Check-In’s vs. Hidden Items: Which One Rules Location Based Services?

Last month, at one of the largest technology and Internet-focused conferences in Austin, Texas known as South by Southwest, two location-based services collided to see which one had true staying power. They both relied on checking into a location and sharing it with their friends. Both of them had an entertainment component attached to it so people were able to simply get some sort of value out of it, albeit somewhat intangible. But between these two location service giants, Foursquare and Gowalla, which one stood tall and left Austin with their heads held high and their pockets filled with more users? Why…that would be FourSquare.

But why?

ViralHeat's graphic on number of mentions

Frankly there’s no real research currently that I know of that would support why someone loves Gowalla over Foursquare. But according to recent research done by social analytics platform ViralHeat, a month after South by Southwest, FourSquare is getting way more attention – and just how much more? At it’s peak, Foursquare earned 38,000 mentions on social channels that included Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz. On the other side, Gowalla received just 25% of that attention. It might be because I’m not checking through all the latest news surrounding Gowalla or Foursquare, but based on the big pieces of information I’ve heard since SXSW, the fact that Foursquare has dominated the talk is no surprise – from their updates to cheating to repeated mentions on talk shows and even a 4sq day, people just can’t seem to get enough of Foursquare.

Now that’s not to say that Gowalla is bad, because it seems to be pretty great as a platform and people have really started to notice, especially sports teams as noted in a recent post I wrote where the New Jersey Nets basketball team used Gowalla as a means of driving attendance at one of their games. But, according to Mashable, Foursquare received 14,653 mentions on April 13 –  a month after the SXSW conference, which trumped Gowalla four times over. And in looking at the above graphic, one can see that while there’s a clear polarity between location-based services, either Foursquare or Gowalla, people were more actively talking about Foursquare even to this day.

ViralHeat's graph on the sentiment between Foursquare and Gowalla

So then what is the cause of Foursquare’s rise in popularity? Well who said it was all about popularity? We’re just talking about chatter about the location services. In fact, the fact that these services were mentioned in social channels is no clear indication of people’s views. ViralHeat produced a chart (see above) about overall sentiment that will help to define the types of mentions. As you can see, out of all the mentions, slightly more than 1/3 of all chatter for Foursquare was positive, but just slightly more than 25% had a negative thought about the service. With Gowalla, the results are mostly skewed in the opposite direction: more than 50% of mentions were positive while less than 20% were negative.

Foursquare may have won the battle, but they surely did not win the war. In fact, Foursquare’s sentiment amongst the people who mentioned the service was mostly neutral. People just didn’t have a positive or negative thing to say about the service and probably wanted to simply check-in and say they were using the service. This is the complete opposite for Gowalla – the people that mentioned the service were more invested in it from a sentimental standpoint. The battle over current customer satisfaction definitely goes to Gowalla. But the overall chatter and number of mentions goes to Foursquare. So who really wins at this game?

I’d like to say Gowalla wins at this one, but not by much. I’d like to state that I’m a Foursquare user and even have a Gowalla account, but I’m not fond of using Gowalla – frankly I haven’t even used the service. Why? Because it’s not available on my Blackberry even though it was rumored to be available prior to SXSW. Nevertheless, I can see that Gowalla’s customer satisfaction and approval is definitely in the positive and with that type of sentiment mandate, the service can leverage their customers as ambassadors to go out and improve on the product and attract new users and show why Gowalla is a great product. Foursquare, on the other hand, is pretty simple and offers a pragmatic approach – check-in and get points. Do it enough and you’ll get a badge.  Both services allow businesses to leverage the service through deals and other marketing programs and have loyal followings and major deals.

So while I say Gowalla wins, the location based service industry really wins out because more people are paying attention to this compared to other services that may have failed to capture attention, like Google Latitude. Now we’re entering into a new renaissance period of these tools. Let’s see if anyone truly strikes a knock-out blow.

Source: ViralHeat and Mashable

Image credit: ViralHeat

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."