Gowalla vs Foursquare who will win the hearts of marketers, techies and users?

Geolocation is the “site” of a big “turf” war, forcing marketers and techies, and users to take sides.
The two apex companies in this segment right now: Gowalla and Foursquare are taking shots and keeping their developers up all night. Both of these games have users embracing games/applications with increasing enthusiasm. Meanwhile techies and marketers are twitterpated with the possibilities. For marketers, the opportunity for trackable partnerships is endless, from coupons and promotions to custom partnerships with either company. Small business promotions can be remarkably affordable.  Further, (since Gowalla released version 1.2 last fall) both of the games are social, both with friends and other social applications like Twitter and Facebook.  From a techie perspective, the expansion opportunities are endless and with open API’s on both, expect to see lots of applications. Unlike other social applications both have a concept whose use within retail and restaurant space is immediate and obvious.

The skirmish between the two companies has been fairly visible, both from the corporate and end user camps. The basic premise of both is the same and both companies have been around since 2009 when they launched at the proudly geeky SXSWi (South by Southwest Interactive). Both entice their user to check-in on the application where ever the user happens to be by offering status rewards and even coupons. Using GPS, the applications pinpoint within relative accuracy where you are and confirm that you are actually “checking in” from the right location. Digital and coupon rewards are offered for various reasons including frequent check-ins to encourage users to continue playing.   While they are similar, they offer distinct experiences for the end user, which is important to businesses looking to take advantage of these unique traffic driving applications.

Foursquare, the current popular favorite, gives “badges” (graphic images) to represent achievements such as most check-ins or first check-in. Foursquare rewards regular visits by identifying the most frequent visitors as the “Mayor”, then they take it to the next level by making you “Super Mayor” if you are the “Mayor” of 10 or more locations. New this year are promotions and badges which can be “unlocked” after a certain number of visits to the location, making marketers jump with joy. From the techie perspective, Foursquare recently had to adjust its programming to prevent users from cheating their location and cheating their badges. Some users don’t like the “Mayor” concept, because it creates “ugly” competition, but marketer (those paying for services) will continue to appreciate this feature.
In addition to awarding “pins” for achievements, Gowalla adds an additional “gaming” elements and gives the player “items” which can be traded and exchanged with friends. Dropping off items at locations has endless promotional and gaming possibilities and users seem to like the “collection” aspect of the game. “Trips” are another uniquely Gowalla component, trips are comprised of a series of locations that share something in common. It could be a pub crawl or visits to certain locations within, say, a zoo as they’ve done with the zoo in Fort Worth, TX. Gowalla’s latest update included letting users update photos of the location. National Geographic and the Washington Post announced branded “trips”with Gowalla just this week. Custom “items” can be created and dropped off at locations for users to pick up, giving marketers tingles.
But while the two companies are fighting for supremacy, the solidarity among users seems to be gelling. Let’s not forget that both of these companies make money by offering promotions and what essentially amounts to digital couponing for businesses large and small, so its more than bragging rights at stake here. Foursquare seems to be winning over the masses with over 400,000 users and corporations such as Starbucks (with a specialized badge) and Zagat and while Gowalla has bagged the Travel Channel with “Food Wars” pins and announced in January that it was approaching 100,000 users. Up until recently, Gowalla could have been considered a technical darling with a more graphically pleasing and friendlier interface, but its recent API snafus may change that.
As usual, the choice of which to partner with isn’t as easy as it sounds. From a marketing partnership, the number of users might seem to make Foursquare the no-brainer, but Gowalla seems to be returning to its gaming roots with an emphasis on adventure with its National Geograhic partnership. So it may well be like many other social media tools, the tool of choice, may depend on your type of business. Restaurants and retail may gravitate towards Foursquare while services and adventure related companies may find Gowalla the better partner.  The question of who else will get into the geolocation market (Twitter? Facebook? Google?) remains prescient and relevant to those looking down the line at the future of this unique marketing tool.
No doubt as soon as this article is launched, there will be changes in the geolocation clash.

What do YOU think? Are you a user? A marketer? A techie? Which do you prefer and why?