Monthly archives of “December 2009

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Location-based apps: Flook, Gowalla, Foursquare

A lot of people have been talking about and playing with location-based applications these days. I wanted to put my two cents into the debate, specifically on Flook, Gowalla, and Foursquare.

Flook

Flook is the least-known of these three apps, but potentially the most interesting. Users take photos (which are automatically geo-tagged) and then add captions and information about the photo. What’s cool is that if you go somewhere new, you can quickly pull up the interesting places nearest to you. That might be a pub, a cool shop, or virtually anything else. And of course there’s a comments section around each card, too.

For me, the current downfall of Flook is that it’s iPhone-only, and I’ve recently moved to an Android phone. It’s also difficult to find and follow people you know, unless they’re in the same area and you see their cards normally.

Fundamentally, Flook is a hugely rich source of interesting information, with a *fantastic* user interface. I highly recommend that you download it for your iPhone and try it out. (Disclosure: I know the founders/investors of Flook, and think highly of them.)

PS- They’re currently running a competition to win a MacBook Air by just making cool Flook cards… check it out by clicking here.

Gowalla

Gowalla competes directly with Foursquare, and I have to definitely give the edge to Gowalla. It’s a beautifully made application, and what I love about it is the metaphor that Gowalla uses: a passport. Users are encouraged to get “stamps” in their “passport” for visiting new places. You earn and collect cool items from commissioning/founding new places, and can drop them off and pick up other cool items anywhere you visit. It’s definitely helped me think about new and interesting pubs, restaurants, etc. near me. (And of course see where your friends are checking in, too.)

While Gowalla has an iPhone app, their Android interface is through a web application. (http://m.gowalla.com) It has 80% of the functionality; the only major thing it’s missing is the ability to see and drop off your “items”.

[UPDATE]: I forgot this in my original post, but Gowalla lets you add locations anywhere in the world, and not just in particular cities like Foursquare. For example, I was at a conference at a huge convention center in southwest Ireland recently and added that to Gowalla, no problem. (Unlike Foursquare.) Foursquare may be rolling out to new cities all the time, but Gowalla can be used anywhere in the world right now.

Foursquare

Foursquare is bigger (in number of users) than Gowalla and has top-flight investors (Union Square Ventures), but I just don’t care for it. Its design is good, but not beautiful like Gowalla’s. But the biggest thing is the metaphor of points & mayorships that Foursquare uses. Each week a user’s points gets reset, and you have to keep checking into places to get and keep your “mayorship.”

To me, the metaphor of “mayorship” is a recipe for stagnation. It encourages users to go back to the same places over and over, and the mayorship will likely only rotate amongst a small number of regulars. For me, I quickly became the mayor of places where few other people checked in, and was out of the running for mayor-ships where I went regularly but where others checked in far more frequently. In both cases, my incentives were to stop using it.

Now, Foursquare does have a native application for both iPhone and Android, and it has excellent advisors. The founders previously started Dodgeball, a similar application which was bought by Google (where it stagnated) a couple years ago. It will need some better execution to get over its current problems. While Foursquare might be popular now with early adopters, I think it will have serious problems if/when it goes mainstream.

Summary

So I’m a Flook user when I have my iPhone handy, and I’m definitely a Gowalla user. Gowalla is great to track cool places I’ve been and where my friends go, and Flook is great to find interesting stuff that I might otherwise miss. Definitely give both a try.