Checking In on Location-based Services: Foursquare vs. Gowalla vs. Brightkite

Have you checked in to a location using your phone today and if so, which mobile app did you use? Chances are that your choice was based on features like ease of use, incentive offers and configurable levels of privacy, but unless you test individual solutions, it can be difficult to know which one best meets your geo-social needs. Now more than 300 testers can help with your decision, courtesy of the most recent uTest Bug Battle, which pits Foursquare, Gowalla and Brightkite against each other.

The semi-obvious purpose of the bug battle was for a virtual team of real software testers to kick the tires of apps and seek out reproducible issues, but the meatiest uTest report findings aren’t revealed by the number of bugs in these three apps (which for Foursquare was 177, while Gowalla had 316 and Brightkite, 377.) Rather, the usage survey results provide mini-reviews of each platform, which I’ve compiled in a table for easy comparison purposes here:

uTest Survey Results
Feature Good Better Best
Ease-Of-Use Gowalla Brightkite Foursquare
Location Accuracy Brightkite Foursquare Gowalla
Opportunity to Earn Deals Brightkite Gowalla Foursquare
Status Features Brightkite Gowalla Foursquare
Friend Connectivity Brightkite Gowalla Foursquare
Social Media Integration Gowalla Brightkite Foursquare

Foursquare, notably, comes out ahead of competitors in five survey categories and finishes second in the sixth. Gowalla was generally liked second-best by the test group, while Brightkite brings up the rear. So if you’re unsure of which to use, you now have a more informed place to start.

But this data is also useful for developers in this space, and makes clear that LBS platforms haven’t yet caught up with the times. For example, when Brightkite was founded in 2005, location accuracy wasn’t that important for most users of the service; GPS radios and A-GPS technologies were really only just starting to become prevalent. But while they’re now fairly commonplace, in the uTest survey, Brightkite finishes last in this area. Similarly, when Gowalla first arrived on the scene in 2007, social media integration was very niche. Yet now And while more people use social networks than email, but it’s the new kid on the block, Foursquare excels in this area while Gowalla remains lacking.

I doubt there’s a perfect or even a one-size-fits-all location-based platform out there — although I wouldn’t count out Facebook or Google’s Latitude  just yet — but developers looking at this space only need to visit the past to successfully code a platform for the future. The data offered from uTest is a useful filter to gauge the importance of what features consumers want in LBS. Taking such information and then finding innovative new use-cases for location check-ins could create next year’s survey winner.

For information on additional services offered by these location-aware apps, be sure to check our recent geo-local infographic, which adds MyTown, Geodelic and to the mix.

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