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March 10, 2023

I’m quite the nerd when it comes to location stuff and was always pretty excited about the different apps and services that were created in that space back in the Web 2.0 days. Plazes, Foursquare, Brightkite, Fire Eagle, Gowalla – I used them all.

In October 2020 Josh Williams, one of the original founders of Gowalla, announced on Twitter that it is coming back. I was excited. Excited enough to add that information to their wikipedia page. At some point they started a pay-to-play beta called “Street Team,” which is a choice, I guess. From what I’ve heard there wasn’t much to do during the beta, except claim your username. There was a podcast.
And finally today they put the new and re-invented version of Gowalla into the App Store for the whole world to join.
So of course I did.

The onboarding was not the smoothest thing, let’s get this out of the way – I didn’t feel like entering my phone number, so luckily they offer a log in (though not a registration?) via email or via the Apple account thing. I chose the latter option and in I was.

The first thing that happened was that they asked me for my location – which is fine, it is a location-based app. So I gave them the permission to get my location when I’m using the app.

After that they wanted full access to my contacts or else. I was a bit surprised by that – it seemed overly aggressive and I’m sure as hell not going to allow that. It is okay(-ish) to give people who want to do that the option, but as a requirement? Come on.

Luckily the state handling of the app is pretty rudimentary. Closing the app and re-opening it without giving the permission gets you to the next screen, where one can pick a username and upload an avatar image. I’ve been told that just not allowing the access in the system dialog works just as well. Oh wow.

After I added my friends who were playing along with me (who I actually managed to find without uploading my contacts and who also didn’t upload theirs. Turns out: you can just tell each other your username and search for it.) it was time to look at the app.
Which took about 5 minutes. There’s a map, which is nice. There’s a facepile of avatars that will zoom you to the latest checkin of a friend. There’s some kind of messenger(?) and a button to add a checkin. And that is it.
It’s a bit bare, all things considered. And it’s not even especially pretty or with a lot of personality the way the old Gowalla was. Instead it’s all a bit glitchy and incoherent.

I clicked around the website for a bit, thinking I must have missed something. But no. It is what it is.
But oh wait – there is a discord link! Maybe I can go there to find out more or at least ask them a few things. Like for example – where is the API? The old Gowalla had a lovely API and I still have my checkins from back then in my digital diary software.
Maybe some RSS feed of my checkins? Some kind of public profile? Anything?

So that’s what I asked and apparently none of these things are in the works or even planned. Now that’s a bit of a bummer.

And then, just to add a bit of salt to the wound, there’s a link in the discord to something called “Places” – “an open atlas curated by the world” with a CC0 license. I was immediately excited again – there aren’t any good free Point-of-Interest datasets out there and that could be it.
But then of course there is this:

Places is an experiment to establish geographic locations as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain.

Are you fucking kidding me? Good god.

I don’t know. This is all just a bit baffling and disappointing.


  • Marc Görtz
  • Dominik Schwind