Location is the hot new thing in mobile applications and would never have been possible just 3-4 years ago, before GPS in cell phones was a common feature. Today, location-based check-in services like Foursquare, Gowalla and others, are great for checking into locations around town and around the globe to compete with your friends for virtual pins, badges and the honor of being the Mayor of the hottest restaurant in town. But if you want to jump into the location-based fray, which app should you choose? Here’s a quick rundown of the leaders in the field and a few pros and cons.
Foursquare is the pre-eminent location-based app. It has the largest global community, and is the most social of all the location-based apps. Use Foursquare to check in at points around town, and see friends that have checked in nearby. The more you visit a location, the higher you move in the ranks until you become Mayor, where you can get freebies and discounts. This app is extremely user friendly (if not visually appealing), and chances are you already have friends using it.
Second only to Foursquare, Gowalla lets you compete with friends for pins and badges by checking in at specific locations. Gowalla also adds a scavenger hunt aspect to the check-in experience where you can drop off and pick up virtual items, collecting points and awards by gathering combinations of certain items. The design of Gowalla is better than Foursquare; however, it seems to focus more on what you are doing rather than what your friends are doing, diminishing the social experience that it purports to nourish. However, you can get Gowalla for iPad—which can’t be said for Foursquare.
Facebook is number three only because it’s already based in the number one social networking site in the world. As far as functionality, it doesn’t have near the features that Foursquare or Gowalla have, nor the social payoff. But it’s a good starter app for people who may be a bit timid about jumping into bigger location-based social networking apps.
Loopt has less users than the previous check-in apps, but it's worth noting as well. It functions much like Gowalla and Foursquare, with the added benefit of receiving alerts when friends of yours are close by and the ability to send geo-tagged SMS messages. The major downside to this app is that it has so few users, but you could be the tipping point to get all your friends to sign up.
Location-based social networking is a great way to have a little fun with your friends and maybe learn a little more about each other in the process. And the competition aspect of most of the location-based apps can infuse a little friendly rivalry into your quest to be the Mayor of your local Starbucks. Start having a little location-based fun, and try out one of these apps today.
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