UPDATED: Rival Foursquare may have just hit 4 million users last week, but Austin, Texas-based Gowalla — which has one-tenth as many — is still plugging away: the service just launched a handful of new revenue-oriented features, including new business listings, City Pages and a Stamp Calendar. While Foursquare keeps plugging away at gaining new users, Gowalla appears to be trying on new ad models for the location based services market in a search for revenue. But whether it will be enough to keep Gowalla competitive remains to be seen.
The new features are also another sign that location-based companies are trying to move beyond the check-in and build services that better engage users, while also bringing in revenue from local businesses. Merchants can now claim and verify their location on Gowalla, offer users who check-in special perks and can buy a custom passport stamp made by Gowalla. They’ll also be able to buy a day of the month on a Stamp Calendar for a particular city, so that they can be assured of featured placement for a specific day. Businesses who buy placement on the calendar will pay as little as $5 for the first day of the month and an additional $5 for each successive day in the month.
Buying a stamp also allows a business to get featured on Gowalla’s new City Pages, which aggregate local Highlights, or tips from about 30 cities. The City Pages will give users a way to track down the best pizza joints or best bars in a particular city based on user input, the company says. Since Gowalla launched Highlights last month, users have added more than 30,000 of them to the service.
As we saw last week with SCVNGR’s relaunch and now with Gowalla, the check-in is just a starting point. But it’s an important starting point because you need it to build scale, something Gowalla — which had about 450,000 users as of last month — is struggling with, as Foursquare far outpaces its growth. Gowalla can still try and carve out a niche as a more travel-oriented service, in keeping with its passport motif, and can focus on business features like City Pages and Highlights — but it’s going to be hard to keep up momentum when growth is slow, making it less of a draw for both users and businesses. Without check-ins attracting new users and businesses, additional features aren’t going to matter much.
UPDATE: Gowalla CEO Josh Williams emailed and said the service is up to 600,000 users, who have visited 2 million locations in 170 countries. He said Gowalla’s photo sharing feature has been popular to the tune of 750,000 photos added.
“Our weekly usage numbers (both in terms of unique users and checkins) are on the rise nearly 5 percent week over week—and while this may not be the kind of steady and sustained growth that writers are looking to cover, it certainly is not indicative of a service that is lagging in adoption,” he wrote.
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