Gowalla Founder Josh Williams: Location-Based Check-In Services Must Become Useful to Survive

According to Josh Williams, founder and CEO of Austin-based Foursquare competitor Gowalla, location-based check-in services have to figure out ways to be useful– not just fun and entertaining.

“At some point there has to be a true value that’s being provided to people using the service for it to have staying power,” Mr. Williams said.

We talked to Mr. Williams earlier this week in the course of reporting this story on the future of Foursquare, the New York-based company that many believe has the best shot of any start-up in the city at becoming as indispensable and ubiquitous a social media service as Facebook and Twitter.

Skeptics say that Foursquare in its current form– its core feature right now is a social game in which users compete for virtual rewards and discounts– is an amusing enough app, but not one that solves any problem or makes any task easier. Gowalla, which features similar game mechanics, has received the same sort of criticism.

“We have a very fun service, and the pretty art and the ease of use is certainly a great way to get people started, but I think in the long term, the usefulness of the service and the value it brings is what’s going to get people to stay,” Mr. Williams said. “I think the true gist of what these services are going to do is still yet to be found.”

At Foursquare, engineers are working on a recommendation engine that will help users make decisions about what to do and where to go based on their check-in history and that of their friends. The Gowalla team is also focusing on tips, according to Mr. Williams: “We want to give people different sets of lenses through which to view the places around them. Imagine I’m visiting a new city I’ve never been to before, but four of my friends have. How do I turn those lenses on and see what places they went to or what they recommend or what photos they took?”

Gowalla Founder Josh Williams: Location-Based Check-In Services Must Become Useful to Survive