Foursquare vs. Gowalla – The SXSW Showdown that Wasn’t

Heading into SXSW Interactive this year, everyone was talking about an eminent showdown between the top two location-based social networking services: Gowalla and foursquare. Both companies released updates and enhancements just before the conference started; and, I’m sure both hoped they would take off with users like Twitter did after SXSW Interactive 2007.
Texas Showdown Saloon sign
I have been playing foursquare for a few months and feel a bit guilty for not supporting Austin’s home team Gowalla. It came about that way simply because foursquare is the first one I heard about. Several of my Twitter friends were tweeting their foursquare check-ins and it made sense to go where the people I was already connected to were going.

During SXSW, I tried like heck to win some of the special badges foursquare unveiled for the event, to no avail. But, I certainly didn’t make the shift that Jeff Pulver described in an e-mail that Misae “Minxymoggy” Richwoods shared on her blog this week:

“A community of twitter faithful shifted from sharing everything about everything on only twitter (and maybe Facebook) and changed their habits to rely on learning about what was happening and where things were happening by using foursquare and Gowalla instead.”

No, I was still relying very much on Twitter as my means of communicating with friends and finding out what was happening around the conference, as I mentioned in my post recapping a Core Conversation about Second Life.

My use of foursquare at SXSW was all about the badges (maybe trying to make up for not being a Girl Scout when I was little?); and, quite frankly, when I was unable to secure them after name-dropping, staying out late on a school night, making it to the early panels, and attending a SXSW Music show, the lily lost of bit of its gild.

Aside from throwing competing parties on the same day at the same time, I didn’t really see any showdown between foursquare and Gowalla, either. Nothing visible like the TV screens in the convention center showing Twitter feeds in years past, or anything like the Zappos takeover of what attendees wore when they handed out ponchos from their trade show booth on a rainy day one year. I don’t have bandwidth to be active in both services, so I wasn’t seeing Gowalla from the inside. That may be part of why I didn’t see any showdown.

The other reason may have been that as a 40-year-old mother, I’m not really their target demographic. I didn’t go to either company’s party, choosing instead to come home to my family that evening. And, I can go to all the places people were checking in at during SXSW any time I choose, unlike all the out-of-town visitors. But, let’s face it, I just don’t party like I used to. I’m not going to be the person Chase Straight describes when he notes “you know a night has been good when you look at your Twitter feed the next morning and see five or more check-ins.”

But, maybe there really wasn’t a showdown at all. Maybe as Jemima Kiss put it, “perhaps that just reflects how much the press and the crowd wanted to claim The New Twitter, etc. etc.” Headlines like “Hot Startups Battle To The Death Deep In The Heart Of Texas” are great fun to write.

And that fun didn’t seem to hurt anyone. Richard Whittaker pointed out in the Austin Chronicle, “neither Gowalla nor Foursquare delivered a killer blow this year, [but] both benefited from the national exposure.”

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