Josh Williams, founder of the now defunct Gowalla posted a fantastic peek behind why Gowalla succeed and failed in the “battle” against foursquare. The message he shares is that they got so wrapped up in fighting foursquare, pleasing the tech media, and “winning” at SXSW each year that they stopped doing something unique.
Gowalla still has a special place in my heart, and most of my circle of friends who were heavy users still miss the service. Most people thought it was about check in, it was really about sharing amazing experiences.
The best part of Josh’s story is what he calls the “M. Night Shyamalan moment”:
It turns out there was another app that shared a similar vision called Burbn. They were building yet another check-in type service loaded with every feature but the kitchen sink. But early user feedback, coupled with a desire to avoid the check-in battle shitshow already in progress, led them to drop everything to focus on one simple feature: Photos.
They made the act of taking and sharing photos (many of which just happened to be location-tagged) fast, simple and fun.
They made their own rules. They called it Instagram.
That whole “see the world through the eyes of their friends” thing? Turns out Instagram did a pretty good job of this.
I had always wondered why I had no interest in foursquare after Gowalla shut down. This moment made sense though: all along, Gowalla served a different job in my life: it allowed me to share interesting moments I experienced. Around the time it shut down I subconsciously moved to Instagram. Instagram isn’t a photo sharing app. In reality, it lets people share their experiences and see their friends.
I hope to see more from Josh in the coming weeks.