Gowalla downplays check-ins, turns Android app into the social travel guide

September 22, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka

Android App Reviews, Lifestyle, Travel


The check-in wars often put Gowalla in direct competition with Foursquare, but it has become clear that Foursquare has already become the “where are my friends?” app of choice. Rather than continue to fight a losing battle, Gowalla is taking a new path in the location game – it’s becoming a travel guide.

Gowalla will still allow users to check-in to venues, but the found items and other “gamey” aspects of what set Gowalla apart have been pushed to the side. Now, Gowalla is about helping discover interesting venues and attractions. Rather than merely broadcast to the world where you are, the company has refocused its Android app to find places worth talking about.

Gowalla still looks as beautiful as ever. The app launch screen lists “nearby” guides that show curated information on a given city or attraction. The guides are broken down in “Spots” and “Lists” tabs that, along with Info and Maps, help users form decisions about places to visit. “Spots” are recommended points of interest like famous restaurants, major shopping centers, outdoor attractions, and nightlife. Users can browse these places according to category or search for something specific. “Lists” are featured groups of places that someone should attend. So, a couple vacationing in Miami could venture away from the beach and explore the Art Deco District list, which features interesting architecture to see and a non-tourist trap place to grab great food.

Locals can also get a kick out of the new Gowalla thanks to the creativity of users. The “New York in Austin” list has places where Big Apple transplants can get a taste of home by visiting NY-style pizzerias in Texas. They can also explore gay-friendly bars in New Orleans or family fun places in Tel Aviv. Spots and lists can even be narrowed to a particular location. Gowalla offers guides for attractions like the Orlando’s Disney World or The University of Texas-Austin campus, so users can find hyper-local breakdowns of certain areas.

The downside to the new Gowalla is that contributing to guides doesn’t seem very easy to do (or possible) from the app. I immediately had an idea for a list that Miami visitors might like, but was unable to figure out how to group venues. The Social Guide that Gowalla seeks to build must allow community members to easily contribute if CEO Josh Williams hopes to be successful “building a social atlas for the world.”

UPDATE: Thanks to the Gowalla team for helping me figure out how to contribute a list. If enough people “Love” your list, it may be upgraded to be one of the featured guides of a city.

To Create a List:

  1. From the Guides screen at the top you’ll see “Spots and Lists Nearby” – tap there
  2. Search, or find your Spot you want to add – click it
  3. On the screen for the Spot, you’ll see a blue “+ bookmark” icon at the lower left –  tap it
  4. This brings up the “Add to List” menu; add it to one of your existing Lists, or create a new list with the “+” in the top right

Only 60 cities currently have guides, but Gowalla is working to build more guides soon. For what it’s worth, the guides for cities already supported – Honolulu, Montreal, New York, London, Paris, Stockholm, Mecca, Sydney, Tokyo, and more – are an excellent foundation. Gowalla is not as informative about the culture and typically touristy thing to do in most places, but it does have an interesting collection of spots and lists that should make exploring cities fun.

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Other key features include

  • Photos and highlights shared by users at a venue
  • “Stories” that show who else has checked into that location and document an event
  • Map mode that plots featured venues near your GPS location
  • 60 city guides and 20 additional guides for national parks, major tourist attractions, and university campus sites
  • Love button to indicate favorite locations