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on dumping foursquare for GoWalla

by Rob Friesel

About a week ago, I decided to dump foursquare for GoWalla[1]; I’d like to tell you a little bit about why.  But first, a short lesson on the schedules of reinforcement that we should all know and love from operant conditioning paradigms.

In psychology, operant conditioning tells us that behavior is determined by its consequences; and the schedules of reinforcement tell us how often we get those consequences—be they pay-outs or punishments.  To reduce the schedules to their simplest components, you ask how the reinforcers are spaced (i.e., ratios or intervals), and you ask how predictable the reinforcers are (i.e., fixed or variable).  Some of these schedules are more effective than others.  The research pretty consistently shows that most of the time, a variable ratio schedule produces the highest level of responding.  You might say that it’s more “fun” than other schedules (see also: roulette, slot machines).

And that’s something that the folks at GoWalla seem to have understood going into this.  Where foursquare is algorithmic, GoWalla is more… stochastic.  Or, to put it another way, foursquare seems to involve a lot of “check-in grinding“, whereas GoWalla just wants to play[2].

If you haven’t played[3] GoWalla, while it doesn’t completely eschew the concept of a leader board, it is not front-and-center—not like foursquare and its million Mayorships.  You go where you like, you check-in, and once in a while, you find an “item” (more on that later).  And since there is no Mayorship on the line, you can relax a little bit.  There’s no “Mayor anxiety”, no cherry-picking the low-hanging fruit on your way to that SuperMayor badge, no bogus retroactive check-ins from the mobile web app…

But enough of about foursquare vs. GoWalla.  This really ought to be about GoWalla.

The highlight reel:

  1. The interface is nicer, more polished.  Why is it that a little splash of color goes such a long way?  And beyond just looking more polished, the color makes it quicker to identify the spot you’re interested in—making each check-in just that much faster and unobtrusive.
  2. The iPhone app is less crashy than foursquare’s[4].
  3. It’s much more interactive.  Foursquare has its badges[5] but GoWalla has stamps and pins and trips and challenges.  And items.
  4. The items.  ZOMG!  Finding a six pack of GoWalla microbrew is so much better than being Mayor of Martini’s.  And you know what’s better than that?  Dropping it at Five Corners Beverage to become a founder.  And better than that?  Hoping someone will find it and swap their firecrackers for it.

So what’s GoWalla missing?

Not much:

  1. I did immediately miss the location tagging and tips that foursquare has.  I mean, it seems like a good idea to constrain a location to one category…  But when if I’m going to discover a location with the app, it would be good to know that this “City Park” happens to have a playground and a basketball court.  And/or that if I’m at this particular sandwich shop that I’d better not ask them to hold the tomato.
  2. Along with the location tagging, an annotation engine would be key.  I love that there is an option to create and publish trips.  But I want to be able to annotate the locations—not just to include it in the challenge/trip but to say why it is included.

After only a week, GoWalla has floored me with its design, its interface, and its style of play.  I recommend that all you folks on foursquare abdicate your Mayorships immediately and get on GoWalla.

And remember:  be generous with your items!

  1. GoWalla : foursquare :: Facebook : MySpace? []
  2. GoWalla : foursquare :: Wii : Xbox 360? []
  3. ”Played”? Participated in? Practiced? []
  4. Sorry to bring foursquare back into it, but this sort of thing makes a difference. []
  5. Sorry again.  I just can’t help myself. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

5 Responses to on dumping foursquare for GoWalla

jessamyn says:

Aw man I’d just gotten used to being the Mayor of everywhere in Central Vermont but I’ll check Gowalla out

Mike Costello says:

Different strokes for different folks… I have been on foursquare since September of 2009, and have recently begun flirtations with Gowalla (five days now) and Whrrl (only two days thus far). While this could, of course, change based on more use and the continued development of the respective apps, I would actually place Gowalla as my least favorite of the three.

I certainly have had my share of suspicions of the occasional person on foursquare as cheating with their check-ins and stealing mayorships under potentially false pretenses, but don’t stress out over it or anything. I just shake my head and move on.

I feel like Gowalla has a long way to go in its web form especially. For me, the web presence is almost equally important as the mobile experience. I actually explore things more at home on the foursquare site than I do when I am out, simply because the iPhone battery life is such rubbish, particularly when having to rely on 3G almost exclusively!

You may also want to check out Whrrl. I have only been using it a couple days, but I am liking what I am seeing so far.

found_drama says:

@Mike- Thanks for checking in. A few remarks:

(1) RE: “cheating check-ins” and “stealing mayorships” – I’d say that those are simply minor annoyances. But what they add up to is an unbalanced gameplay where focus seems almost entirely on the mayorships and turns it into something competitive instead of something light-hearted and fun.

(2) RE: GoWalla’s web presence – when was the last time you used it? I’ve seen some screenshots in blog posts out there of what must be an older version. GoWalla’s web site has a great interface and I’ve found it tremendously useful in getting the most out of the app.

Timothy Burgher says:

Hey Rob just checked out foursquare and and going to start playing around with gowalla. I remember reading this when it was posted but not having a phone that could do any of this yet. I just came back to the article, read it over and am going to gowalla all over the place or something like that. Thanks!

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