Gowalla re-launched its service today in a blog post titled: A New Gowalla. The move confirms what most of us already know — gamification has but a limited appeal. Seems both Foursquare and Gowalla reached this conclusion at about the same time. (Will SCVNGR be next?)
Gamification was meant to provide a more interesting user experience. It was supposed to hook users and sustain their engagement with incremental rewards and incentives. And it does — some of the time, and for some users. But gamification, if and when there’s no actual game involved (and there wasn’t, on Gowalla or Foursquare) is at best a cynical use of user time, effort, and attention.
By cynical, I don’t mean that it’s not in some ways rewarding or even entertaining and fun. By cynical, I mean that it asks users to engage in an activity even if they don’t believe in it. Cynicism is the act of maintaining a practice while not taking it seriously. One can be cynical about ideas, routines, products, brands, whatever — but never be cynical about people. It comes through in the end.
So I’m all for the pivot away from gamification to storytelling (Gowalla) and Lists (Foursquare). Our aim in local social ought to be preserving value in the stream. Not just the stream as in the feed. Stream as in the flow of daily life. Where we go, what we like, what we recommend, why, to whom… There is still such a great amount of value in both customers and retailers to be taken advantage of. Games undervalued both the value in the relationship of loyal patrons to merchants; and of value communicated, shared, and distributed to friends and peers.
Stories, lists, local guides — these are better “narratives” for the challenges and opportunities specific to local social. They lay the ground work for social deal distribution. For live and real time deal or sale sharing. For the convergence of commercial habits, perhaps even some kinds of social shopping, around affinity interests. What people like about their neighborhood spots. The similarities among patrons of a new bar; an old video shop; a friendly barrista. These are the local and social elements of the kinds of stories and narratives we might tell to our friends. The characters, locations, props, and settings of the stories we might write with friends.
Gowalla and Foursquare took their gaming to the ego. They fed self image on the stage of “me.” Points, mayors — these are fine and good if all you want to do is make some social distinctions. But they are wholly and completely orthogonal to the value distinctions that define and by which we should measure local social. There, both the narratives of my everyday, the stories of my loyalties, routines, and pastimes; and the value of my local relationships are far more important than the mayorship of me.
So I’m pleased to see that local social is heading in what I consider a more fitting direction. I hope users come along. I’d like to see the industry continue to eat away at the blind advertising and the dull marketing that so many small businesses must resort to in order to get the word out. I’d like to see non profits benefit from the outreach efforts of committed volunteers. And for the local retailer to enjoy the sustenance of neighborhood patrons — small but meaningful help in an Amazonian ecosystem.