Like Facebook, you need to invite friends who can use the service. Then you’ll have a community of people whose location you can see. Wherever you are, you’ll be able to see the places other users have visited and created on the service. When there, you can ‘check in’, which gives you points, or wins you a virtual gift or achievement.
With Gowalla, you collect stamps when you visit a spot, and can collect items other users have left around. This is all added to your Gowalla Passport. You can follow what your friends are doing too. There are also ‘trips’, which are like missions – visit all the places in a trip and you can win virtual pins for your passport. I love the design of Gowalla’s interface, but the community is still a bit small, so the experience is a bit cold. I have to convince all my iPhone owning friends to use it too.
Foursquare isn’t as nice to look at, but its community is more developed. Having said that, here in Barcelona there aren’t many users of either service yet! The competitive nature of foursquare is more obvious – it offers stats on your friends and you, so you can see who has the most points. Visit a place more than your friends and you’ll be crowned ‘Mayor’ of that place! Check into wherever you are, and your friends will see and be able to recommend stuff for you to do. You can also learn about their habit, and maybe places you didn’t know about.
Both Gowalla and foursquare are promising services, but its difficult to recommend one over the other! Gowalla is more fun, foursquare feels more functional. If Facebook is a model for success, then foursquare is most likely to be the service people choose. The best one will be the one with lots of users, and importantly, the one most popular in your circle of friends.