It seems that you can’t go anywhere on the Internet any more without hearing someone talking about mobile location applications. It is definitely the latest rage with the tech set, and while there are some early entrants into the marketplace like Loopt and Brightkite, all of the current attention seems to be focused on two of the most recent services, Gowalla and Foursquare.
While Gowalla as a company has existed since 2007, it didn’t launch its location-based game until March 2009 as a private beta, and was followed closely by Foursquare. Due to the close proximity of their release into the mobile landscape, and the fact that they are both games where you collect items or badges, a natural rivalry was immediately seen as developing between the two.
Both services work off of the concept of you “checking in” to locations as you visit them. With Foursquare you earn badges — graphic images that represent certain accomplishments — for multiple visits to a location. Visit a location enough times and you become the “Mayor”, become the Mayor of ten locations at once and you earn a badge for being a “Super Mayor.”
Gowalla is a bit more giving with leaving items at locations you can trade, and even having specialized badges for specific locations like the FAO Schwarz store in New York City and so on.
Where the “war” has gotten interesting is how Foursquare seems to be winning over the masses and corporations, while Gowalla seems to be the critical darling. Foursquare now boasts over 400,000 users, and while small compared to services like Twitter, it technically isn’t even a year old yet. It has also managed to secure deals with television networks like Bravo, and the coffee chain Starbucks for specialized badges and rewards for checking in to specific locations.
Gowalla hasn’t released any information on its number of users, but the service won the best Mobile application at the recent 13th annual SXSWi (South By Southwest Interactive) conference awards, beating out Foursquare which was nominated in the same category.
While no one is quite sure what good location-based applications will be at this point, this fight between these two services seems to be one of the most tumultuous the social media scene has seen in some time. While every category of services always seems to have one dominant application with others that can’t seem to gain any traction, Gowalla and Foursquare seem to be pretty evenly matched at this point. The biggest question mark at this point are the rumors of Facebook and Twitter both considering entering into the market. If either of these giants choose to do so, you could see these two current services disappear virtually over night. Of course, you also have to wonder if someone won’t just swoop in and acquire them before that happens.
So, what say you? Which service do you prefer? What future value do you see in the whole location-based application market?