Gowalla: virtual item collection and travel guide in one?

In my last post, I talked about Waze and Traveler’s Quest adding a bit of adventure to my daily travel.  Today, it’s about those annoying check-in games you see in everybody’s Facebook and Twitter updates.  Since everybody and their brother has reviewed these to death, I’m going to add my own personal spin on how I use these apps and what I think the future holds for each of them.

For those of you new to the check-in games, they basically work by using your phone’s GPS to pinpoint your approximate location.  You then check in to an existing location or create one of your own.   You can earn points, badges, virtual items, pins, etc. for each place you check into.  Most of the apps also let you share locations with friends and people around you.

Since Foursquare wasn’t available in Jacksonville (it is now), I started with Gowalla.  This app has a really slick interface and nice graphics.  You start with a passport and earn stamps for each place you visit.  When you earn enough stamps, you can earn special pins like visiting 10 coffee shops or checking in at 25 different locations.  Gowalla is unique from other location-based games because you can earn virtual items for every check in.  For example, if you check in at a hotel, you can earn a virtual luggage tag.  With the item you find, you can add it it your permanent vault, keep it in your backpack, or drop it in the location.  When you drop it, you become a founder of the location and can earn pins based on the number of locations you have founded.  If there is an item already at the location, you can swap it for the item in your backpack.  At the location, you can also leave a comment about what you are doing and have it posted to Facebook or Twitter.
In my opinion, the most interesting part of Gowalla is the Trips feature.  Trips are groups of themed locations you can visit to earn a special pin.  The Gowalla team has added several in the Austin area, San Francisco, and New York.  Just added is the ability to create your own trip which you can share with your friends.  I quickly created a 20-stop trip of my favorite places to eat in Jacksonville.  User-created trips has the potential to make Gowalla more than just a virtual treasure hunt:  it can be a user-created travel guide.
I use the app every day, even though the majority of my check-ins are at work.  I never check in at my house or another private residence.  I’ve become more open to adding Gowalla friends now that they have user-created trips because it really opens up interesting place to go wherever you may be.  I do check in everywhere because I’m always needing extra items in my backpack to either become a founder of a new spot or to swap for an item I need.  Also, if you go to gowallatools.com, you can see the items you need in your vault and the locations of places that have items you need.


  1. I love Gowalla. It almost gives you a reason to explore. It has led me to discover and “pin” mom and pop restauraunts that I otherwise wouldn’t have gone to just for the cred of having added it 🙂

    Glad to see someone else enjoying it.

    And oddly enough, I chose it because I really liked the user interface design ( go figure ) and because Kevin Rose is an angel investor.

  2. Gary,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I started using Gowalla because Foursquare wasn’t available in Jacksonville at the time. It quickly turned into an obsession of collecting pins and items. I even got a free t-shirt over Christmas when they were giving away golden gift items.
    I really think with the addition of user-created trips, Gowalla has a chance to become a local travel quest application with game like achievements.

    I’m a big fan of the interface too. Interestingly, some of the creators used to design graphical icons. They also have a Facebook game called Packrat that uses the same artwork and you collect virtual cards to earn points. It’s pretty neat.

    I think Kevin Rose is an angel investor in Gowalla and Foursquare too. Guess he’s hedging his bets.


  3. Yes. Caught his video on kevinrose.com about being invested in both.

    I’m a user interface designer so of course I’m going to be a little bit biased towards Gowalla. I actually just started using it in January so I’m a little saddened in missing the Christmas giveaways.

    The only thing I wish they would allow is for user editing of listings. All I’m going to say is some people in Jacksonville cannot spell or use proper punctuation/capitalization 🙂

  4. Agreed. I know you can edit spots that you have created on the Gowalla website, but I don’t think you can edit anyone else’s.
    I’ve gotten alot more interested in interface design myself lately since I learned how to use Photoshop to create web layouts. It’s funny how after writing code for 12 years and not caring about how it looked, I’ve come full circle.

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