Gowalla 4.0 – A Social Travel App That Bears Little Resemblance to the Previous Versions

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With geolocation based social networks moving towards combining check-ins with deals and rewards, which was never part of their vision, the team at Gowalla recently sat down to dream it all up again.

The question Gowalla CEO Josh Williams posed to his team was, “How do we create something more akin to a social Lonely Planet that gives people recommendations on where to explore, whether locally or abroad, but with a social aspect layered on top of that?”

Last night, I caught up with Gowalla’s Director of Business Development Andy Ellwood at Fenway Park in Boston and had a good look at the new app which, as of this morning, is now available for download.

While the check-in service is still a core feature of Gowalla’s, it is no longer the principal service. The primary focus has now shifted to travel and storytelling.

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Stories, Lists and Guides

Gowalla’s evolution of ideas in the location based space has resulted in stories that make up lists that are analogous to chapters of a book. Naturally, the lists are linked together to make up tailered guides which can be thought of as a modern take on the classic travel guide books.

Travel Bloggers Can Make Their Content Interactive

One opportunity the updated service presents to travel bloggers is the ability to revamp old content to make it interactive. For example, take a travel blogger who has an older post titled “Top 10 Free Things to Do in Paris.” That blogger can enter each of the top 10 items as a story with up to 300 characters of text explaining why that item made their list. The stories are then summarized and wrapped up into a Gowalla list that includes a link back to the content on the blogger’s site.

Gowalla has also added a ‘love’ button which is similar to the Facebook ‘like’ button. In terms of how lists are displayed in Gowalla’s guides, those that receive the most ‘love’ will rise to the top.

The new app also includes the option of creating guides for an event on the fly. For instance, if a blogtrip were planned, travel bloggers could create an interactive event guide for the trip and create stories as they go.

Is this concept like a social Lonely Planet? What do you think? Did Gowalla get it right?

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10 Responses to “Gowalla 4.0 – A Social Travel App That Bears Little Resemblance to the Previous Versions”

  1. Alastair McKenzie September 22, 2011 4:42 pm
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    Very interesting. A little jostling for position in the geo-location apps business.

    I had noticed Foursquare occupying the ‘cafes & cinemas’/deals end of the market, so I’m intrigued by the way Gowalla has shifted.

    It looks now as if Gowalla and Tripwolf have moved into the same space from completely different directions. Tripwolf started with user-generated travel guides and moved into geo-located mobile apps. Gowalla started with a geo-location app, and is moving into user-generated guides!

  2. Gary Arndt September 22, 2011 6:29 pm
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    I just landed in Toronto and fired up the new Gowalla.

    I found it next to useless.

    The “guide book” aspect is nothing but the previous locations with little information. It is hardly a replacement. When I arrived at the airport it gave me locations 10-30km away in Toronto. I couldn’t check in to the airport.

    I enjoyed the stamp/pin/item collecting aspect of Gowalla and now that seems to be gone. I don’t think I’ll be using Gowalla much anymore.

  3. Andy Ellwood September 22, 2011 7:00 pm
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    Gary – Thanks for the quick look feedback. With the servers getting pounded today (thankfully) so of the gps position has taken a second longer to load than we’d like.
    Also, because all of the Guides, Lists, and most loved Spots are based on the friend/locals sourced data, they will get better and better, smarter and smarter.
    Would love to see the amazing stories that you tell and be able to continue to learn more about the world and have your advice and most loved places help me see the world in a whole new way.

  4. Gary Arndt September 22, 2011 8:25 pm
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    I have a blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to tell my stories. Why would I make more work for myself?

  5. John O'Nolan September 22, 2011 9:39 pm
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    I don’t often disagree with you Gary, but this time I’m gonna have to! I think this is best direction Gowalla could have possibly taken. The guidebook aspect is clearly in its infancy, but I can see how it *could* evolve and grow into something really useful – especially to people like us? The answer to that question will depend on how we’re able to create content that’s easily findable and browse-able by our audience(s).

    But – why I really love the update, comes down to a few key points:

    • Follower/Following model in place of add-friend model – this is the best thing of all! I don’t want lots of friends. I want anyone to be able to subscribe to my updates, but I only want to be able to keep track of the updates that are relevant to *me* – this has been my biggest problem with geolocation services up to now.
    • The app now has real focus, it’s *about* travel. Which, if I remember correctly – is how Gowalla started, being all about suitcase stickers. So now, for people like us – this is app is about GeoTagging our content. When I check into Sydney airport I want to see that Gary Arndt was here, wrote a guide, left advice on stuff to see – and linked to his blog posts about Sydney. Value much? Lots!
    • No items = no competitions with checkins = no people checking in everywhere just for the sake of “winning” – hai foursquare
    • This will (hopefully) finally end the debate of “What’s better? Foursquare or Gowalla?” They’re now totally different services with different target markets. I’ve said for a long time that Gowalla was about travel and 4sq was about games/points/discounts. I think this update really makes that obvious.

    FWIW – Pins are still available through your web profile, and the web side of things is an area which I really hope evolves. I want to see Gowalla web-profiles become detailed and interactive + allow for extremely creative uses of the API. What we really need to kickstart that is a few people doing really cool things to inspire others with possibilities. This could also, potentially, make less work for you – If FB/Twitter/G+ are able to display Gowalla data via an API in an interesting and (critically) non-spammy way.

    I’m planning on trying a few things with the Gowalla API along these lines for the start of my travels in 12 days time.

  6. Andy Ellwood September 22, 2011 10:11 pm
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    John/Gary –
    I think that you’ve both got good points here.
    Gary – I ask myself that question all the time: do I need another service? really? But, what I find myself doing (as a user, not as the BizDev guy) is wanting to add some context to the story that I’m telling. I could write out the “where” of the story in the content, but then that story is never tied back or explored by people who follow in my footsteps. No ones content is tagged and prioritized by any other service. This allows the discovery of the pictures/comments/content that the world of travel bloggers is creating in the moment that I need it most.
    As John said, there is a lot of additional things that can and will be making their way into the App and to the website in the very near future. We know it is going to take a bit of getting used to, but it is faster, cleaner, and more focused than it has ever been. Excited to hear more of your thoughts as you use it more.

  7. Pat September 23, 2011 7:56 pm
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    New Gowalla is a useless pile. The old one was usable, but this is a bloated travel guide…and not what I was using it for previously. Sure, it might be great for when you go to a new city and need hand-holding to know what good places to visit are…but it’s no longer the social group letting my friends know where I am and what I’m up to in case they want to come hang out. It’s pointless for me to use this app now and it’s next to impossible to see my history of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.

    Users who have replied to Gowalla’s blog post announcing the update are overwhelmingly livid for a variety of reasons. If anything, Gowalla should have launched this as a separate app that interacted with their database. Killing their previous product in favor of something new is reminiscent of New Coke, Final Cut X, and Qwikster.

  8. Gary Arndt September 24, 2011 9:50 pm
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    First, let me say that I’ve always been a big fan of Gowalla. I’ve gone on record and wrote about how much I preferred them over Foursquare.

    In theory I think the direction they are going is a good idea. My issue is with the way it is implemented.

    1) The new follower model is an improvement. No question about that.

    2) The problem with using Gowalla as a travel guide (at least as it is now) is that there is very little in the way of information. The new app just seems to curate and organize pins. Giving me a list of local restaurants doesn’t necessarily do anything for me. I could have done that before.

    3) Don’t we have enough review apps already??

    4) The biggest thing I use Gowalla for is to say “I was there”. The location pins are great as are the featured stamps. It would be cool if I could tie this information into my Facebook account or my blog….but as far as I know I can’t. A map of places of countries/states/provinces you’ve checked into would be cool. A really good WP plugin that lets you integrate Gowalla content into your blog would be killer and I can see a lot of people using it.

  9. Petey Jo September 25, 2011 3:31 am
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    Pat, right you are. This is a total disaster for Gowalla, and honestly, there’s no point in my using it any more. I really hope the overwhelmingly negative feedback makes them rethink killing off the old Gowalla, but I fear they think we all just need to “get used to it.” Unfortunately for them (and me), I’ll just go back to the inferior Foursquare.

    They’ve pissed off their user base, and the new product isn’t useful for the old users or compelling enough for new ones. Beginning of the end for a once-great service. 🙁

  10. Gary Arndt September 25, 2011 7:29 pm
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    This is going to go down as a big of a disaster as the new Digg or new Coke.

    All the reasons their users were using the app are gone.

    It is like coming home from a business trip to find that your wife got a sex change and is now a man. That isn’t what you signed up for.