Between Gowalla and foursquare, the latter has always been the more appealing service to me. It appeals to my explorer side that likes to go out and try new things much more than Gowalla does. I’ve always had a soft spot for Gowalla, though, because it appeals to that collector part of my nature. The beautiful stamps and virtual items are fun to collect as I check in at different places.
With the next update to Gowalla, though, virtual items will be no more. As they move forward and evolve the service, they’ve decided to drop them from future versions of the app. In a blog post, they say that fewer than one half of one percent of their active users were actually using them.
Virtual items, to put it nicely, were confusing. It wasn’t until I’d been using the service for about 6 months that I really began to understand what they were for and why they appeared randomly. From that point forward, though, they became the reason I checked in on Gowalla. The chance that I could find something I didn’t already have in my pack was too much to pass up. If I did already have it, I might be able to trade it for something I didn’t have that had been left at one of the venues where I checked in.
Virtual items failed not because they were confusing but because Gowalla never took the time or effort to explain to users what they did or how to use them. If it took me six months of frequent checkins, imagine how long it would take someone less devoted to checking in.
Partnerships with brands could’ve turned virtual items into something special. Gowalla, it seems, never worked to create the partnerships that could’ve made them a success. These exclusive items should have been redeemable for exclusive perks, but that never really happened.Â As a result, only a handful of branded virtual items are available, mostly from NASA and the Disney Parks.
Without knowing what’s up Gowalla’s sleeves for the future of their product, it seems they’ve lost the last big advantage â€” in my eyes, at least â€” they had over foursquare. I’ll check in again with Gowlla when I visit Disney World next month to earn the special stamps for attractions, but it won’t have the same meaning without the chance of collecting my Mickey Ears or a Grim Grinning Ghost. Those virtual items may have been confusing, but once you figured them out, man, they were fun to collect.