November 22, 2011

Why Gowalla, Why?

One need only read the reviews of Gowalla on the Android market to see the most users are, to put it mildly, "upset" about the changes and the new direction. And while they explain their rationale in this blog post, I have to say I'm in agreement with the majority of other users/former users/soon to be former users.

My issue is not so much the changes in the interface but rather the change to the overall nature of the app. It went from being an interesting social app to something that is really neither. I think Zuckerberg's insightful observation that the the internet is more of a linking of people than computers was right on. When we talk about social, we're really talking about more than just sharing a funny video, an interesting link, or letting the world know what's for dinner. Rather, it's connecting with others on a different level and in a different way. One the doesn't replace human interaction but rather enhances it.

This is where, to me, Gowalla is now failing. It's main purpose now, it seems, is to be a city guide book. To allow you explore new cities and discover new places. That's all great and good if you're new to a city or traveling. However, that's not what the user base originally signed on for. The first line of their description is "Gowalla is the easiest way to share places you go with friends." Now, this is not completely untrue. You can still share places with your friends. It's not the easiest by far and it's not the main function of the app anymore. This is what has people so up in arms.

Previously the app enabled you to check-in to places at your current location and share that with those that follow you as well as other outlets (Twitter, Facebook, Foresquare). Now, you essentially have to tell Gowalla that you aren't traveling, you're not in a new city, you're not exploring the city you're in and looking for a place to go, that you want to bypass the majority of the functionality of the application and simply "check-in". It's like your comfy commuter bike that you cruise around town in has been taken away and replaced with those bikes you see on the Tour de France time trials. Sure, it will still get you to the grocery store. But it's now a hassle to get on and maneuver, it adds unneeded complexity to a simple commute, and it's complete overkill for what you're using it for.

Perhaps this was the intention of the application all along. Perhaps this is their ultimate revenue strategy. (It is, after all, still a free app.) Who knows? I can't even say with certainty why it's still on my phone. Perhaps I'm hopeful that it will return to it's former (and proper) form. With full disclosure, I can't even really explain why I started using it in the first place. My wife would often asked what I got out of checking in to the places I would go. I never really had an answer and still don't. It was fun, interesting, and a little addictive I guess. Now, well... If I wanted/needed a city guide or something to find places or discover new ones, I can think of a number of other applications (Urbanspoon, Yellowbook, Where, or even Google Maps) that seem a bit better suited for this. Through all of the negative reviews and the nearly two months since it was last updated, it doesn't seem likely it will change anytime soon. Too bad Gowalla, I thought we were going places and checking in when we got there.

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