Lately I’ve found myself making a few gripes about the amount of irrelevant noise that was entering public streams with the rise of location-based networks, but Gowalla 2.0 changes that with the introduction of threaded comments and photos. As far as Twitter and Facebook is concerned, location-based status updates are largely irrelevant to a majority of a person’s friends and followers.
I enjoyed the game dynamic when I *played* Foursquare, and the overhauled interface in version 1.7 is refreshing. But, I don’t see Foursquare solving the problem I’ve been having with Twitter, and I really want to love Twitter again without the location noise. Gowalla 2.0’s tight integration around comments and photos has the potential to significantly reduce it *if* people stop broadcasting location to their public status. Granted, this doesn’t exactly benefit either company when it comes to customer acquisition, but I think it will improve the quality of public streams dramatically.
Twitter’s Pipe Could Benefit From Gatekeeping
For me, Twitter is now borderless and operates at internet scale. Twitter is largely an open protocol, but for a lot of people outside the technology sphere it’s mechanical and lacks relevance — in part to its innovative public API. I originally joined Twitter for it’s uniqueness at helping me connect with friends and locals, and enjoyed the social conversation that came from it. But then it transformed to news and event dissemination, one-way status updates, marketing, et al. and lost touch with the personality of locality. My usage of Twitter fundamentally changed with time, and I’m still using Google Reader regularly so I don’t buy the RSS-for-everybody argument.
While Twitter’s explosive growth has been nothing short of impressive, Gowalla and Foursquare bring new meaning to 140 characters when it’s contained in a more contextual environment that naturally revolves around being social with friends. This is the problem Loopt tried to solve from the beginning, but misunderstood the sensitivity of real-time location tracking and element of “fun” for early-adopters. They’ve tried to band-aid a solution but ultimately increased the complexity of the user interface and clouded the service. Loopt seems over-thought for a mobile experience, and the banner ads cheapen the service compared with Gowalla and Foursquares brand-centric engagement.
Gowalla and Foursquare Become More Public, Ignore Privacy Issues
The issue of privacy has largely been unaddressed by most LBS services, and Gowalla 2.0 expands its service to be even more public. There are positives and negatives to this. It’s certainly fascinating to watch location interaction, but privacy is something many people don’t fully appreciate until they’ve been violated.
PleaseRobMe.com scrapes the service of a more complex problem. Identity theft is an entirely different ballgame played by evil geniuses, it’s a complex form of social engineering and data mining. The cost of identity theft is staggering, up 37% since 2007 at $54 billion, the year social media began to show its face. Identity theft is serious business, in some cases it can impact a victim’s life for years making it difficult to apply for jobs or buy a house. It’s important these and other social services address the privacy issue head on. Depending on a consumer’s level of participation and habits, it’s not difficult to find their home and work address, location they last used their credit card, and the exact amount they spent god forbid they use the hyped Blippy service.
My biggest gripe with Gowalla is the friending process because it incorporates two of the largest social networking services that lack location relevance. I have tons of invites from people following me on Twitter that I know very little about. Facebook’s friends-of-friends is important in who I accept as a friend, and those feelings are even stronger in Gowalla. I hope to see location have more relevance in the filtering process, and an intersection where social ties are strongest across multiple networks. I also want the option to exclude myself from being visible on Gowalla.com and any public API. I don’t mind anonymous usage data but I value my privacy.
Gowalla’s Advantage Is In The Details, It Has Heart
Gowalla’s advantage is the emotion within the product comparable to that of Apple products, and big brands will surely love this attention to detail too. Gowalla has an army of designers. On top of its increasing utility, the sheer number of high quality, hand-crafted design assets they are accumulating will be a significant barrier against competitors.
Offering trips, stamps, pins, and now photos, the passport approach summarizes meaningful memories. Passports are the ear marks of life. When it comes to brand promotion, marketers will drool over the semantic data and opportunity to engage consumers on a unique level. Foursquare was more fun for a period, but the collective dynamic and utility offered in Gowalla 2.0 will be far more lasting. Here’s to a rocking SXSW 2010, go discover Austin!
Don’t forget: Kick off SXSW at Austin Tech Happy Hour tonight at Molotov.