Gowalla as a Tool for Travel

Those of you that know me well know that I’ve had a bit of an unhealthy obsession with Gowalla over the past year after discovering that it wasn’t just a foursquare “check-in” clone. I’ve been opening the app wherever I go to discover places that the guide books don’t talk about and to document my travels in a nice neat package.

Gowalla was started by a guy named Josh Williams specifically so that he could record all the different places he went around the world in a virtual passport. This is the principle upon which Gowalla operates. A method of logging all the cool places you’ve been in the world, attaching photos of your time there and sharing them with your friends within Gowalla. So what specifically makes Gowalla a cool app for travel? Well apart from being a great method of capturing memories, the follow things are tops:

Find locations by Highlights

Gowalla Highlight Screen
Gowalla Highlight Screen

The highlights feature in Gowalla is a great concept. At the moment, you can add a “highlight” to any spot in the system. This means that you can add a coffee highlight to a cafe that has great coffee or the free wifi highlight to places with free wifi. The number of different highlights you can allocate is quite large and as time goes by, I’ve been noticing more and more cool places being tagged. So when I get to a new location and start trawling through spots, I can see which spots are highlighted by other users as being good spots for coffee, having free wifi or having great views. There are plans in the near future to make these highlights searchable — essentially allowing you to filter spots so that only spots with certain highlights attached to them appear in the app. Fantastic!

Find Locations by Checkins

Sometimes when you head somewhere new you have no idea where the best places to eat are. Actually, this is a big issue for me because I love to eat a lot. And unless you trawl hundreds of food blogs, it’s almost impossible to know what’s good and what’s not. Sure, the odd guidebook will try and pick out some favourites and this works sometimes. But a better method than all of these is to fire up Gowalla and start looking for locations that have lots of checkins. The interface for this in Gowalla is not ideal as you can’t specifically search for destinations that have lots of checkins. But once you’ve used the app for a while you start to get a feel for how many checkins is a lot and you can readily identify those locations which are preferred by the local populace. Of course, the local populace aren’t always right, but in my experience, they’re not usually far off the mark. Spots with a higher number of checkins usually are more attractive to visitors. A new app on the market called GoodFoot solves this problem as it actually sorts spots by number of checkins and gives a rating based on local people returning to the spot. Gowalla + GoodFoot = Awesome Guidebook.

Trips that Locals Have Created

A much underutilised feature of Gowalla is the “trips” feature. Essentially what users are able to do is group multiple spots together in “trips”. Checkin to all of the spots and you get a pin. But better than this, users are drawn to grouping together their favourite spots from certain cities. For example, you can trawl through the trips created for Singapore and find walks along the river, forest walks and foodie tours. When I get to Singapore at the end of June, I plan to stay in Singapore longer than I originally thought I would because I want to explore some of these trips! A good example of these trips in action is this trip created by HeatherSydney Health Food Shops. One thing that needs to be fixed in Gowalla regarding trips is that they need to be more easily searchable and preferrably through the app itself.

Travel Photo Album

Gowalla Photo Album
Gowalla Photo Album

I mentioned at the start that Gowalla is an app that captures journeys that you have taken and packages them neatly for you in a virtual passport. A top feature of this passport is that it allows you to display all the photos you have attached to your checkins in one neat little screen. At a glance, memories start flooding back of a particular time. It’s fast and easy and doesn’t require sitting down for hours in flickr looking at every single photo you took of your vacation.

Forget Foursquare. Too Much Noise. Cluttered with Crap.

The other thing that is great about Gowalla is that there is an active community of people called the Street Team Elite whose job it is to keep the quality of data in the system top notch. This means that they actively merge duplicates, correct spelling errors and amend spot locations. Those STEs use a nifty tool called spotfixer which allows them to act on reports that users file from within the app. Nice!

Checkin to Foursquare through Gowalla

Gowalla lets you checkin to Foursquare as you click the checkin button on Gowalla so that you don’t have to abandon all your friends that have flocked to Foursquare. With this feature, there really is no reason to keep opening the Foursquare app. Gowalla does it all plus much much more.

So while both Gowalla and Foursquare fill different market niches, community perception is that Gowalla is a clone of Foursquare and that if your friends aren’t using Gowalla, then there is no reason to use it yourself. Well, now you know that Gowalla is not a clone of Foursquare and has a completely different angle, it’s time to make the move. 🙂 Gowalla — double rainbow all the way!


6 replies on “Gowalla as a Tool for Travel”

Hey, thanks for mentioning my trip! You know when I first got my phone I didn’t want to use either app. Then, I was a Foursquare fan for a week or two until I was totally sold on Gowalla. I really love the feature where I can check into both at once! And I am finally picking up items again after being home for nearly a month. Kingswood is still my top spot, but give me another month or so, and I’m sure Whole Foods will take over O:-)

Yeah, I agree. I’m not sure how it would work in some of the more remote regions of the world, but it’s definitely good in cities that you’re not familiar with. Especially if you like getting into places the locals go to…

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