Monday, Mar. 22, 2010

Location, Location, Location

The biggest rumble down south was between a pair of location-based gaming services: Austin-based Gowalla and New York-based Foursquare. Both services are similar — users "check in" to real-world locations through their smartphones and are rewarded with badges and discounts for frequenting hotspots. Foursquare is the established favorite and has a larger user base, but Gowalla led a strong insurgency, with a slickly designed iPhone application and a heavy presence at the festival. Who won? We'll call this one a draw, as many festival-goers used both services simultaneously to locate their friends and track down parties.

Gowalla and Foursquare both face the same challenge ahead — breaking outside of the tech-heavy communities on the coasts to become a tool in everyday life. Its not an easy road. The two services must deal with privacy concerns (although they track your location only when you give them permission) while fighting to build partnerships with merchants and brands to help encourage skeptical users to give them a try. But even if these services remain niche distractions, location isn't going away anytime soon. The Web's social giants also want you to start sharing your whereabouts: Twitter has already added the ability to add location to tweets, and Facebook reportedly plans to roll out a similar feature in their status updates before the summer.