A Personal Case Study: Foursquare vs. Gowalla

by Anna Blanch on June 30, 2011

This is a personal case study of the geolocation applications Foursquare and Gowalla. These applications have been around a few years now (since they were both announced at SXSW at Austin in 2009). Geolocation applications are applications which employ Geographical Positioning Systems (GPS) or the location data from a wireless connection to establish where you are.

This might sound a little bit big brother, and it is kind of, but like much of what is happening in digital media and social media as part of it, how these applications might be used is a work in progress (I thought this look at the usefulness of Gowalla for Travel Nurses interesting). At the moment, and over the last 9 months, I’ve really used FourSquare and Gowalla as games or distractions when i’m travelling. It’s one part distraction, another part a little geographical game. I’ve used Gowalla in 5 countries and Foursquare in four. It’s all part of deciding that I am interested in proactively engaging with digital media. I presently FourSquare “Mayor” for three different locations, including my favourite local coffee shop.

First up, here are some common sense safety tips for using Gowalla, FourSquare and other geolocation apps. Now my pros and cons for both as my experience has dictated. I’d be interested in hearing how use use these applications, if you do?


  • must turn on GPS location which drains battery life
  • Sometimes it doesn’t apply its own protocol for how close you need to be to checkin location and despite being i the check in location will indicate you are too far away. (see Foursquare Addresses Cheating Issue, Frustrates Legit Users for more information)
  • Really limited to east and west coast USA plus Austin…..there are other places but it doesn’t have the same international coverage as Gowalla.
  • Some of the badges seem inclined towards certain age groups and types of social behaviour I don’t aspire to – “Player, please!”


  • Upload of photos attached to check-in work!
  • The ability to comment on friend’s check-in and photos.
  • Some telecommunications companies will include four square access free in their data packages (like some also do with facebook).


  • Upload photos attached to check-in worked only 1/20 times.
  • Less discerning about how close you are to location and may let you check-in more than 1 kilometre away which means it is more vulnerable to abuse.
  • Rather same-same when you’re in the same location, with trinkets very rare.


  • Much more widely used in Scotland – far more spots added. It could be that the part of Scotland in which i live is a little like an American outpost and given that Gowalla originated in Texas and has moved through the university and higher education sector fairly well then this may provide an explanation for its more widespread take up here on the East coast of Scotland.
  • Much easier to add new spots
  • User interface is much more aesthetically pleasing
  • Badges are colourful and interesting (great icon design)
  • Seems more able to move across cultural and national boundaries.
  • Wireless geo-location can be used which can assist with preservation of battery life.
  • Trips
  • Items (virtual trinkets) which make using this as a travel game interesting.

I still think I prefer gowalla – for the interface – and the way that i don’t feel my day to day behavior is being manipulated to get badges like in Foursquare. I understand why foursquare is building close commercial partnerships to monetize and finance development but it all feels a bit obtuse to me. This might be different if I was living in London or NYC. This piece offering a side-by-side comparison from March this year does give me food for thought, however. I think i’ll keep experimenting with foursquare and will definitely use it when I’m in London next month for a conference! It’s been said that FourSquare has won the check-in wars….but I’m not sure I ever really wanted to use it for that!

Resources for using FourSquare


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