Head to Head: Gowalla vs. FourSquare

Today we’ll be comparing two of the most popular location-based social network apps around: Foursquare and Gowalla. These two apps are very similar: both allow you to check in at places you visit, follow old friends and meet new ones, and earn achievements based on where you visit.

We’ll be breaking the apps down and comparing them on a number of measures so you can make an informed decision about which network you should join, and which iPhone app you should use (if not both!)

Signing Up

For the sake of consistency, we’ll keep Gowalla screenshots on the left and Foursquare screenshots on the right, as seen below.

Gowalla vs. Foursquare

Gowalla (left) vs. Foursquare (right)

Upon downloading each app, if you don’t already have an account, the first thing you’ll need to do is sign up. This process was nearly the same for each app, the only exceptions being that Gowalla asked for your Twitter account info here and Foursquare asked for your gender.

Easy Signup Winner: Draw, each app is a free download and takes less than two minutes to join so don’t let this process hold you back from giving either app a shot.

Adding Friends

Adding Friends

Adding Friends

Both apps have a similar method for adding friends using your iPhone address book, Facebook and Twitter. However, each has a unique way of finding friends: Gowalla allows you to search for users through Gmail and Foursquare through phone number. Upon finding friends using one of these methods, Gowalla allows you to choose between adding friends selectively or by just hitting the “add all” button. Foursquare’s lack of an “Add all” was a little frustrating as I was forced to hit the “add” button around 20 times to get connected to all my Twitter friends.

Friend Adding Winner: Though both apps had five methods for adding friends, I find the Gmail feature more crucial than the phone number feature as it allows you to add and/or invite lots of friends at once. This plus the convenience of the “add all” feature gives Gowalla the upper hand in this area.


Interface Comparison

Interface Comparison

As you can see in the shots above, the two apps practically seem like the same interface with different skins. Both feature a four button bottom-side navigation that makes it easy to get where you want to go with a single tap. All of these buttons are pretty much exact equivalents with the exception of Trips in Gowalla vs. Tips in Foursquare which are different features entirely.

Trips vs. Tips

Trips vs. Tips

Both apps are super easy to navigate and even have the same “pull down” method of refreshing the activity feed. The only thing I found myself really struggling to find in each app was the profile customization options. Unfortunately, these were notably lacking in both apps though Gowalla at least let me set a profile pic (I had to go to the web interface to do this in Foursquare.)

Interface Winner: Since the usability of the two interfaces is so similar, I’m going to declare this one a draw. Whether you like the familiar feeling blues and grays of Foursquare or the crazy greens of Gowalla is simply a matter of preference. I will say for me, the Gowalla color scheme and graphical theme felt much more original and fun.

Checking In

Checking In

Checking In

Here again we have essentially the same experience. Both apps use your current location to provide a list of possible places to check into and both apps also allow you to add new places that don’t appear on the list of nearby spots.

When checking in, you can see who has recently visited the spot, who visits the most, various information for the spot, etc. During the check in process, both apps allow you to give an associated message and then push the message and location to Twitter and Facebook.

However, Gowalla allows you to choose whether you want to update Facebook, Twitter or both and Foursquare merely asks if you want to share the update and applies that choice to all linked networks. Also, Gowalla adds the handy ability to give and receive comments on the check in updates.

Further, it seems that Foursquare will allow you to check in to places even if you aren’t physically located at that place while Gowalla forces you to be pretty close before allowing you to actually check in.

To some, the Foursquare method might seem like cheating (it indeed does open up this possibility), but to iPod Touch users, this feature is great news. You can’t always find a free Wifi network to check in with Gowalla, critically limiting the app’s usefulness to these users. With Foursquare on the other hand, you can check in before you leave your house and still enjoy most of the experience of the app just fine.

This limitation stretches into your ability to add different locations as well. Gowalla will only allow you to add your current location as an official check in spot while Foursquare allows you to type in a specific address for the new spot (though adding locations is a much more convenient process with Gowalla).

“Check In” Winner: As an iPod Touch owner, I’m definitely giving this one to Foursquare. This is a big win for Foursquare as it makes a strong argument for any iPod Touch user to forgo Gowalla completely because of the inability to check in at so many locations. If you’re an iPod Touch owner and a Gowalla user, let us know in the comments below if you feel that your experience has suffered because of this factor.


Both apps have superfluous but undoubtedly fun award systems that give the experience an increased sense of purpose.

Checking In

Stamps vs. Badges

In Foursquare, you unlock badges for visiting various spots and become the mayor of a location for visiting that place more than anyone else. Though becoming mayor is inherently a worthless achievement, occasionally some place like a coffee shop will give free or discounted products away to the current mayor.

In Gowalla, the system is very similar except that you earn stamps instead of badges. You earn these by frequenting locations and completing pre-specified trips. One interesting feature of Gowalla is that you can leave items behind at certain locations and arrange to trade them for something else. Much like the with the Foursquare mayor status, some businesses have caught onto this trend and will allow you to trade certain stamps for actual products.

Awards Winner: Here again we have a draw. Both systems are essentially the same thing with different words, though the Gowalla trading system is a good spin on the feature. Also, many have complained that Foursquare’s ability to check in at a distance has ruined the award system as users can easily cheat their way to mayor.

And the Winner Is…

I hate it when I read an article like this and follow through the whole thing point by point only to come to the end where the author wimps out and doesn’t pick a winner. It makes the whole experience seem worthless.

For this reason, I will reluctantly declare that I actually liked Gowalla a lot better. The two apps were so similar that I really had to look to some pretty minor features for to provide decent contrasting points.

It was in these little features that I found that I really liked Gowalla. I’m a big design nerd so despite the fact that both interfaces were functionally similar, the Gowalla color scheme and graphical theme really won me over.

That said, I’m fairly new to the location tracking social network game and I admittedly haven’t spent more than a few days with either app. The two services are similar enough that I can easily see why any given user would choose either, even based on points I didn’t bring up here such as the features and limitations of each service’s accompanying web app.

And again, even though I enjoyed Gowalla more than Foursquare, odds are I’ll end up using Foursquare for the long term due to the fact that I simply won’t be able to check in at most places I visit with Gowalla because of the proximity limitation for iPod Touch users.

Let’s Put it To a Vote!

Now that you’ve seen my point by point comparison, it’s your turn. Use the comments below to vote for your favorite app so we can see what the consensus is among our readers. Be sure to include in your comment why you chose the app you did and whether or not you’ve ever even tried the alternative.

  • http://timmelideo.com Tim

    First, your “check-in” screens are the same as trips/tips, which may change my next statement, but…. in Foursquare you can choose to post to FB or Twitter, or both at the same time. The article made it seem you can’t choose.

    As for me, I really like the Gowalla interface and the features of not having to check in to an actual place. I also like the trips feature, which I just saw here. However, the userbase of Foursquare is so much more (I am in NYC), which is why I stuck with it. It’s much more fun when there are actually other people using the program. And Foursquare is BLOWING UP so I can only foresee it becoming the first choice for new users and all others falling by the wayside.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Good catch on the screenshot! Fixed it. Not sure why my Foursquare isn’t letting me choose who to share it with, maybe I have some more settings to play with. Thanks for the comments!

  • http://clarklab.net Clark

    To give the check-in edge to Foursquare because it doesn’t actually require to be in the area is a bit silly. Yes, I guess it might be easier on an iPod Touch. But these are location-aware mobile apps. Putting one down because it doesn’t work well on an MP3 player without a data connection is silly. I think allowing check-ins from across town is far more damaging to the experience than excluding some non-smartphone users.

    Gowalla FTW

    • http://clarklab.net Clark

      Also you neglected to mention the killer Gowalla feature of adding photos to a check-in. I see the Photo tab in one of your screen shots but I think you could’ve given it a bit more praise.

      All in all though, great article. Should go a long ways in explaining check-ins to those who just don’t “get it”

      • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

        Good call on the photos feature for Gowalla. By the same token Foursquare has a cool feature where you can see Tweets that were made near a given check-in location.

  • http://dapl.me Dan Palmer

    I use Gowalla, and as a UK user I must say that it has many more places. However both are really lacking. There are also very few users in the UK. However, I know 1 Gowalla user and no Foursquare users so again, Gowalla wins on that point.

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  • http://blog.scottspiro.com Scott Spiro

    Good comparison. I use Gowalla now, though originally used FourSquare. The interface is much nicer in Gowalla- easier on the eyes perhaps. I also enjoy their customized icons and the ease of use that comes with their app.

    That being said- the bigger question here is ultimately: What is the point? Nobody really knows where this is all going. Do I get something specific from a vendor if I am the founder or the mayor? No. Do I receive any coupons or special VIP treatment? No, not at all.

    These apps can be fun, and that’s great. We just have to see where it all goes.

    • http://clarklab.net Clark

      Actually yes, both apps have real life prizes and rewards in play.

      Foursquare has a ton of coupon deals with local businesses. There are mayor specials (free stuff for the current mayor) and check-in specials (every X check-ins gets you a free X).

      Gowalla hides items at locations (usually during special events) that can be redeemed for real life prizes like cameras and entry into exclusive events.

      I think we’ve still got a ways to go though before both apps really hit the coupon/freebie stride we are eventually going to see from them.

  • http://am0.co.uk Alex

    Ultimately I think it comes down to who you know that has it- I know more people with Foursquare here in the UK, so I stick with it and it definitely becomes more interesting when you’re trying to beat your mate’s number of points.

    I had heard that Gowalla was considering changing their method of checking in so that you didn’t have to be right next to it, but before they change that Foursquare beats it on that respect- there’s always a time when I stop off somewhere and haven’t got a spare hand (or a free moment) to check in- being able to check in at my local Apple Store when I’m at the train station 5 minutes later and barely 100m away from it where I can put a bag down makes it a better experience.

    Foursquare’s webapp seems to be better as well, for editing newly-added places etc.

  • Jensent

    I think it all comes down to how often you use the service. In Foursquare you can become a ‘superuser’, and once you’re level two you have the option to edit venues and flag duplicates. I don’t know if you can do that from the apps though.

    • John Olsen

      Gowalla has Street Team Elites which are same as superusers. The superusers in my area need to get busy – the Foursquare database is full of junk.

  • http://japh.com.au/ Japh

    Great review / comparison, thanks so much :) I’ve been waiting to read a good article comparing these two apps. I personally have always liked the look of, and using, Gowalla more than FourSquare.

    Also, I think it’s important to mention, that while Gowalla only allows you to use your current location when creating a new spot, you can edit it later via the web interface to fine-tune the positioning if your GPS read was a little off from your iPhone.

    Thanks again :)

  • Elizabeth Hayes

    Gowalla has had my heart from the very beginning, mostly due to the item collection aspect. I have had some really interesting meet-ups that have been motivated by item trades. The Gowalla art work is outstanding and the devs are open and extremely courteous.

  • Bhaskar

    i enjoy gowalla better

  • http://danielmee.tumblr.com Daniel

    I started off on gowalla but the growing userbase of foursquare made me try foursquare. The ability to check in while not on the exact spot was crucial. More often than not I got annoyed with Gowalla because it couldn’t detect where I was meaning I was usually wasting time (or more likely, looking like an idiot) walking around/outside the venue trying to checkin.
    Foursquare is annoying me because it crashes most of the time I try and create a new spot. Both apps suffered from not having a comprehensive list of categories to define my spot (very annoying!!)
    I do miss the beauty of Gowalla’s interface and icon artwork though.

  • neyo

    Gowalla for me. You mention design in the article, which is great, but what about the stamps themselves? They’re worlds apart between Gowalla and Foursquare and definitely deserve highlighting. The featured spots are literally works of art – is this at all paralleled in Foursquare?

    Ultimately, for alot of people these apps are about ‘collecting’ things – be it stamps, pins or items in Gowalla, and with such high quality design, it’s more alluring to the userbase to keep on collecting.

  • John Olsen

    I love Gowalla – I can’t believe you dismissed the rewards/gaming aspect of the apps as a minor thing. Obviously you reviewed it on your interests which involve not having a true GPS enabled device and apparently not being into the game aspect. The reverse is true for me, so Gowalla easily wins. Another aspect I find with the tighter GPS control (along with a team of superusers called Elite Street Team) is that Gowalla has a much cleaner database. There are so many bogus and redundant spots on Foursquare. The Mayor competition also encourages “going rouge” on your spots where as the Gowalla exchange of items tends to re-enforce the existing spots.

    • http://clarklab.net Clark

      Totally agree. Foursquare has too many holes, they are too lenient. And with the real life rewards and coupons coming up it’s only going to be gamed even harder. If anyone can check into almost any location, what is the point of it being location-aware?

  • William

    Foursquare has now made it so if you check-in to a location when you aren’t near the location, you no longer receive points for the check-in (Kinda removes the “cheating” feel to it, while still encouraging you to use the app)

  • http://matthiasscheel.tumblr.com Matthias

    haven’t heard about foursquare before, so i’m a gowalla user.
    also after your head to head article :)

    i think gowalla has the much better design (icons, color, interface…)

    as i understand the item feature isn’t available in FS?!
    that’s nearly the most fun of using gowalla!!!

    and at least the logo of gowalla is much better.
    the kangaroo gives the impression of traveling from place to place.
    the one from FS looks like a TO-DO app-logo.

    have a nice weekend

  • http://www.timmelideo.com tim

    great infographic on why foursquare will win:


  • http://fuelbrandinc.com Adelle

    Great comparison article. I enjoy Gowalla’s interface so much more. I actually use both but I use Gowalla for every day use and I only use foursquare when traveling. I have a different friends list on both.

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  • melissa

    I have a Q, I signed up for foursquare, and accidentally hit “Do not allow” when it asked to use me location. I tried even re-starting my phone and nothing comes up for me to chose it to use me location, it keeps telling me I have to allow it to do so, and gives me no options to allow it. Any ideas? usually if I exit an app or flip my phone on and off of airplane mode other apps will ask me again. Any tips??

  • http://diariodidi.tumblr.com/ diariodidi

    Facebook buy Gowalla and Gowalla close 3 months later… sad : (

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