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Summary:

Gowalla CEO Josh Williams in this video interview shares his company’s story and accidental foray into the world of mobile location. He talks about competition from Twitter, Foursquare and Yelp. Williams outlines new product information including the forthcoming release of a beta of Gowalla’s Android app.

Josh Williams, chief executive officer and co-founder of Alamofire, a Austin, Texas-based company behind the location-based mobile application Gowalla, stopped by our office last week to discuss his company and its future. (How Gowalla and similar apps work: You visit a place, you fire up your app and check in on your mobile phone, announcing to your friends that you’re at that location.)

Gowalla, which recently raised nearly $8.4 million in venture funding from the likes of Greylock, Shasta Ventures and Maples Investments, is still relatively young and has far fewer users than Foursquare. I’ve heard that the company has between 85,000 and 100,000 users — and that’s despite the backing of web celebrities (startup founders and angel investors) Kevin Rose, Gary Vaynerchuck, Chris Sacca and Jason Calacanis — who have been pushing it hard.

In the past, I’ve made it clear that I’m not such a big fan of Gowalla, primarily because I find it to be a not-so-fun copy of Foursquare, another location-based application, which I absolutely love. Despite that, Williams was a gentleman, stopping by to tell me his story and how Gowalla accidentally found itself in the location arena. He also explained that the company would soon be launching a new feature that allows it to harness the data it’s collecting and help surface interesting things based on one’s location and social graph. He also talked about how he’s worried that Twitter will eventually get into the location biz.

After finishing this conversation, I took him to Sightglass coffee, where we talked some more before he went on to celebrate his 30th birthday.

  1. I thought he interviewed well, I think you are being unfair about them to be honest. Their design and UI is 10 times better than foursquare. Also you railed the guy on copying foursquare and then moaned that they didn’t have the same features which I thought was a little odd.

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    1. Darren

      Josh acquitted himself quite well in the interview and he argued his case very nicely and I like him more because of it. When I say they don’t have the same features — let me explain, same kind of element of fun and delight I feel with Fsq. As for me being unfair — market will decide the two companies fate — I have made my preferences very clear.

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  2. I just want to add that Gowalla’s UI is actually 100 times better than Foursquare. That’s the reason it’s been popular in my designer friends.

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    1. I would disagree with you — but again design and UI are a matter of personal choice.

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      1. UI a matter of personal choice? UI is defenitely something based on guidelines, design rationale, etc. Defenitely not a matter of personal choice. When looking at for example UI guidelines, Gowalla is defenitely the winner.

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    2. I think that UI of the iphone app is pretty much disastrous. Several times I installed app on my iphone, pushed by noise in the press, and everytime I would delete it after day or two because it’s so ugly. Also those items which you are supposed to exchange are ridiculous. Foursquare have still long way to go but I don’t se how gowalla can be serious competition.

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  3. Love Gowalla. Big fan. Good UX plus icons = joy.

    “[W]eb celebrities (and angel investors) Kevin Rose, Gary Vaynerchuck, Chris Sacca and Jason Calacanis” made me throw up a little.

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    1. Well in normal course, I would never disagree with the great Zeldman but in this case, let’s just say our opinions are slightly different.

      On your comment about web celebrities — LOL!

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    2. Zeldman,

      I know you hate me because I stole Brian from you, but please don’t take it out on fine people like Kevin, Gary and Chris.

      Seriously, I liked you better when you weren’t bitter and actually had something interesting to say. Focus on the pixels, not the folks who lapped you.

      all the best,

      Jason

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    3. To clarify, I think all the people on this list, including the sensitive Mr Calacanis, are awesome. It was “web celebrities” that made me throw up a little.

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      1. OK, if I’m reading into your negativity then forgive me. Just feels like you’re constantly slagging.

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  4. @ Darren, Jeffrey, Zeldman – While the Gowalla UI is 10 times better, Foursquare was first and has better integration on the back end that no amount of cute icons can replicate. Still, Josh is incredibly bright and he’s absolutely one to watch. :)

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  5. Om,

    I think this is one of the better interviews I’ve ever seen you do. I just wonder if you would be as critical of foursquare when you sit them down for an interview. I agree with Darren; if you have an issue with them copying foursquare why do you keep asking him to be more like the ‘better’ foursquare.

    Josh..I thought you held yourself up very well and was well composed.

    Good luck Gowalla

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree – Josh did extremely well. And yes, I would be very critical of Fsq for not doing a lot of things when I sit down with them as well.

      As to why I ask them to better FSQ. Well for now, they are nothing mor than FSQ in terms of form-and-function. If that is their schtick, they need to be “better” FSQ. If not, they need to quickly demonstrate what makes them better.

      I am still waiting for services like FSQ and GOW to come up with a value proposition that goes beyond checking in — which I believe is nothing more than a cool functionality for starters.

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      1. That all makes perfect sense — to me it seems that Yelp has the increased value proposition with review integration and augmented reality so closely linked to check-ins.

        Great interview by the way. I think your candor made it way more interesting than your average chat because it gave Josh some real questions to unravel. And revealed just how cool and visionary he is. I was especially wowed by Josh’s excitement about Yelp (a competitor) entering the space. Clearly he’s got his head in the right place. :)

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  6. Winston Walker Friday, January 22, 2010

    Loved the interview, and really like the product. I’m just a normal user, who started out with FS, but decided to try GW. I like the look of GW better, and find it much easier to find places here in VEGAS. When I was using FS, it never found places, and I was always manually entering locales. Even when i tried to check in to places I had visited 5 times, I had to manually find them again. No problem with GW, so I dropped FS from my iPhone. I do agree that GW needs to work on getting some incentive to checking in at all these places. ;-)

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  7. Big fan of Gowalla (gave Foursquare a fair shot, but they took too long to add features and cities that Gowalla launched with).

    I don’t think Yelp is much of a threat. I check into both Yelp and Gowalla. Yelp for the check-in points, and Gowalla for the community and collecting the items.

    Would love to have Gowalla let you upload pictures from where you are (& tweet them), like Brightkite.

    The ONLY feature I think Foursquare really has over Gowalla is the “mayor” thing. It’s not enough for me to switch back though.

    Last week I collected a prairie dog from some place. I mean, c’mon, that’s awesome.

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  8. I still don’t understand the interest in Badges and Mayors in Fsq since people can game the system by checking into the same place several times and checking into places without being at the place

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  9. Good interview. He was a much better sport than I would have been with the constant interruption and rude insinuations.

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