SiliconFilter

As Check-Ins Fizzle Out, Gowalla Pivots

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Check-in services like Gowalla and Foursquare were the most hyped kinds of apps of 2010, but for the most part, it has become pretty clear that mainstream users don’t care a lot about checking in. It makes sense then, that Gowalla today announced a major reshuffling of its feature set at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference in San Francisco today. Instead of focussing on checking in, the new Gowalla now puts an emphasis on sharing “stories” and building travel logs. Also among the new features are “guides,” which are “curated travel guides for numerous cities around the world.”

Just a few weeks ago, Gowalla also announced that it was planning to jettison most of its gaming features. The company clearly saw that its current feature set didn’t allow it to compete with FourSquare, which has become the largest player in this space (even though it, too, doesn’t have a lot of mainstream traction).

A Small Pivot for Gowalla – A Harbinger for the Check-In Space

What seems like a small pivot is actually a harbinger for the check-in space in general. Checking in is, at best, a feature and can’t be the central focus of a service as only a small minority of potential users will bother to check in when they get to a new location. What users do want to do, though, is to share photos (also a feature that the new Gowalla highlights) and their stories.

Gowalla’s move sounds like a smart pivot away from the basic check-in model and towards a more sustainable and interesting concept. Gowalla already had some travel-focused features in its earlier incarnations, but this new version pushes these ideas further. Thanks to these earlier features, Gowalla also has a number of partnerships with companies like National Geographic that will now also become partners around its “guides” feature.



7:21 pm


Beyond the Check-In Hype: Unmotivated Users [Infographic]

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Silicon Valley often falls in love with ideas that work great for geeks, early adopters and Robert Scoble. These ideas, however, often leave mainstream users cold. Check-in-based location sharing services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Co. are one of the most recent examples of this. The good folks behind the Social-Loco conference (which incidentally starts tomorrow) teamed up with digital agency Beyond to take a closer look at what could motivate consumers to start using these products. Today, according to these companies’ research, almost 50% of those who currently don’t use check-in apps simply have no motivation for doing so.

So what would motivate these users? According to this study then, if location-based services really want to get new users onto their services, they will have to focus on coupons for restaurants and cafes, or give users info about homes that are for sale in their area and tourist info about cities they visit. While most check-in apps focus on making it easier for users to find friends, the majority of mainstream consumers is not interested in this. Only 12% would be motivated to use a check-in app for this. Looking a bit deeper, it’s also worth noting that mainstream consumers are more likely to use Facebook Places, Groupon and Twitter (55%, 40% and 20% respectively) than Foursquare and its startup brethren.

Virtual Badges and Becoming Mayor? Mainstream Users Don’t Care

It’s interesting that all these features that non-users say would motivate them to check in are already available in numerous products. Maybe, at the end of the day, checking in is simply too much of a hassle and maybe getting a coupon somewhere just isn’t worth the trouble for most people. Only 1% of mainstream users, by the way, said getting a virtual badge or becoming “mayor” would motivate them. Geek? 21%.

Note: click image for high-resolution version



1:17 pm


Echoecho 2.0 Makes Meeting Up With Your Friends as Easy as Five Clicks

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Echoecho is one of the most useful location-based apps on the market today. When you hear the word “location-based app,” chances are you are thinking about services like Foursquare and Gowalla. While these can be fun, their utility is rather limited (unless you really feel the need to collect virtual badges). Echoecho, on the other hand, was built from the ground up to solve a simple problem: finding out where your friends are.

While most of today’s location-based services were designed around the idea of the check-in, Echoecho takes a very different approach and allows to ask your friends where they are.

imageThe service offers free native apps for the iPhone (iTunes link), as well as Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Blackberry devices. The latest update is currently only available for iOS and Android, though. The app falls back to SMS if your friends don’t have the app installed, so you can even use it if your friends haven’t installed it yet.

Echoecho doesn’t force you to join yet another social network. Instead, it simply uses your existing contacts on your phone.

Where are you?

Here is the problem Echoecho solves: Say you want to meet up with a friend in the city, but you don’t know exactly where he is. Today, you would probably send a few SMS messages back and forth to slowly triangulate where you both are and to decide what a convenient place to meet up would be. With Echoecho, you simply send a ping, get an answer, propose a meeting location and head there – all within a minute or two and with just a few clicks.

Where should we meet?

imageThe latest versions of the service’s iPhone and Android apps just arrived in their respective app stores. This new version takes the original concept of finding out where your friends are one step further. The app now also allows you to find, suggest and confirm meeting places with just a few clicks. While ensuring your privacy is at the heart of the service, the new version also allows you enable automatic replies for your best friends, spouses or children, so that the app will automatically tell them where you are.

If you want to discuss the meeting place in more depth, Echoecho currently still falls back to using text messages, but one of the next updates will move these discussions to a text chat in the app itself.

One minor limitation of the app is that it currently only revolves around one-on-one meetings. There is currently no way to easily use the app to poll a group of people about their locations and organize meetings.

Version 2.0 of the app now also sports a slick redesigned interface. In my first review, I praised the app for its simplicity and thankfully this has not changed, even as the team added more features.

To fully understand the power of this concept, you really have to see the app in action. Echoecho co-founder Nick Bicanic demoed the update at the Launch conference last month:



9:30 am



What's the Point of Checking In?

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I used to think that location-based services like Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite and all of their clones represented the next big thing in mobile. The reality, however, is that even though these companies are still growing (or at least say they are), I just can’t figure out why I should continue to check in when I arrive at a restaurant or bar. As of now, I am getting absolutely zero value out of checking in.

Maybe it doesn’t help that not a single one of my friends outside of the tech blogosphere bubble uses any of these services (they don’t use Twitter either, by the way). But even then, what value would I get out of seeing that they are at a certain restaurant or bar nearby right now? It’s not like I’ll go there and ruin their romantic evening by sitting at their table. 

Lots of Badges but No Real-World Value

And don’t get me started about the “game mechanics” (which – at least for location-based services is really just code for “badges“). If the only value I get out of checking in is a virtual badge, then taking the phone out of my pocket to check in is clearly not worth the calories I burn in the process. Also, at least here in Portland, the promise of coupons for mayors hasn’t materialized yet (or at least not at the places I frequent). Even if it did – I’m not a regular anywhere, so becoming the mayor of anywhere but my house is out of the question anyway.

For the time being, I’m not getting enough value out of using Foursquare, Gowalla and the rest of them to make checking in worthwhile. Maybe that will change at some point, but for now, I’m checking out.

What’s Your Experience?

What about you? Are you still checking in or has ‘check-in fatigue’ set in for you as well? If you are still checking in, what’s the value you are getting out of it?


12:52 pm