The Future of Location: Josh Williams, CEO Gowalla

The Future of Location: Josh Williams, CEO GowallaThe Future of Location: Josh Williams, CEO Gowalla is a glimpse into his crystal ball, given at SxSW 2011.¬†Josh Williams shared his insights about geosocial at this South by Southwest 2011 session as well as his thoughts about how to approach it to serve customers better. Williams was passionate about orienting geosocial functions around storytelling and travel, which he illustrated by describing Gowalla’s approach to adding value.

Geosocial Background

  • The concept of Gowalla: creating memories of travels and trips to share with friends. Scrapbooks.
  • An early inspiration was a charm bracelet of European travels, each city had a charm; his girlfriend could tell the whole story using the bracelet.
  • Gowalla the name comes from “wallaby,” the Australian term for outback, plus “go”; they later discovered that gowalla is a word in Hindi that denotes death, “one who goes places.”
  • Positioned Gowalla against Foursquare, which is more about checking in, badges and points; Gowalla is about creating trips and stories.
  • The Future of Location: Josh Williams, CEO Gowalla SxSW Interactive 2011As much as Williams clearly didn’t like the “check-in mania,” he admitted that it has played a useful role in encouraging adoption of geosocial; Google Latitude was too intusive in that it was persistent, it showed where everyone in your network was constantly, and it drained the battery quickly; checking in is useful because users can decide when and where to report their locations.
  • However, people are going overboard, and check-in fatigue is evident among some users.
  • “Gamification” is hyped; it’s not new, and too many companies are abusing it to substitute for a real value proposition; it can add value, but use it to enhance a solid value prop.
  • The industry should stop using terms like “gamification” because they prevent more general audiences from adopting.
  • Foursquare mayors can be useful information, but they don’t tell a story.
  • Quoted Mel Brooks, “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges” (to prompt us to share, if we’re telling a story).
  • People want social validation by getting retweets, thumbs up or favorited on Flickr.
  • Gaming elements add value to Fitbit, Epicmix, Quora.

Geosocial Future Trends

  • Locations will begin installing machines where users can check in with their mobiles by swiping.
  • Do not look for automatic check-ins (i.e. your phone checks in your whereabouts automatically).
  • However, do look for geosocial apps to begin passively suggesting check-ins under certain conditions (i.e., “Do you want to check in here?”); it will be limited, though, until battery technology improves.
  • In general, the future of mobile is huge and adds incredible value, especially in certain conditions like natural disasters (Japan) and political situations (Egypt, Libya).
  • Gowalla started with no database, but they were able to crowdsource standardization of place names and other data after the fact, and there are now 3 million locations on Gowalla, including pictures off the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone, 38th Parallel in Korea); 10,000 photos are now shared each day.
  • Gowalla strives to add value by helping people find the extraordinary in everyday things or unusual trips.
  • Another value prop is using your friends’ Gowalla trips as inspiration or guides for your real-world trips. We need to inspire more (U.S.) Americans to travel; only 30% of Americans have passports.

Analysis and Conclusions

  • I relate to Williams’ concept of telling a story; it is how I use geosocial for the most part; the “trip” idea adds another metaphor on top of it. I have noticed that I use Foursquare to tweet a lot when I am moving around and doing things in which I think my followers will be interested. I share a lot of pictures, too.
  • How you use the tool is probably more important than the tool itself; of course, tool functionality makes it easier to use for some things than others, to do certain things.
  • I didn’t understand Williams’ point about tech terms and general adoption; in my experience, the general population ignores tech terms and focuses on how a technology can be useful to them.
  • Whatever you call it, “gamification” is very powerful; people are wired to like to compete and play, and gamification allows us to overlay play and competing onto all manner of human activity. Here’s one Gov2.0 example.

Updates/Additional Coverage

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