Gowalla 4 and Loss of Personal Milestone Data
I’ve been using Gowalla since its launch in 2009. Between Foursquare and Gowalla, the latter always seemed more interesting to me in that it took the common check-in functionality and added a fun layer of collection. You collected and traded “items” (basically, icons) and earned “pins” (state pins, country pins, achievement pins) in addition to simply informing your friends of your location.
People frequently ask why I bother checking in. Most of my local friends don’t do it, so why do I care? What I realized after using the service for a time was that I enjoy the data collection aspect. Checking into every place I visit creates a breadcrumb trail of my daily life. The restaurants I’ve eaten at, the museums I’ve visited, the trips I’ve taken to other states—I enjoyed having a large list of my adventures. While Gowalla’s items were a fun addition, the real objects I enjoyed collecting were pins, since they marked larger milestones (visiting a new state or country, checking into 300 places, et cetera).
For nearly three years, I’ve checked in using Gowalla. I earned loads of pins, saved loads of items, and checked in at over 500 places. Recently, Gowalla launched an all new direction with version 4.0. This version steps away from the straight-forward check-in functionality and replaces it with a more social version called “stories”. The basic idea is that you create a story at a location, tag your friends, upload photos and comment. I think this is a terrific idea, and I think it’s something relatively unique in the check-in app space.
But it’s not what I want.
Most of the time when I check in, I’m the only person around who cares about such things. Otherwise it’s Shawn. Rarely (convention, trip, SXSW) it’s others. But 99% of the time, it’s just me recording my daily travels. Recently I joked, when creating a “story” in Gowalla 4.0 at a West Elm in Santa Monica, that I was “finally starting that life story about being at West Elm.” It was a jerky reaction to the new direction, but also an accurate summing up of how strange simple check-ins feel in the new version.
I have several friends who work at Gowalla and I think they’re all super talented people. I think the Gowalla app is nicely designed and I support their direction. It’s just a shame, because it no longer appeals to me. That part I can live with. The unfortunate thing about switching to another service (in this case, Foursquare), is that I’m losing so much data history. Most of my friend connections are set on Gowalla—I’ll need to add those again. Most of my 500+ checkins don’t exist in Foursquare—I’ll lose those. At the end of the day, changing services feels much harder than simply deciding which UI or features I like. I have to give up most of the past.
This is a good lesson for me. I take for granted often how fleeting these services are. Whether they go out of business, get acquired, or simply change their feature set, any service you trust to hold your data is possibly temporary. The only real way to secure future access to your important moments is to keep them yourself, or at least back them up in a way you’ll be able to continue accessing.