Gowalla – a lonely planet written by your friends?

Gowalla is positioned as a social version of lonely planet, a travel guide written by your friends.

You arrive at a venue, check in, see who’s there, what local information is available and get a badge as a memento of your visit.

Where did it come from?

In the USA when visiting ski resorts you can collect different ‘ski pins’, badges acting as a memory of your travels. Josh Williams, Gowalla CEO and Founder, remembers his mother talking about her travels through Europe and collecting a charm bracelet in different cities. The idea behind Gowalla was to collect badges in different locations. The gowalla team worked on designing nice looking passport stamps featuring the places where people travelled.

The Gowalla logo was inspired by a film with Nicole Kidman, based in the Australian outback. Gowalla in Hindi means someone who goes places.

Launched two days before Foursquare, you can check in on Gowalla and push to Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare.

Where is Gowalla now?

All Location based networks gained traction due to the increased use of smart phones. Gowalla has seen increased numbers and claims internationally to have over 1 million users, that’s much fewer than Foursquare at 7.5 million. They are based in Austin, Texas Gowalla has almost 30 staff and they’re hiring!

It’s not just about the badges

There are thousands of badges for different venues and Gowalla looked like a Foursquare me-too, but they have a much better defined space, aligning themselves with the tourism market and building links with household brands such as Disney.

Disney spoke to Gowalla to create different badges for different parts of the parks at different times. This is a way to move regular visitors to less trafficked areas. Nearly 60% of those that checked-in captured the badges, making a real difference to those quieter areas of Disney’s theme parks.

National Geographic has a range of info such as walking trips across cities and this is being used by Gowalla to add greater value to the check-in.

Key message for business

If you have a venue, claim it! People, although still small numbers, are using location based services, this provides an opportunity to reach out to potential fans and let them know about events, under-visited areas, special offers in quieter times. It provides a potential mechanism for traffic flows through all major theme parks, cities and events, if used well.

And the future?

Facebook places is not seen as a competitor, more a vehicle that will educate the market into the word check-in and raise the profile of location services in general.

1. We may see ‘frictionless check-ins’ in a year or so. Simply shake your phone and it’s done. No need to open the app, click check-in and wait for the server to respond.

2. The ‘pay per click’ budget may be replaced with ‘pay per check-in’.

3. Explore before you leave home with a plan pass that enables check-ins before you leave home. Is this an alternative to Trip Advisor?

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