Open Letter to Gowalla: You’re Missing Great Opportunities with Items
Kevin Powers, Former Senior Digital Strategist
It's no secret that Viget is a huge fan of Gowalla. As an agency, we have more than 2,000 check-ins at our Falls Church office alone. The geolocation service gained early fans here not only due to its incredible attention to detail and design, but also its increasingly unique gaming component surrounding virtual items (e.g., the Moon Rock I recently picked up). Unlike Foursquare and the other services in the space, Gowalla accessorizes your check-ins with the discovery of highly designed and fun items that you can carry around and swap for others you find, occasionally redeem for physical goods, or hoard away in your permanent collection (called your Vault).
So far Gowalla has conducted a variety semi-noteworthy partnership campaigns (e.g., Gowalla & Incase, Gowalla & NASA, Gowalla & Disney), all which primarily focus on simply finding and collecting unique stamps and items. The usefulness of items in the Gowalla universe has long trailed their appeal. You can't do much with them, but they look great and are entertaining to discover and collect. While the feature has remained a quiet component of the service since its inception, it's becoming clearer that Gowalla is missing out on some great opportunities for its users to interact in more meaningful ways around these virtual goods; and to extend that interaction into the physical space. The possibilities are near endless, but here's a few, Gowalla, for you to chew on:
Building Relationships Through a Shared History
Viewing the history of an item is an intriguing, sometimes fascinating, past time. Just recently I picked up a Soccer Ball on my way to a Thanksgiving vacation. That item's previous owner just so happened to be Matthew Smith of the brilliant little design shop, Squared Eye. I follow Matthew on Twitter and have even purchased goods from his online store, but I've never had much occasion to reach out and connect in any primary way. A shared history around a virtual item like this seems a reasonable catalyst for a more meaningful connection among strangers. If only Gowalla made initiating that connection part of its service and experience.
Engaging a Community to Move an Item
I can pick up a Tazo Tea at the local Whole Foods and drop it at the Viget office for someone else to collect, but the visiblity into that tea's travel is fairly limited. Moving an item in this one-to-one fashion isn't particularly interesting. But what if the aim was to move an item as a community and there was the ability to track that towards a goal? Say this Prairie Dog escaped from the zoo and you and everyone else in the Gowalla universe had to collectively move him back to his home? Everyone that contributed along the way could be rewarded, or, say, the National Wildlife Federation could contribute something to that zoo.
Contributing Items to Build Something Larger
What if the item you just picked up at Starbucks was but a small piece to a bigger picture? Much like engaging a community to move an item, how about engaging a community to build something? Say, a Habitat for Humanity home? As folks find items like Drywall, Nails, Insulation, etc., they contribute those to a central place that ultimately surfaces the collective accomplishment. The fervor that would come in finding the last pieces to the puzzle is pretty easy to recognize.
Changing Items Based on Place
The Page Turner I recently picked up at National Airport isn't of much use to me. I already have it in my collection and I'm generally not wild about hanging onto a ton of items. What if I could actually visit a post office and drop the Page Turner there, and then it would get shipped off somewhere (an address that is either deliberate or random)? Think: message in a bottle that a stranger eventually discovers. Or, and bear with the nerdiness here, what if Gowalla sponsored a campaign around "Harry Potter" and I found a Horcrux; and, as in the book, the objective is to destory that object, say, by dropping the item into a lake or ocean, or just at the local Home Depot? The possibility of changing an item based on its location is terribly interesting, and a tactic that easily spurs physical visits and movement.
Changing Items Based on Time
Similar to the idea of a place affecting an item, what about time? Why hasn't there been a campaign around the collection of seeds or plants, and the subsequent "planting" of those items in places where they're needed -- virtually populating a dense city, for instance? Users would be able to watch and revisit these items to see how they've grown and changed over time. And what if a group were to match these virtual efforts in real dollars for real environmental growth?
Gowalla has the benefit of a brand personality and design sensibility that sets it apart from its competitors, and arguably makes using the service a lot more fun. While other providers in the space are jumping on the deal bandwagon, Gowalla continues to carve its own path. Hopefully that direction takes items into account in better ways, and soon.