MMOGCG: Foursquare vs Gowalla

There is a new MMOGCG in town, and you play with your GPS enabled smartphone. What’s a MMOGCG you ask? Doesn’t everyone know about Massively Multiplayer Online Geo-Caching Games? I guess not, well let me explain then.

For me it kind of started with Google Latitude and letting certain of my Google Contacts know where I was via the GPS chip in my Internet enabled phone. Since only a few of my real life friends actually own smartphones, Google’s Latitude really hasn’t been a great runaway hit, despite that idiot at the BBQ in the Robbers commercial. In fact one my buddies who does have a BlackBerry does not appear to have moved an inch in 333 days.  So after this fail, I kind of went off the idea of location aware status updates because it just simply worth the hassle of the extra battery drain and increased data usage just to keep the odd stalker happy. But then I got an iPod Touch and really started to have some fun with some the WiFi location aware stuff like the Timmies app and the endless series of apps that tell you where the nearest bank machine is for your particular branch. And just when it seemed like someone really would invent George Castanza’s iToilet app, the app that gives you the location of the nearest clean public toilet, I discovered FourSquare using through the usual San Fransisco Technorati.

Foursquare is really exciting in stratospheric UBER Geek levels and at the very same time totally scares the living crap out of me too. It’s basically an online real-time location aware “Where I’ve Been” game: a MMOGCG. You score points by checking in to places you have actually been to and earn badges for visiting often, hitting the same place many times in a week, going on pub crawling benders and if you’re lucky, becoming the mayor of one the place you visit often. You basically need a GPS enabled iPhone or Android phone to play it well, although you can also struggle along by using the SMS shortcode and hoping that the venue you pick has already been created or else you’ll have to log into the site later and fill out all the missing info. In this day an age unless you can do it right away, it’s really not worth doing it all, so you end up getting a lot of iPhone and Android users. You can leave tips for future users and even create location aware to do lists that would seem even more relevant if they were push enabled. As you drive past your favourite deli, it should remind you that you had created a to-do to pick up of bagels and cold cuts. Business participating in Foursquare sometimes offer freebies to their mayor, which is kind of like creating a virtual loyalty card where your current mayor get’s their first drink of the night free.  This is pretty cool side game that seems to be picking up traction but unfortunately has not quite made any headway in Montreal yet. Foursquare also ties in nicely with Twitter by letting all of your followers know that you’ll be watching the Habs game @Les Trois Brasseurs tonight, and for those who prefer not have their house burgled halfway through the second period, you can always check in “off the grid”. In other words, you can still check in and rack up the points but no one but you will know where you checked in to. I admit that Foursquare really appeals to the GPS UBER geek in me. I love discovering new places and then seeing who else checks in over time. And as I was in town, we decided on @Reuban’s Smoke Meat for lunch solely based on the list of what was near the Sun Life building.

Let me just point out that at this point old Burgy (@Burg42) is going into Big Brother fits right now and is about to sign up for Google Opt-Out service. But still I must continue.

So here I am happily checking into Tim Horton’s and becoming the mayor of local coffee shops when McGoo (@Mtl_Steve) tweets about need winter boots on something called Gowalla… What, what is this another MMOGCG? It’s like Twitter/Jaiku all over again. Quick everyone pick up your iPhones, Androids and BlackBerries and enable the GPS, battle lines will be drawn  like dotted like GPS breadcrumbs on the map.

Sure enough I picked up the Samsung Galaxy Android that I had been testing and dialed in Gowalla but no such luck, couldn’t find anything my the name, maybe Android is too new. So I looked it up on the BlackBerry and sure enough nothing by the name of Gowalla either. Last resort, dialed into the App Store on the iPod Touch and sure enough, it was missing there also. WTF? McGoo is using this app right now on his iPhone, it has to exist. Could this be another Canadian thing? So I open up the MacBook, launch the iTunes store and there it is and it’s free. So I download it and try to install it only to be told that it’s iPhone only… FAIL! The first and biggest iPod Touch failure ever. How does anyone get venture funding in 2010 to create an entire service/game around one platform and even just  one device. I can understand someone not wanting to build around something that doesn’t a GPS chip, but limiting your self to only one device is kind of lame. So I never actually got to try Gowalla even though I’m all signed up for it but if they ever manage to release a version that works on either the BlackBerry or the Android I’ll give it another shot. For now you’ll have to watch this video to find out how it works.

I must admit that Foursquare looks like the more mature and better developed app/service/game, allowing anyone with a phone and the ability to send SMS the chance to play albeit in a very limited way. But when you look back a few years, SMS is the way that Twitter one of all of us over from Jaiku. So my bet is on Foursquare, not only is it more open, the people using it right now in Montreal and pretty damn cool too.

In the also ran but are still struggling out of the blocks: Brightkite, Google’s Latitude and Yahoo’s FireEagle service which never really took off.