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