With recent news about Facebook’s new ‘Places’ feature it looks like location based social networking could become the next big thing over the next couple of years. In case you can’t wait for this to be fully rolled out and you want to give one of the established location based social networks a try, here’s some background info.

What is a location based social network?

Facebook and Twitter allow you to share messages, photos, links, etc. with a network of friends or followers. Location based social networks operate in a similar manner - however they are location centric, so instead of sharing a message with a photo attached, you share a location, with a message (and possibly a photo) attached. One strange difference is that both these social networks (Foursquare and Gowalla) have the feel of a game, which I don’t get from Facebook or Twitter. Foursquare allows you to earn badges for checking in. For example, check in at a location more times than anyone else and you become the mayor. With Gowalla you can drop and collect items. For example, you may have a teddy bear which you can drop at a location, then some one else can pick that up and view a history of the bear and see who else has owned it in the past. It can then be taken to another location and dropped off and the journey continues. These features add an element of fun when connecting with your friends, comparing items and badges, but they also have a commercial implication for businesses. Some businesses are starting to sign up and give (for Foursquare) the mayor a special offer (like a free coffee) for just checking in more than anyone else. This incentive could encourage people to visit a location as often as possible to gain the mayor status. These services also offer the potential to offer businesses statistics on their customers (where they’re from, where else they go, how long they stay, etc.).

So, which should I join, Gowalla or Foursquare? That’s probably down to preference, as they are both very similar. I’m going to try both and see how I get on. Personally, from just going through the apps briefly, I prefer the look and feel of Gowalla.

Kevin Rose is an investor in both Foursquare and Gowalla, so here’s a quick video of him talking about how these work and some of the features.

Here’s another video reviewing the iPhone and Android apps for Foursquare and Gowalla.


If you are about to sign up to these apps make sure you review the privacy details carefully. The concept of location based services opens up various causes for concern, as you are telling the world where you are and when. Make sure you share this information carefully and with only whom you chose.