Why I followed Gowalla like a teenage girl follows Justin Bieber
I'm Gowalla user #91. They're at about 2 million now. But, alas… they are no more. I've been easing into the idea for months now - my slow decline in usage started with a series of events: taking away my (yes my) icons, demoting check-ins, and my social graph moving on to other apps/sites. Gowalla is one of my first true "must have services" that have disappeared. Why am I sad, because Gowalla was meaningful to me. Others are trying to leave me as well, like Google Reader's removal of sharing (to move to G+), or Flickr's possible buyouts from a mismanaged Yahoo - I've been pretty lucky that my virtual web apps, have for the most part stayed intact over time. There is no track record here. No shelf-life for a beloved app or service. It's not like film, which we know will last a 100 years if stored properly, it's something that if you picked up a mobile device in 10 years, I guess I'd be surprised if instagram works - or facebook for that matter.
But like a film, Gowalla had meaning for me. Gowalla's offices started in Southlake in the shadow of Sabre/Travelocity where I was working at the time. We'd see the guys at lunch, had Josh come present at local events, and ran into Gowalla team members in various meetups around DFW. After they moved to Austin and over the years at SXSW we were luckily enough to attend some of the most sought after Gowalla parties - including last year's Matt & Kim concert.
As they became a fixture in Austin (one of my favorite cities), you'd see Gowalla stickers on the windows of all our favorite shops and restaurants. We'd know what hangouts were hot via Gowalla, I'd know where my friends were via Gowalla, and more than once would serendipitously run into people I knew well, or wanted to know better.
I had a record of my travels and locations that had meaning for me. My wife called it "the husband tracker" (now who knows where I go during the day). It added interest to mundane tasks such as going to the grocery store - would there be a new icon to add to my collection? I was less than 10 short when they retired the feature… I had over 1,200 checkins, almost 100 pins, and a 100+ friends.
Not only was Gowalla invaluable during SXSW letting me know where everyone was, and where to go, but they'd have promotions running that would get me to go out of my way to check in. NASA, incase, Sweet Leaf Tea, just to name a few.
Then Disney… Which just happened to be weeks before I had a trip planned with my son. I was able to collect stamps virtually, which made it easier to remember which rides we'd gone on, and which we've missed. Again, collected memories.
And even as late as last month with Tintin. If you don't know I'm a Tintin fanatic, and to my delight that Tintin actually chatted me up during my checkins on Gowalla.
Meaning came from: friends, memories, and fun. As well as a smart dose of gamification: limited duration, collecting, delighters, status - the list goes on. This meaning lead to my friends having ceremonies around moving Gowalla off their homescreens. It was like losing something big.
Am I ok with the core Gowalla team going to facebook? Yes, of course - they deserve to be with some of the best designers in the world, effecting many millions. Will SXSW be the same? No. Will I love other app like I loved Gowalla? No. Was creating Gowalla just a long interview for facebook? No, but it just worked out that way.
What do I want now that Gowalla is no more? They're hinting at two things: 1) letting you access your data (which I hope to be able to import into my facebook timeline), and 2) something is going to happen with the company. Maybe another company will swoop in and keep it going at it's current trajectory - but it won't be the same.
What's really interesting is the speed which my social graph moved - after the latest Gowalla update, there was a bit of a void, until Path showed up with a stunning updated app - now it's roughly back to similar usage during the height of my graph's Gowalla usage.
When Path came out, I found that I actually missed checking-in. I like to see where my graph is hanging out, where they're visiting, what they're up to. In my busy life, sometimes this is my only connection to people I enjoy.
Path is great, and really combines some of the best services into a single app, be how long before Path gets bought? Can anyone compete with facebook if they decide to get into something? We'll see where Path goes, and then hopefully have a place to move on to after.
Gowalla, here's to years of interesting times. Thanks!
P.S. I think Josh should fly the first 100 Gowalla users out to SFO for a tour of facebook ;-)