Gowalla Battles Foursquare, Interactive Wins

Social media systems square off at SXSWi

While South by Southwest is most famous for music, the Interactive component is now a bigger draw for professionals. While 13,022 people bought Music badges this year, 14,251 registered for SXSW Interact­ive, up 33% from 2009. Since Twitter launched there in 2007, Interactive has become one of the most important events on the social media industry's calendar. This year attention focused on location-based social networking services as two systems – Foursquare and Gowalla – tried to make the big mobile computing splash.

So what is location-based social networking? Users download an application to their smart phones that allows them to tell other users where they are in real time. While its main current use is social, businesses are increasingly looking at it as a way to build local brand loyalty. Indicating the importance of SXSW, both Gowalla and Foursquare released major updates to their services just prior to the Conference. New York-based Foursquare, which launched at SXSW 2009, celebrated its first anniversary by releasing version 1.7, with a redesigned and streamlined interface. Austin-based Gowalla, which allows users to "check in" at 600,000 locations in 165 countries, released version 2.0 and ran special competitions with real-world gifts. Gowalla won the SXSW Web Award for best mobile service, but Four­square co-founder Dennis Crowley said his firm got its own prize. "We picked up 120,000 users," he said. "We got a lot of attention, and people were using [the service] in new ways." One feature that saw a massive spike in interest was the trending venues function, which shows where the most popular locations were for users. "People were using it to choose which parties to go to," he noted.

This isn't the first time that two rival systems have faced off at Interactive. Crowley founded the now-defunct Dodgeball, a Google-backed challenger to Twitter that included some of the location-based concepts found in Foursquare. In 2007, it was perceived that Twitter won the war on the trade show floor. While neither Gowalla nor Foursquare delivered a killer blow this year, both benefited from the national exposure (Foursquare has since inked a deal with MTV and VH1 to be integrated into their programming). Plus, Crowley said, "It was good to go down there and meet all the users that made us huge over the last 12 months."

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South by Southwest Interactive, Gowalla, Foursquare, Dennis Crowley

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