Calling All Bets: Who Will Win The Location Wars?


We’re gonna have us a good old-fashioned showdown down in Austin next week! Guns will be drawn, intimidation will set in and only one man will survive to walk away with the glory. And then, of course, there’s that whole SXSW thing going on. But that’s just the backdrop! For many, all eyes will be on the forthcoming location wars and which service will declare dominance to become the google of location apps. Or maybe Google will become the google. But probably not.

With some much talk about all the different location-based services, I thought it may be interesting to provide a rundown of some of the biggest players. And, of course, I’d like your opinion: Who do you think will take the show?


Who cares: Gowalla established a loyal user base hitting early on the location-awareness scene. What differentiates Gowalla from its closest competitor is that it’s based around exploration and discovering new places. FourSquare is about checking in, Gowalla is about finding what’s near you and proving it by picking up left objects. There’s no cheating going on here. [Looking at you, FourSquarers.]

What’s new: A lot. It sounds like Gowalla will be bringing its A-game to SXSW. They’ve rolled out a new Web site that hails a prettier UI and new features like the streaming Live on Gowalla, updated profile pages and an area for Featured spots. They’ll also have a new iPhone app out in time for the big show that boasts new features like the ability to add pictures and comments to check ins. Robert Scoble recently sat down with Gowalla CEO Josh Williams to talk about what’s coming. It’s clear that Gowalla has heard FourSquare’s cry and they’re not backing down. Gowalla will be throwing a big party during SXSW…which coincidentally falls on the exact same night as FourSquare. Place nice, Ladies.


Who cares: FourSquare’s done a fairly good job establishing itself as The One To Watch in the world of location-based apps. Users can hop around their town checking into their Favorite locations to earn badges, honors and bragging rights for their trouble. Many users are partial to FourSquare because of the neighborhood tips they offer and because its user base is on the quick rise.

What’s new: Again, a lot. FourSquare has secured partnerships with outlets like Bravo, HBO and The New York Times to offer special badges for users who “check in” at specific locations. They’ve increased real business appeal with the adoption of new analytics tools to help SMB owners track behavior. They have the aforementioned SXSW party to look forward to, new categories, (reportedly) a brand new iPhone app, new badges for SXSW goers to collect and they’ll be throwing surprise events on the street. If marketing plays any role in app dominance, Foursquare is certainly on it.


Who cares: MyTown from Booyah takes the ‘game’ aspect of Gowalla and FourSquare and ups it about ten notches. It borders more on an augmented reality game than a location-based app (IMO). In MyTown, users earn points by checking in at real-world locations and can purchase the many shops located in MyTown. Once they own the buildings, they can charge rent and use the money earned to buy more shops or all sorts of other virtual goods. My gamer background is pretty limited (sorry), but I’d say it’s a nice mix of Second Life meets Monopoly.

What’s new: From the outside it looks a little silly, but the truth is Booyah may just be ahead of its time. With virtual goods on track to reach $1.6 billion in revenue this year, Booyah is tapping into what could be a smart model. They’ve already partnered with companies like H&M and Zone Nutrition bars and you have to wonder if they won’t partner with Loopt to further up the advertising opportunities. During one of her SMX presentations, Cindy Krum spoke a bit about augmented reality apps and opened my eyes to a world that I never knew existed. There are loyal communities on these sites and those that love the gaming aspect of location have found a hit with Booyah. I don’t know that SXSW will be what it needs to break it big, but it’s definitely one to watch down the road.


Who cares: The 400 million users who currently have a Facebook account.

What’s new: Next month Facebook will launch its own location-based features that will allow users to (of course) check in to locations and share that information with friends. According to Inside Facebook, the site won’t be attempting to “kill FourSquare”, however, by adding a check in feature to their 400 million user empire, they’re certainly taking away incentive for users to set up shop elsewhere. Facebook is also making itself more attractive to local business and advertisers, with its recent partnership with eventbrite. If users can tell their friends where they are and businesses can use that information to track behavior and then monetize events and offers directly on Facebook… that’s powerful.


Who cares: Everyone who has contributed to the 10 billion tweets that have been sent out to date.

What’s new: As of yesterday afternoon, Twitter has officially switched on its geolocation feature to allow users to tag their tweets with their exact location. Twitter’s geolocation feature works by showing a map overlay on tweets to show place names and your location. Not exactly a revolutionary adoption, but one that makes sense and does take the steam out of other location-based applications that don’t have Twitter’s large, active user base. Twitter also released Twitter Local Trends back in January to help users find relevant localized content and other cool stuff. Twitter’s conquered the celebrities and the rest of the world, now they’re coming after your town.


Who cares: Yelp drew 29 million visitors in January and is a dominate player in the market when it comes to anything labeled “review”. The community is fiercely loyal and the mobile apps have done a great job of encouraging users to take Yelp out into the streets.

What’s new: Their $500 million Google snub and the ability for users to check in at locations. I haven’t seen too much recent news from Yelp, but with 29 million users they’re certainly in the position to bump out someone like FourSquare if they start getting smart.

Google Buzz

Who cares: I’m honestly not sure.
What’s new: Everything. Month-old Buzz is still trying to prove its value and convince us that it’s not creepy. There’s a strong location-aware element that is tied into Google Maps to help determine your location and graph where you are, however, because it’s built into GChat, it’s a bit cumbersome. But with Google’s massive audience, it can be a bit cumbersome and still topple the other players. Not that I think it will. TechCrunch had a nice post on how Google Buzz could dominate local. I can’t feign interest nearly as well as they can. Sorry, Buzz.

Geolocation is what’s hot in 2010. Users like the ability to find what’s near them and participate in their real life communities in new ways. And for advertisers, localization means the ability to target and track users like never before. It’s no surprise we’re seeing a gold rush right now with everyone fighting to claim dominance. Who’s your favorite in these location wars?

Who I do think will win? FourSquare.
Who would I like to win? Gowalla.

Your Comments

  • John

    Nice roundup of location services. I hadn’t even heard of half of these. I agree that 4sq seems like it could be the “winner” – most of the people that I know that use these things use 4sq.

  • Randy S

    The idea behind Booyah seems to be the most intriguing to me. I mean, if I’m going to share my location with the world, why not get real rewards? But, it’s going to have a hard time picking at the marketing share of Facebook, Twitter and Google once their particular geo-location apps are full steam. People can be reluctant to change and tend to like the familiar.

    • Lisa Barone

      I think Booyah is the most interesting, as well. I’m not sure mainstream is ready for it quite yet, but we’ll probably start to see more apps like this one n the future.

  • Amanda

    Foursquare. They have better brand recognition, age and have a larger percentage of highly-followed users (not to knock @garyvee and Gowalla). (The last has been my observation. It’s not an empirically based opinion). Didn’t they also win the mobile app race?

    The user base volume between Gowalla and Foursquare could come down to simple motivation: More people want to be win (e.g. become “mayor”) than want to explore or try new things.

    Twitter – it seems like a very, very small percentage (at least among the tech savvy echo-chamber in my stream) are using their geolocation function. It could be because it was rolled out post, or maybe because people interested in geolocation were early adopters of a different system in the first place.

    Facebook’s impact is still too new to tell but could pull ahead of everyone down the line because, behind Google, they pretty much own the internet user marketshare.

    If my mom ever starts “checking in”, it will be via Facebook, not Foursquare.

    Mi dos centavos.

    • Lisa Barone

      Spot on observations on all. It’s funny to me that so many tech people are obsessed with FourSquare and yet people on Twitter seem almost appalled when Twitter turned on the geolocation feature. I would have thought it was a similar audience. But seems not. Or maybe everyone who wanted geolocation is already on FourSquare.

      More people want to be win (e.g. become “mayor”) than want to explore or try new things.

      That may be the saddest thing I’ve read all day. Because it’s true.

      • Amanda

        “Or maybe everyone who wanted geolocation is already on FourSquare.”

        That’s my best guess. I think the first mention I read of Foursquare was actually via @FredWilson, and most of the subsequent mentions were from people who followed him as well or were otherwise in his network.

        I just don’t seen that viral trickle down adaptation happening for Gowalla, even though Gary Vee promotes it hard…

        Maybe this is just a good illustration that being the first mover in the tech industry is more important than being ‘better’ when it comes to growing a viral user base.

        Unless yours is an extraordinary improvement… like Google vs. Lycos in 1998 or Facebook vs. MySpace more recently.

  • Michael Martin

    Twitter WAS the main means of communication at SXSW last year in finding out where people were and where the best parties are – prior to this I was used to just texting people or God forbid calling them.

    My sense is Foursquare will be used more to crowdsource best parties & where people are this year at SXSW along with Twitter.

    Wish PubCon South was in Austin again like last year as that ran right up perfectly to SXSW

  • Christopher Masiello

    Vote: foursquare

  • Tyler Adams

    I agree that Foursquare will be the winner for now. If Facebook or Google ever get their act together I could easily see them dominating this market. Taking a different approach, isn’t Apple the real winner here regardless of which service wins the location war. If, and when, any of these seriously take off it’s only going to make folks want the iPhone even more.

  • Michael Dorausch

    Geolocation is hot! What’s a savvy small business owner to do? 1) Sign up for all these services and be sure your address data is listed correctly. Can you find your business location via a mobile device? If not, how would you expect others to. 2) Get to work using the services yourself and get a feel for how they perform. 3) Discover the potential evangelists “checking in” to your business and engage them! Too much work? Go get a job at Wal-Mart.

  • Michael B.

    I have been using foursquare on a very cursory level, but really can’t get fully engaged with it. Too many users exploit the apps shortcomings (read between the lines here people) and I guess that just turns me off a bit.

    I wonder why these location based apps aren’t able to utilize a phones GPS capability to verify one’s location?


  • Kasey Skala

    Who will win? None of them will. Who uses these services right now? Tech geeks. Who’s at SXSW? Tech geeks.

    The fact is, we’ll see higher usage for a week, then reality sets in and we realize that mainstream business use is still nonexistent.

  • Aussiewebmaster

    Hey Gowalla has a kangaroo in its logo who do you think I want to win

  • Scott Stratten

    Facebook wins, end of story. Just from sure mobile penetration (dirty). 100 million+ already checkin into their status using mobile? Thanks for comin out everyone else.

    Bet anyone a night of beverages on it :-)

    Great post as always

  • Nathan Hangen

    I have a 4sq account, and I can’t understand, for the life of me, why it’s worth a damn. I hate hearing about “mayors,” and if I need to know where someone is…then I’ll ask them.

    Might this help retailers? Probably…but location based services seem like a tall order with this technology.

    For now, I’ll stick with Twitter, Facebook, and maybe Buzz.

  • Carmen

    Gowalla! That is all.

  • Suzanne Vara

    Great roundup of each. I think that Facebook will do very well and then roll out how to block the location updates as it will clog up streams. Twitter -I think that people in a huff over this as with FourSquare there is a reward for checking in with some biz offering specials and the ego stroke of ousting someone as mayor and with Twitter it seems like an invasion of privacy to have our tweets localized (although people who check in on foursquare do have this tweeted). Maybe the location option is problematic to people as it part of a tweet that can be retweeted? Maybe with foursquare or gowalla you are at a place for a period of time and leave where with location tweets it is coming many times from your business or home?

    I agree that the most intriguing is booyah. I am still warming up to the foursquare concept as it is not that I am not wanting people to know where I am, it it just seems like more of a popularity game.


  • myfinancialobjectives

    I tried out MyTown for a while, maybe like a month. Very disappointing. Boring, not really too many options of what you can do, and it’s almost like directed game play, you have to go in one certain direction with the game. I’ll stick with SuDoku:)

  • Lyndon Reid

    What is the internet? Seriously though, they all kind of annoy me. Could be a combination of not caring who the Mayor of Ronnie’s Pizza and not realizing the real power yet.

    Assemble a team of 50 friends, build something better, and have the team convince everyone to use it. Might stand a chance and it’d be worth 50MM in the end.

  • mike carey

    I use Foursquare but see it is a silly social media time burner ! It is kind of fun to say that I am the Mayor of Fuddruckers however… lol

    If Google wanted to play, they could take this market over easily with their location based suggestions and adverts.. They already have the Latitude technology that I use with my google maps, and they know all about everything and exactly where it is located. (ie- you are Bob’s Steak house- right next door is a 20% off sale on xxxx items.. )

  • Jeremy

    Gowalla for me.

    I haven’t tried Foursquare but I’ve heard two things that turned me off almost immediately. Both of these involve GPS. First, Foursquare doesn’t require a GPS signal to determine whereabouts, so this makes cheating very easy. Second, since Foursquare requires an address for spot creation, how exactly does one create a spot in a rural area without a great deal of inaccuracy?

  • Jack Davis

    Foursquare is my hero when it comes to this kind of thing, it’s easy to use and that is a big plus in my book. I suppose things will get more complicated in the future, but I still prefer Foursquare.