Thursday Throwdown: foursquare, Gowalla or MyTown? You Decide!

Thu, Jul 29, 2010

iPhone, Location-Based, Mobile

Welcome to another edition of the Thursday Throwdown! This week, we take a break from Facebook games to offer a Throwdown of epic check-in proportions. We’ll be taking a look at the three most popular mobile check-in services – foursquare, Gowalla, and Booyah’s MyTown.

To start the comparison most simply, there are two main kinds of check-in apps, there are the foursquare and Gowalla variety – those apps that require a few seconds of your time when you want to check-in and give you little else to concern yourself with, and then there is MyTown, which is still a fully functional check-in app, but adds in more “game-like” elements for those who like having an entire town to manage, on top of checking in to local establishments.

For foursquare and Gowalla, the differences come in the few “extras” available in either app. For foursquare, if you check-in to the same location more than once, you have a chance of becoming the “mayor” of that location. This is most easily possible at locations that don’t already have a mayor as two check-ins will earn you the spot. If there is a standing mayor at the location, you’d need to rack up more check-ins than the sitting mayor, all without them adding to their own total – needless to say, a little luck might be needed.

Additionally, foursquare offers a point system for checking into locations – you’ll earn more points based on how many locations you check-in to in a day, whether or not you’ve ever been to a particular location before, and so on. These check-ins will eventually help you to earn a series of Badges, or foursquare’s version of achievements. There are Badges for everything from checking into a certain number of venues, being the mayor of multiple locations simultaneously, or even checking into the same location as a mass amount of others, within the same time frame (say, a concert or convention, as seen with the Comic Con 2010 Badge, or Swarm Badges below).

Gowalla, meanwhile doesn’t contain a point system for checking in, but instead offers a series of Stamps and Pins. You earn a stamp for each and every venue you check-in to, whether it be the Ritz Carlton in New York, or just the McDonald’s down the street. State Stamps are also given out, which are obviously much more exclusive, as they require you to check-in from that particular state in order to earn them.

For Pins, these can be compared to foursquare’s Badges. You’ll earn pins for adding pictures to locations, checking into a certain number of locations, or even fulfilling certain requirements based on current world events or themes. For one example, a World Cup Pin was available for checking into a location and adding a comment about watching the World Cup from that location, while another example is the Jet Setter Pin, available only to those individuals who check into one of the busiest airports in the US.

In addition, Gowalla also includes a system of item collection, where you’ll randomly receive a themed item upon checking into (again, random) locations. That is, you may receive a bag of Airline Peanuts when checking into an airport, or an Acoustic Amp for checking into a music store. While you can instantly “Vault” these items to your permanent collection, you can also drop them off at locations to become a “Founder” of them. If the location has items already, you can exchange one of your items for the item you’d like you pick up. Each item is numbered, so part of the game could be trying to collect items with the lowest numerical value.

While this might seem like a lot of content to keep track of, it’s nothing compared to MyTown, which is by far the most complex of the check-in apps, due to its allowance to purchase venues, upgrade them, add decorations, and collect rent. Each time you check-in to a venue, you’ll receive points which go to your in-game level. The higher your level, the more properties you can own, with you having the ability to virtually “purchase” any location you’ve previously checked into, so long as you have an available lot in town.

Once you “own” a location (there isn’t a limit as to how many real world people can own each venue – it’s all specific to your own game), you can collect rent from it, giving you more money to purchase further properties. You can also use this rent money to purchase upgrades for each building; again, the higher your level, the more upgrades you can purchase for each building. Upgrades make your properties worth more money, and make them generate more rent, thus continuing the cycle of earning money to purchase even more properties.

Also adding to a property’s value are visual upgrades in the form of decorative items that you can voluntarily add to each. Certain items are themed for real-world events, like a series of World Cup national flags that added a whopping $500,000 to each building’s rent instantly.

You can also visit your friends’ towns in the game, and you’ll receive a free Scratch-Off card in the process (along with receiving one the first time you login to the app everyday). Scratch cards reward you with items like food or property upgrade coupons, that mostly function as one-time-use items, either giving you more points or money if used upon your next check-in, or as property upgrade coupons, lowering the price of your next property upgrade by 10 or 20%.

You can also buy items with both real world money or your earned virtual currency via the game’s store. These could be instant property upgrades or lot unlocks (allowing you to instantly purchase another venue), or point boosts, useful if you want to level up quickly.

While MyTown will allow you to visit friends, as mentioned above, if you’re more of a social individual, foursquare will most likely have more of your own friends already registered on the service, as not only is foursquare growing 75% more rapidly than Gowalla, but it immediately started out on a popular footing, by being launched at SXSW 2009. You’re also much more likely to earn real-world rewards via foursquare, by becoming the Mayor of various locations, as retailers have a better chance of being familiar with the app and therefore rewarding your loyalty (free VIP parking at a stadium, or discounts on coffee at your favorite coffee shop, as examples).

As always, while there are multiple large and obviously noteworthy differences between all three of these check-in apps, there are also some smaller, technical differences like those listed below:

  • Both foursquare and Gowalla are available on the Android platform, while MyTown is not.
  • In terms of the iPhone apps, both foursquare and Gowalla have been updated for iOS4, while MyTown, as of this writing, has not. This, of course, allows the former two to take advantage of multi-tasking, while MyTown must “re-launch” each time you want to use it.
  • MyTown uses Google Maps to list available locations, meaning that you’re much less likely to come up empty the next time you want to check-in. On that same token though, both foursquare and Gowalla allow you (and in fact rely on users) to add missing locations.
  • If a location is entered into the system incorrectly, foursquare will allow you to flag it directly from the app, or you can head to foursquare’s website and edit most details yourself. Gowalla, on the other hand, does not. As one example, our local Target has been listed as “Taget” for months, and there’s no way for us to fix it, either on the app or on Gowalla’s website.
  • Gowalla is the only option of the three to offer a true iPad app.
  • In addition to the official foursquare apps, you can use any phone with text messaging (smartphone or not) to check-in to locations. You won’t receive any points or Badges for this, but you can still share the news with Twitter or Facebook.
  • In terms of proximity to your location, foursquare and MyTown will let you check-in to anything, regardless of how close you actually may be to the location, you just won’t receive the points in foursquare or the Proximity Bonus in MyTown if you’re not close enough. Gowalla, on the other hand, will simply refuse to allow you to check-in, if the app can tell you’re “cheating.”

As we hope has been made clear, each of these three apps offer very different experiences to the user, even if they may outwardly seem to be entirely similar. That being said, which check-in app is the best? While we have our opinions here at Frisky Mongoose, we want to know what you think, and we’re giving you a way to voice your opinion, either by voting in the poll below, or commenting at the bottom of this post and/or in our forums.

So which app really is the best? You tell us, and be sure to check back next week as we bring you another Thursday Throwdown!

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Related posts:

  1. Foursquare and Gowalla Battle it Out for Your Location at SXSW
  2. MyTown Goes International, Google Hinting at Gowalla Acquisition?
  3. Checking-In With Check-Ins: Gowalla Still in Race, Foursquare Planning Choose Your Own Adventure?
  4. Foursquare Not Rushing to iPad
  5. MyTown “Check-In” App Has Blown All Major Competition Off the Map
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Brandy is the Social Editor at Frisky Mongoose, focusing on the social side of the gaming world.

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