Foursquare, Gowalla: Perspective, Paradigms & 3 A-Ha Moments

This post begins with some statistics, before I get into my own story.

Per Wikipedia’s writeup on Foursquare,

As of March 2010, the service had 500,000 users internationally.

That’s a pretty impressive number considering the fact that Foursquare is just an year old. On a side note – would be interesting to see how many uses Twitter had when it turned one!

There was another tweet from Foursquare that caught my attention sometime last week, and is very relevant here:

Hey all, just heard from @harryh that we hit our 100,000,000th checkin last night! (yes, that’s 100 million) Wow.. thank you everyone!! 3:20 PM Jul 20th via web

A hundred million checkins is a HUGE number, by any yardstick.

Gowalla on the other hand seems to be following a much flatter trajectory – with a 150,000 users since it’s inception in 2007. But it did walk away with the Mobile category award in the  2010 South By Southwest Interactive.

Coming back to my story, I was at the Half Moon Bay State Beach last afternoon. It was a foggy, cloudy day at the beach – typical of the weather at the Half Moon Bay.

As expected, there was a quite a bit of turnout – and my guesstimate is that there were about 750 people on the beach while I was around. Could have been more, certainly not less – and at least as many as the birds you see in the picture!

Folks were camping out, taking a stroll by the waterline, building sand castles and playing with the waves. That’s what one would expect at a beach, isn’t it?

But that isn’t what this post is about. It’s about geo-social networking. I have been toying around and experimenting with Foursquare and Gowalla on my iPhone for about a couple of weeks now.

One of the very first things I did on getting to the beach was “checking-in” to the beach location on both the apps. Foursquare showed there was one other user who had checked in, I was the only one on Gowalla. Now that’s ironical in a way. In about 1000 people, I was the only one who checked in – or cared to check in. And that makes sense. When you’re at the beach, you’re there for a reason. Beach time. Everything else – social media included – takes a back seat. And that’s the way it should be. If it isn’t, we might as well be at home!

Darren Rowse, the Problogger had a bunch of interesting tweets on the topic –

Foursquare – I still don’t get it. 8:51 PM Jul 11th via TweetDeck

logged into foursquare today for the 2nd time in 6 months – 2500 friend requests – why would I want to know where they all are though? 8:54 PM Jul 11th via TweetDeck

But Darren was also quick to acknowledge that he’d said the same thing of Twitter a few years ago.

So that brings into light the question – so what is the real value of location-based social networking channels like Foursquare and Gowalla?

Location based social networking definitely makes a lot of sense for businesses – small and big alike. Darren’s tweet drew a bunch of responses, one of which was:

@problogger Foursquare is great for businesses! Free Marketing and Advertising for the business…plus repeat visits. Look at Starbucks 8:53 PM Jul 11th via TweetDeck in reply to problogger

But what about something like Half Moon Bay State Beach, which isn’t a business? Here are three of my personal a-has I had as I was thinking:

1. In the absence of Foursquare and Gowalla, would I have sent out tweets about me being at the Half Moon Bay State Beach? Probably yes. Twitter’s also has the ability to be location sensitive.

So Foursquare and Gowalla just helped the cause. My checkin resulted in a tweet announcing that I had checked in there.

2. Do I like to keep records of the places I have been to? Absolutely. While I might not have a photo of the 7-Eleven next door, I sure do have tonnes of photographs of the beach.

So it looks like Foursquare and Gowalla are my permanent, online records (and archives) of my life and times. The badge, pins and passport analogies all relate to the concept.

3. The brings in the third and final a-ha. This one is about real, authentic connections in the world of social media. Foursquare and Gowalla didn’t really help me connect last night – but Twitter would have been equally incompetent at that. So would have been almost all other channels.

The magic could have happened if I had a hooked up a high resolution web cam to my laptop and started a live broadcast on UStream – or Vokle. I could then have tweeted the link out on Foursquare and Gowalla via Twitter.

See the big picture? I might have reasonably gathered a crowd – both online and offline – if I had done something similar to scenario above.

Here’re my take aways from the three a-has:

  • Geosocial networking, Foursquare and Gowalla are here to stay.
  • Tools and applications, like Foursquare and Gowalla, are not an end in and by themselves. They are only means to an end. They’re the vehicle that enable my social media journey – not the journey itself – nor the destination.
  • True magic in social media happens when I can bring in and blend multiple channels. Creativity trumps everything else in social media success.
  • Social media interactions are not all online. I need to offline at times as well. And can I be the bridge that connects the online and offline worlds?

Think about it – and let me know if these paradigms, perspectives and enlightenment makes sense. I’d really love to hear your stories.

(Image Credit: Thomas Hawk

One Response to Foursquare, Gowalla: Perspective, Paradigms & 3 A-Ha Moments
  1. […] the online-offline bridge conversation. I spoke about this wonderful insight here a few month ago, Foursquare, Gowalla: Perspective, Paradigms & 3 A-Ha Moments: Social media interactions are not all online. I need to offline at times as well. And can I be the […]