Gowalla: Finding and Sharing Stories

One question that anyone using a check-in app has is “What are they doing with this data?” For as long as we’ve been busy checking in and sharing who we’re with, people have been thinking about how this data could be leveraged for something more useful than a virtual badge or title.

Gowalla attempts to answer this question. Previously an app that focused on the check-in, Gowalla is now using this information to generate travel guides for hot places all across the world. In this grand pivot, has Gowalla become something profoundly useful or lost some users?

Taking to the City

I’ve been a country boy my entire life. I lived between two different sets of grandparents on a hill that my father “lovingly” referred to as “Decker Mountain.” Besides family members, we were surrounded by state forests on most sides, with creeks and lots of trees and really, by now you’re wondering what this has to do with Gowalla.

Gowalla is going to help this once country boy get acquainted with New York City, as I’m looking for jobs in the city and I’m planning on moving there with my girlfriend within the year. We’re looking to make a short trip in March before we get our hearts completely set, and Gowalla is heavily influencing my thoughts as to what places I should visit.

Browsing the Guides

As I mentioned above, Gowalla has now focused on gathering Guides for many of the world’s hottest cities. The premise behind this is simple: you’re going somewhere, you want to know what you should do while you’re there, and someone that lives there (or has at least been there before) knows better than you do.

Gowalla's main view, showcasing their brilliant design and banner work.

Gowalla's main view, showcasing their brilliant design and banner work.

Guides were easy to browse, with the animations moving fluidly. Each guide has a unique banner, and I’ll admit to looking at all of the different cities (or other attractions) just because I wanted to see what the banner would look like. This excellent design persists throughout the app, as everything looks beautiful and well thought-out.

Browsing through the New York section with Featured Spots and user-created Lists.

Browsing through the New York section with Featured Spots and user-created Lists.

Each city has multiple guides, created by users of the app. You can view individual guides if you’d like or simply look at featured spots, giving you the rundown on some of the best places to see wherever you’re going.

Interacting With a Spot

Of course, a guide wouldn’t be much use if you couldn’t make it your own in some way. While you can view a guide the way that it is, you can also curate your own lists. Gowalla has a few pre-made lists, and my favorite is the aptly-named Bucket List. The Bucket List is a place to mark all of the spots that you would like to visit in your lifetime (before you “kick the bucket,” for those of you unfamiliar with the phrase). You can create other lists, and these will be shared with other users as well.

Right now I'm so busy viewing other lists that adding each item that I came across would quickly become cumbersome; a nice problem to have.

Right now I'm so busy viewing other lists that adding each item that I came across would quickly become cumbersome; a nice problem to have.

You’ll obviously want to give back, though. What makes a spot special isn’t necessarily the spot itself; instead, how you feel or what happened at a specific location is what makes people interested. Most stories have to do with certain spots. When I get home from my trip to the city this spring, I’ll be sure to tell my mother what happened while I went down there. The story will have a lot of “and thens,” interrupted with names of locations and who we saw in that spot.

The detailed view for Apple's Fifth Avenue store, with a location, photos, and comments.

The detailed view for Apple's Fifth Avenue store, with a location, photos, and comments.

While I’m there, though, it might be nice to see what other people have said. Standing in front of the Statue of Liberty will be amazing enough as it is, but being able to see what other people have said about the spot can create a sense of community, a place where a tourist can feel like he actually knows something about someone else that’s been in the same spot.

Speaking of Stories…

Gowalla decided to keep the option of checking-in to a location around, and they’re now called stories. They act much as you would imagine; you share where you are and who you’re with for others to see.

Viewing other people's Stories in my feed.

Viewing other people's Stories in my feed.

In my experience the app picked up where I was fairly quickly, important for an app that might have to be launched as quickly as possible, before my girlfriend realizes that I have the iPhone out while we’re out for dinner. If anything makes me wait it’s looking at the refresh animation that plays while the app fetches your friends’ stories.

After I wrote this review we went out, and this exact scenario happened. Spooky.

After I wrote this review we went out, and this exact scenario happened. Spooky.

You can share your check-in with Twitter and Facebook on top of showing it to your friends on Gowalla, a staple of this sort of app. Stories pushed to other services quickly, and everything worked seamlessly. You can even tag your friends (at least with Facebook — I have yet to tag anyone from Twitter) directly from the app, a nice touch that makes everything easy to locate and perform in one, amazing app.

Tagging my girlfriend and sharing my Story on Facebook.

Tagging my girlfriend and sharing my Story on Facebook.

Gowalla’s Reach

The problem with some of these apps that get reviewed is that they’re iPhone only, but require a large audience. It’s a sad truth that many people are using Android-powered smartphones, and I know that some of these services can get pretty lonely, being limited to iOS devices.

Whether or not these other unbelievers should be converted is up for debate, but Gowalla is flying a white flag and saying that everyone can participate. With apps for the iPhone, Web and Android devices, Gowalla is just about guaranteed to have more users than an iPhone-only service.

Conclusion

I’m trusting Gowalla to get me around New York City as I stare at the subway trains and say “y’all” too much. Every bit of this app has been painstakingly crafted to offer the best experience possible. Everything loads quickly, and I have to state again how gorgeous everything is.

If you’d like to share your stories there are plenty of (excellent) apps to choose from. Gowalla works well at that, but I believe that this new Gowalla is focusing on using your check-in to help poor little country boys like myself find their way in unfamiliar territory.

For the low, low price of free, Gowalla is a steal.


Summary

Gowalla allows you to share stories with your friends and view excellent, user-created guides of the hot spots in many popular areas.

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