saying Scoble is like this by any stretch, but I just felt that someone should bring these points up. Someone shouldn’t have to die for us to figure out that posting your location to total strangers is not a good idea. Geolocation is cool, but don’t use it without putting some thought behind it.