UPDATE, 12:50 p.m.: Gowalla’s CEO Josh Williams has confirmed in a blog post that his company has been bought by Facebook. While Gowalla’s team will be going over to Facebook, however, its user data will not. Williams writes: “Gowalla, as a service, will be winding down at the end of January. We plan to provide an easy way to export your Passport data, your Stamp and Pin data (along with your legacy Item data), and your photos as well. Facebook is not acquiring Gowalla’s user data.”
Facebook has acquired location-based social networking site Gowalla for an undisclosed sum, CNN Money reported on Friday. As of Monday morning neither company has released a comment, although it appears that the CNN report is more than a rumor.
If the rumors are confirmed, the acquisition would mark the end of a long slide for the Austin-based company. In September, Gowalla, which was once considered Foursquare’s biggest competitor, relaunched as a social travel guide after a ten-month period in which the application was overhauled from the ground up.
One of the biggest components of the redesign was the introduction of a “stories” feature, which effectively replaced the individual check-in with a more social, group activity feed. As TechCrunch’s Jason Kinkaid points out, the clustering effect of the “stories” function fits well with Facebook’s long-awaited Timeline feature.
In August, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network killed its local deals and check-in products in favor of a more frictionless approach to sharing location. As part of a major revamp of its privacy settings, Facebook began tagging content– status updates, wall posts, comments, etc – with a default city-level location I.D. and latitude-longitude metadata on an opt-in basis. As opposed to Foursquare, which is using its merchant-side products to drive user engagement, the social-networking giant appears to be taking a data-first, product-later approach to its local strategy.
The future of the Gowalla mobile application remains unclear. It’s likely that Facebook, which said in August that it plans to make 20 acquisitions this year, will scrap much of the Gowalla app and focus on leveraging the Gowalla team’s renowned mobile UI skills as part of a push to improve the overall design of its mobile site.
On Sunday night, All Things D’s Kara Swisher published an email sent by Gowalla CEO Josh Williams to investors in which, Williams effectively confirmed the acquisition discussions: “The ink on the deal is not dry, so our holding pattern is that we do not comment on rumors and speculation.” Gowalla has raised a little over $10 million from a set of prominent investors since Williams co-founded the company in 2008.
Steven Jacobs is an associate editor at Street Fight.
April, 2011: Gowalla’s Josh Williams: Groupon Is One-Dimensional
September, 2011: CEO Josh Williams Explains Gowalla’s Overhaul