What GoWalla’s Resurgence Says About the State of SoLoMo
14 years ago at SXSW, Foursquare and Gowalla were the talk of the town. These two players launched at the event and spent the subsequent years battling it out for what became known as SoLoMo. Standing for Social/Local/Mobile, it defined one of the leading killer apps in the still-early smartphone era.
Foursquare led the way in market penetration, momentum, and marketing while Gowalla gained respectable traction. Foursquare then realized its real value wasn’t a consumer-facing app but all the location data and intelligence it was sitting on. So it pivoted to a B2B martech powerhouse.
Meanwhile, GoWalla was acquired by Facebook in 2011 as a way for the social giant to develop its own SoLoMo strategy. But it got lost in the shuffle at the frenetically-growing Facebook of that era, and eventually died on the vine. This remained a longstanding regret for co-founder Josh Williams.
Location, Location, Location
But now Williams is back to give GoWalla another go. Circa 2021, he re-acquired the company’s intellectual property and set a course to resurrect GoWalla in modern form. He received $4 million in funding from Google Ventures, Niantic, and others, including Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley.
That brings us to the present, where GoWalla is re-launching. And what better place to do it than its original birthplace at SXSW? Now fourteen years later, the product will contain a mix of its original SoLoMo formula, features to address today’s demand signals, and other learnings from its first run.
Taking those factors one at a time, the app’s original DNA can be seen in the location-based social graph and the user interactions in and around IRL waypoints. As with the GoWalla 1.0 (and Foursquare), this is meant to derive value from a combination of location relevance, significance, and scarcity.
The latter is a notable but less-discussed value driver in all things SoLoMo. In a digital world where assets are unlimited, the physical world’s value is at least partially driven by the scarcity of atoms versus bits. There’s only one Empire State Building and Golden Gate bridge. Location, Location Location.
For GoWalla’s latest feature mix, it will tap into these value drivers by letting users communicate status updates and other sentiments and multimedia sharing, all within the context of where they are in the world. But it won’t just be about check-ins and leaderboards, a la GoWalla and Foursquare 1.0.
Like those early iterations, the underlying appeal will be a combination of achievements and social interaction. Based on check-ins and local activity, users will gain badges and share their experiences. But this will be modernized to a degree, infused with multimedia and modern UX (think: TikTok meets Waze).
Similarly, it was revealed around the time GoWalla initiated its comeback in 2021 that there would be AR features. The vision was to hold up your phone to discover geo-anchored digital elements. It’s unclear if this is still in the product roadmap, but it could add some advanced flair to GoWalla’s framework.
For example, AR could enliven gamified elements and social vibes when leaving digital accouterments for friends to discover. That could be notes on a given location and the experiences had there, or scavenger hunts. The latter could tap into Pokemon-Go-type experiences. After all, Niantic is an investor.