Can Disney help Gowalla in its battle with Foursquare?

I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve used Gowalla (a location-based checkin service you use on your phone). I’ve found that in most of the cities I visit Foursquare has more users, more tips, is faster, easier to check in, etc.

But when I arrived at DisneyWorld yesterday for a private tour with several Disney employees, among others, I learned that Disney liked Gowalla more. That got me to redownload the app onto one of my iPhones and as we went around the park I checked into both Gowalla and Foursquare.

Some things became clear immediately. Gowalla has a much more attractive design, and has a bunch of fun games to play as you visit different attractions. But I kept asking myself “will this experience get me to use Gowalla and, even more importantly, will it get average visitors to the park to use Gowalla.”

In the end analysis, no. Why not? Because even though Disney’s management likes Gowalla they haven’t made it easy for an average park visitor to find out about it. I never saw a “check into Gowalla here for a fun game” sign in any of the three parks we visited. I never saw Gowalla named in the brochures, maps, etc I got.

And, worse for Gowalla, when I did check in on Gowalla I never saw the number of users that I saw on Foursquare and the tips that Foursquare users left were generally more interesting than Gowalla’s better design and cool virtual objects left around to pick up.

What did I see on Gowalla? Tons of Disney employees playing, but after a while they even admitted there were some severe problems with Gowalla. Here’s a list of things that came up after using it all day long:

1. Gowalla is SLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOWWWWW to check in. Foursquare consistently beat it on check in speed.
2. Gowalla still has problem checking in. Why? Because Gowalla has this lame philosophy that you must be exactly where you say you are checking in. Often times, though, we were already walking away from a ride when we remembered we didn’t check in. Foursquare let us check in while walking away. Gowalla often didn’t.
3. Gowalla didn’t let park experts fix bad entries, Foursquare did. Most of the people I was walking around with are Foursquare power users. Foursquare gives those kinds of users special abilities to fix their database in case ride names are misspelled, or some guest entered in a duplicate name, etc. We saw all sorts of evidence in Gowalla that there were mistakes, duplicates, etc, but in Foursquare there were none. Disney employees say they would fix mistakes, but aren’t given the ability to.

Then, once you get off park property it gets worse. As I type this I’m in Orlando’s airport. It says two of my friends are checked in here within the last three days. In the last hour there are three people listed in recent activity. I open up Foursquare and 74 other people are here along with 430 tips.

So, no contest, Disney can’t help Gowalla. Bums me out, cause I like the Gowalla team and design. But users beat all that. Disney should make a deal with Foursquare and get on board.

Author: Robert Scoble

Scoble gives you a front-row seat on the future. Especially on platforms that use the fourth user interface, spatial computing, like virtual reality or mixed reality that will come soon thanks to his own front-row seat as entrepreneur in residence at and his past experience as futurist at Rackspace. Best place to find Scoble? On his Facebook page at


  1. Totally awesome and ultra valid point and case made. Gowalla’ s headquarters are literally down the street from me and I have a personally connection, I like their design and team better, but I never use it because it always feels like I’m alone on there and I am always in better company on Gowalla!

  2. I’ve experienced this over and over again.  It’s another one of the reasons I was glad to see check-ins in Google+.  Ultimately I gave up on Gowalla for Foursquare and then gave up on Foursquare with the points system changing; was simply no fun for me.  

  3. strangely, in my case (old 3G iPhone), while I think foursquare has more features, until last foursquare update, Gowalla was *much*, much, much faster … and crashing far less :O

  4. strangely, in my case (old 3G iPhone), while I think foursquare has more features, until last foursquare update, Gowalla was *much*, much, much faster … and crashing far less :O

  5. In Portugal though, Gowalla has a bigger user base. 

    In this kind of applications is common to appear niche communities in certain locations. Gowalla still has the potential to make it big in a lot of places. I think it works better where the user base is not as dense as in big metropolises, where the whole mayorship competition doesn’t make that much sense.

    1. If you think Foursquare is about a mayorship competition you haven’t really studied Foursquare much. For me it’s all about the tips. They are incredible and help me have a better experience where I am.

      1. Yet again, people don’t leave much tips where they don’t expect them to be read.

        I rarely see tips around me either in Foursquare and Gowalla. People use them more for keeping a virtual passport, tell others where they are and discover some occasionally new spot. 

        I can be a bit biased, but Gowalla seems to work better for that. And even if they are both similar, the better user experience of Gowalla wins.

      2. Most tips I usually see are “Fly on a plane” at the airport and “eat a sandwich” at a sandwich shop. It seems like the funny tips, not the useful ones, end up getting promoted to the top.

  6. I want to like Gowalla better, but you’re right. Last year at SXSW I went to Gowalla’s party (I couldn’t get into yours), and talked to them about how much I liked the design stuff, and complained about not being able to check in at certain places. Often I found that even if I was where I said I was, Gowalla thought I was 1000 feet away. That seems to have been fixed, but there just aren’t that many Gowalla users. Still, when I bother to check in, I’m doing in in three places: FB, Foursquare and Gowalla.

  7. Robert, Gowalla has become our main check in tool since it handles the check in to Foursquare too – so one app, two check-ins. We also enjoy the item discovery feature (where you collect items in locations and leave items behind). While sometimes not as fast as Foursquare, it is certainly more visually interesting.

    As for your comment about not seeing Gowalla info on Disney property, with the exception of Kodak picture spot signs (which are also disappearing like that partnership) you won’t. That’s Disney. But rest assured, as Annual Passholders, the quarterly newsletter lists the current Gowalla badges and “hunts”, as well as collateral in DVC (Disney Vacation Club) and Disney Insider Newsletter email communication. Disney has taken the time to craft some nice artwork with Gowalla for badges and locations and the checkins are blast when on property. I agree that there is a missed opportunity for more cross-promotion but maybe this will change in the future. We have seen many of these marketing partnerships come and go over the years, both here in FL and in CA. Disney is an odd beast when it comes to reading their moves, and even the most mundane issues, like the items stocked in specific stores, changes so frequently that its hard for a brand to get any type of traction for very long within their gates.

  8. Sadly, it seems more about the marketing for numbers then
    better design…  It reminds me of
    the GoLive & DreamWeaver, with DreamWeaver winning because of numbers… 


    Though Check In location might be accurate, if I was a business
    using Gowalla, I would rather a person click while their in my establishment,
    and not as they ride by it in a bus on the street- never stepping foot in the

  9. Re: 2: Gowalla can check into any spot within 5km now… and it’s been like that for quite a while (to ease the pain of poor behaving phone GPS.) Unless there is a network communication problem, you should be able to check-in.
    Re: 3: Gowalla and it’s street team (the equivalent of 4sq “superusers”) are exceptionally responsive on fixing errors. Report them via the web site, or via the app UI, and they should be taken care of. (I find Foursquare littered with almost as much garbage as Facebook Places… I guess the volume of users makes it hard for anyone to keep up.)

    I have far more fun discovering things to do and explore using Gowalla… Foursquare makes exploring what’s around and what others are doing less than exciting. (Why can I only see someone’s “current” check-in?). I also find 4SQ far too business/address centric. I like seeing real descriptions of spots, like the ones at Disney. I like “trips.” And being able to optionally feed a check-in to Foursquare as well as Facebook Places makes it a great single solution experience, too.

    But I do wish there were more active users… so there would be more cool user generated Highlights to explore, for example. (Why doesn’t anyone mention this? It’s much more interesting than 4SQ “Tips”.)

  10. I got a new CrackBerry last week and installed the FourSquare and Gowalla application, so I saw you checking in on Gowalla over the weekend. I like Gowalla too, although I suffer from the same issues with Gowalla when it comes to lacking Spots.

    Another issue I have is that for some reason the Gowalla application is simply slower on BlackBerry and sometimes freezes during refreshes. Together with your – and other user’s – findings this leads me to believe that the developer team at Gowalla may not as advanced as the FourSquare developer team. They have a great design, it’s just that the executing is leaving something to be desired.

  11. Gowalla all the way for me. I find 4Sq a bit boring ~ the idea of keeping a virtual passport is what drew me to Gowalla from the beginning. This is done with flair on Gowalla, with the fine art work and excellent presentation.

  12. I like Gowalla better than Foursquare but I really like Foursquare badges because they can surprise you. 

    I’ve recently been seeing Gowalla places on Facebook and it makes me wonder… See what I mean here:

  13. Disney has taken the time to craft some nice artwork with Gowalla for
    badges and locations and the checkins are blast when on property. I
    agree that there is a missed opportunity for more cross-promotion but
    maybe this will change in the future. We have seen many of these
    marketing partnerships come and go over the years, both here in FL and
    in CA.