Foursquare & Gowalla Need City Managers

It has been almost a year since geolocation services like Fourspare and Gowalla came into the iPhones of nerds (myself included) that made the annual pilgrimage to Austin Texas for South by Southwest Interactive. The Austin based Gowalla had a significant marketing presence at last year’s conference while Foursquare was stronger out of the gate, being the must have app for SXSWers looking for the hot parties and the who’s who’s of the tech world each night and filling out their badge sashes with the all-night benders that are a SXSW staple. Gowalla picked up steam throughout last year, and now many people (myself and most of my friends) use both apps whenever they remember to check-in somewhere.

My main complaint is as the use of these services have grown the quality of the location data has greatly decreased, especially in Foursquare, in my experience.  When I’m looking for the restaurant I’m eating at, I see all these other completely useless to me locations, like “The Batcave”, and people listing their homes on Foursquare and Gowalla. In addition to the overall validity of the locations themselves, there is a lack of important and really useful information about locations that people add. The teacher in me wants to complain about people’s pure laziness in not using proper caps when typing the name of a location, but more important information like the actual street address and phone number are rarely added. I think that in addition to badges or trinkets that people collect, that these services should also incentivize users to take the time and add more information about the locations that they visit.

This geolocation data is another layer in the virtual world to help us navigate the real world and quality, reliable information is important for users and the services themselves if they are going to continue to thrive.  Much like cities in the real world have city managers, so to do the virtual cities that we create need some management and curation. I think/hope in future releases of Foursquare and Gowalla that they will incorporate some sort of recommendation engine that would recommend new places for you to try based on where you and your friends go often; maybe this could be a source of revenue as for example the recommendation engine suggests trying the new Mexican restaurant down the street and the restaurant contracts with the geolocation service and offers you a free appetizer coupon on your phone.

Businesses are starting to see the potential uses of geolocation apps like Foursqare and Gowalla as some places offer discount or freebies for people who become the mayor of their place as a way to reward frequent customers, though it often seems like the mayors of locations are more and more an employee that checks in every time they come to work, which kinda ruins the “game” for everyone else. With Gowalla and Foursquare coming out with APIs, allowing other developers to access their data, the quality of that data will become more important.

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