Some may remember Gowalla as the late 2000’s social/local/mobile check-in app that competed with Foursquare in the “location wars.” It was acquired by Facebook in 2011, then mostly faded away. But now it’s back for more SoLoMo action….this time with an AR focus.
Specifically, it will launch later this year to offer geo-relevant AR experiences, such as location-specific lenses around businesses and points of interest. This not only keeps it true to its location-based roots and competency but taps into Gen-Z’s growing affinity for the camera.
To validate this, Gowalla recently secured $4 million in seed funding from GV, Spark Capital, Niantic, Upside Partnership, Otherwise Fund, Capital Factory, Form Capital, and angels that include Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley. The latter is a notable twist (more on that in a bit).
Gowalla’s new UX details are scant. But generally speaking, it will offer gamified experiences for creating geo-anchored AR content and discovering places. If that sounds familiar, it’s the high-level concept behind the original Gowalla (and Foursquare), a la badges and leaderboards.
Though that may seem passe, there’s still ample opportunity in socially-fueled and gamified local experiences. Gowalla hopes to infuse novelty and stickiness through visually-immersive experiences: Hold up your phone to reveal game elements or notes that friends left for you.
That’s mostly our speculation based on early clues. To provide more color, co-founder Patrick Piemonte, tells TechCrunch that it takes inspiration from the social side of TikTok and the platform side of Roblox. The latter could make it a sort of MMO for the real world (credit: Ubiquity6).
Gowalla also hopes to create stickiness through user incentives. That could be gamified elements as noted (points, badges, etc.), as well as monetary rewards or discounts for partner locations. That last part is speculative but could represent a revenue stream in local business promotions.
[Update 2/12/21: Gowalla Co-founder & CEO Josh Williams addressed the above speculation directly in the following tweet.]
I'll shoot this down right now: "Monetizing" local businesses is not in Gowalla's plans. 🤮 We're building a new social game experience, and we'll make money the same way folks like Fortnite, Roblox, and Pokemon Go do. https://t.co/Isce7dDLus
— 🙌 jw (@jw) February 12, 2021
Possible revenue models are likewise signaled by Gowalla’s “Street Team.” Users pay a flat $49/year fee to gain VIP membership and perks that they’ll access through the dedicated Street Team App (see below). There they can access a private Discord group and branded swag.
Bringing interactive and socially-fueled visuals to local commerce could be AR’s next logical step. In fact, the much-lauded AR cloud is based on this concept of having geo-anchored content that gains relevance based on its real-world placement. Think of it as an Internet of Places.
In fact, every major AR player is infusing some form of geo-location. That includes Google Lens and Live View, Niantic’s Real World Platform, Apple’s Geo Anchors, and Snap Local Lenses. They each recognize the value AR can bring to local discovery and commerce.
Gowalla now joins the mix with less reach and spending power than the above players. But it may have an edge in its competencies with building location-based experiences. That’s an advantage that others continue to build in the AR world, most notably Niantic (one of Gowalla’s investors).
Meanwhile, Gowalla Co-founder & CEO Josh Williams is motivated to make it work after seeing the company fade away in its first incarnation. He’s joined this time by Piemonte (mentioned above) who previously worked at Apple as an interface designer and founded AR startup, Mirage.
Finally, we’ll note that this is the second company from the late 2000’s “location wars” to enter AR. Foursquare — which has since reinvented itself as a B2B data powerhouse — launched an audio AR app. We’ll look out for any other Web 2.0 all-stars that reemerge to tackle AR.