Why Location-Based Networking Might Be Ready for Its Mainstream Moment


The relaunch of the Gowalla iPhone app has taken place 14 years after its debut at the SXSW music, technology, and arts festival in Austin, Texas. Gowalla co-founder and CEO Josh Williams believes that the time is now ripe for the app to become mainstream. The app is based on a map and enables users to connect locally with the help of technology. Users can check in to share their location with trusted contacts and see the locations where others in their friend list have also checked in. They can add comments on friends’ check-ins and have conversations right in the app too. There’s a gamified element via the collection of stamps related to their activity.

If you’re familiar with Foursquare, you’ll be quickly familiar with Gowalla.


Location information is important

The name of the app and its guiding principles may not have changed, but the landscape sure has, and that’s what Williams says will give Gowalla a better chance at lasting success than it had the first time around. One reason why the first try didn’t stick was the perceived race between Gowalla and Foursquare over who would essentially become the next Facebook or the next Twitter. “It’s going to be a zero-sum game to be the next big thing, and that becomes this race for, how do you get the most users, and how do you then throw ads against them? A lot of the thought, then, was that we would have these local ads, and you would check in and you’d get a nickel off your coffee, or whatever. We could talk about that a lot, but for various reasons, it’s a bad idea, and it’s not going to work,” Williams says.

Your social graph on the map

Instead, Williams thinks the secret to a sustainable future for an iPhone app like Gowalla lies with the users who love it the most. The iPhone app targets two groups: hardcore users and casual ones. Gowalla has a prototypical version of this approach in play: its “street team” feature, which provides additional features and early beta access to users who pay a small recurring membership fee. Williams says one of the things that has changed is the sheer scale of mobile users, which means that even if only a small percentage of the overall user base wants to pay up, you stand a chance of building something that can successfully monetize in this way.

Location-based social networking apps, such as Gowalla, are becoming more popular as people become more accustomed to using technology to connect with others. Location information is important because it enables people to find each other, and it also provides valuable information about where people go and what they do. As Jeff Jonas, founder of IBM’s Entity Analytics group, said, “We’re all walking around with location breadcrumbs behind us.” These breadcrumbs can be used for a variety of purposes, from marketing to public safety.

In a nutshell

The Gowalla iPhone app has returned, and it’s hoped that location-based social networking is ready for its mainstream moment. Gowalla’s relaunch could signal a new era in location-based networking, where users are not just connected to others but also to the world around them. The Gowalla app provides an opportunity for users to explore their surroundings and discover new places, which is especially relevant as people emerge from the pandemic and want to reconnect with the world. You can download the iPhone app here for free.

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