Facebook Buys Gowalla in Talent Acquisition

Facebook has been poking around several Austin startup companies lately looking for talent acquisitions, and rumors are swirling that they’ve found a taker in beleaguered Gowalla. The company caused great excitement in the Austin tech community years ago when they relocated from Dallas to Austin, and garnered venture capital from top tier west coast venture and angel investors, spurning offers from locals. But no matter how hard they tried, they could never emerge from the shadow of Foursquare.

The check-in space seems to have turned into a “winner take all” market. The competitive landscape is littered with also-ran companies like Loopt, Whrrl, and now Gowalla. Sometimes you can hope for some industry consolidation, and the marketplace winner (Foursquare in this case) will go buy up smaller competitors. But not in this case.

The company attempted to pivot recently, with CEO Josh Williams presenting at TechCrunch Disrupt and talking about how Gowalla was turning into a travel and storytelling app. If there was still cash remaining in a company with no visible sign of revenue, there would be some runway to give it a shot. This is purely a guess, but either they’re out of money or they decided to give whatever remained back to investors.

Like most talent acquisitions, the team is expected to relocate to Palo Alto to be closer to Facebook headquarters. The speculation is that the team will work on the new Facebook Timeline. Not really a huge loss for the community, as Gowalla and it’s staff were mostly invisible and absent from the local tech scene, which is very odd for a “social” technology company.

Put yourself in the role of Gowalla CEO. What is your Monday morning quarterback advise that could have changed the fate of the company?

Enhanced by Zemanta
Facebook Buys Gowalla in Talent Acquisition

Which Austin Companies are Hot in the Private Market?

So you’ve raised your B round, but an IPO isn’t really possible and the bigger fish aren’t yet sniffing around to acquire your company at a price that your venture backers are interested in. How do you sell some private stock to buy that sports car with cash? Welcome to the secondary market.

Shares of stock in companies like Facebook and Twitter are changing hands, even though the stock is not publicly traded yet. How do they do that? Well, I’m sure you have to carve out a bunch of restrictions on your stock, but there are markets out there to facilitate the exchange.

The firm SecondMarket just released their Q3 report, with a focus on the Austin market.

So who is Austin is on the watchlist? Apparently the leaders are Gowalla, Bazaarvoice, and SpiceWorks. Since Bazaarvoice filed for the IPO, they won’t be a secondary market player for long.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Which Austin Companies are Hot in the Private Market?

Are Mobile Platforms Austin’s Differentiator?

youngbillgatesmobileTech Tuesday, by Steve Guengerich

As we’ve discussed in this column before, Austin has a very robust mobile scene. But, then so do the Bay Area, New York City, the Boston 128 corridor, and for that matter Houston and Dallas. And, of course, if you start counting non-US domestic hotbeds, you’ve got thriving mobile scenes in Western and Eastern EU countries, China, Japan, India, Korea, Brazil, etc.

As Kleiner partner Mary Meeker so nicely summed up recently, mobile is the “it” Internet trend of the moment. So, what distinguishes the Austin mobile scene?

I’ve recently heard the argument from a couple of different sources that Austin may be a center of gravity for mobile platform offerings. Companies like Unwired Nation (commerce), Famigo (games), Chaotic Moon (content), Phunware (branded experiences), Seedlabs (events), and my own, Appconomy (communications), are just a few examples with local ties(there are others) that have produced app platforms that enable other companies to build or customize “on top” of their apps.

This bursting growth market in platforms seems to be one of the hot topics of the moment. The broader tech media can’t seem to get enough of them, especially enterprise platforms, for the mobile app market, with articles in the New York Times, Mashable, TechCrunch and others.

But, all of this platform talk reminds me of an interview with Bill Gates back in the Win3.1 days (yes, that’s young Bill in the photo), when IBM’s OS/2 was still ostensibly in a position to give Microsoft a run for its money for the PC desktop. In the interview, the journalist with PC Week was asking Gates about Windows’ ability to serve as an application platform and Bill went all…well, “Bill Gates” on her for lack of a better metaphor.

Back in the pre-Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation days, apparently Bill used to be quite the interview challenge and, in this case, got very cantankerous about the use of this word platform. He viewed it as the ultimate faux tech jargon – a completely user-defined word…capable of meaning everything and nothing, simultaneously.

I recall him turning the tables on the interviewer and asking “what is a platform anyhow? What does it mean? I don’t understand what you are asking? I mean, I could argue that a PC bus is a platform, every bit as much as an operating system is a platform!” And so on, and so on.

My point being that Gates’ challenge stuck with me: what is it that we really mean when we call something a platform? A quick review of Wikipedia cites that a “computing platform” is “some sort of hardware architecture and software framework (including application frameworks) that allows software to run.”

I’d argue a much simpler, admittedly less technical, definition. You have a computing platform if it allows you and others to accomplish the following less expensively than if they did it on their own:

  • Continuously gain new customers
  • Introduce new services
  • Integrate with other services (and allow them to integrate with you) in reliable, predictable ways – usually via what we know in computer science lingo as an API, or application program interface

Note in the first item the word “continuously.” It’s an important word because it implies that the platform, inclusive of all its services (including yours), is attracting new customers to join it. So, even if you were highly successful gaining new customers initially, because the platform is adding other, new customers, then there is a reason to maintain and even increase your investment in it.

By this definition, then, Apple has the biggest, ‘baddest’ mobile platform on the planet, at this moment in early 2011. And, closer to home, with just north of 600,000 registered users, according to a December 2010 Reuters story, Gowalla is arguably the largest mobile “platform” provider based in Austin.

How about it Austin? Are we distinguished by our mobile platforms? Or do platforms even matter? I for one look forward to reading the “tea leaves” of South-by-Southwest and the months ahead to see if there is perhaps some other more meaningful category(ies) that emerge.

Are Mobile Platforms Austin’s Differentiator?

Help Map the Austin Mobile Scene

Austin Mobile SceneBy nearly every account, mobile is the hottest area in tech. Looking at the data – from sales growth rates in hardware, led by Apple, to download volumes of software, represented by the ubiquitous app – the numbers are skyrocketing.

Anecdotally, the man who coined ‘web 2.0’ for the last trend, Tim O’Reilly, remarked in a recent NPR storyThe biggest thing that’s next, that’s on everybody’s mind, is the transition to mobile.”

Fortunately, Austin is well-positioned to thrive during this transition, with a number of companies succeeding and legitimately leading their respective categories, like recent newsmakers Gowalla and Qrank. But, like every ‘overnight’ success, this position is the result of deliberate investment and hard work by institutions and individuals for many years.

Groups like the Austin Technology Incubator’s Wireless program, led by Bart Bohn, and the grassroots mobile networking association Mobile Monday, championed by Enrique Ortiz, have been serving as centers of gravity.

Now that the early phase of the mobile market has been validated, it’s important to capitalize on the ‘fast follower’ phase of market growth, by further strengthening these groups and supporting other resources in the region.

One simple step in this process is simply to map the mobile scene. ‘Scene mapping’ is a body of work that Austin’s Bijoy Goswami and Heather McKissick have been developing the past two years, as part of their collaboration, the Austin (or ATX) Equation.

Through their inspiration, I’ve created an interactive strawman for the Austin Mobile Scene, using the same mindmapping software that Bijoy used to create the Austin Entrepreneurship Scene.  This is not a finished product – in fact, it barely scratches the surface of companies, products, events, associations, information sources (media), and people that represent the core of Austin’s Mobile Scene.

That’s where you come in: chip in and help map the Austin Mobile Scene.

Many are predicting that 2011 will be the year that mobile takes off in mainstream enterprise applications.  Austin and central Texas should be huge beneficiaries if this prediction holds true. Our strong semiconductor, communications and enterprise software legacy, combined with the early beachhead successes in consumer mobile apps, ought to serve as an accelerator of business applications.

I’ll talk more about mobile business apps for the enterprise in the next mobileTech Tuesday.  On a personal note, it’s great to be back as a contributor to AustinStartup, after a summer sabbatical.

Help Map the Austin Mobile Scene

Event: “The Business of Location: Making Money with Geo-Aware Services”

Here in Texas, it’s a downright shootout between location-based-networks. SXSW 2010 brought the big guns with contenders like Gowalla, Foursquare, and Plancast. But, the question remains: who is making money, and how?

Tonight, Rice Alliance — Austin Chapter, is hosting a discussion titled “The Business of Location: Making Money with Geo-Aware Services,” which will answer just that. The panelists include:

Josh Williams, CEO and Co-founder of Gowalla

Blair Garrou, Managing Director of DFJ Mercury

Rick Orr, CEO and Co-Founder of ATX Innovation (TabbedOut)

Chris Treadaway, CEO of Notice Technologies

Moderated by Josh Catone of Mashable, tonight’s discussion will barrel through questions of profitability, potential future platforms for location-based-networks, competition within the geo-aware services market, and other hard-hitting issues facing the contenders in this category.

Check-ins and checkouts are all fine and dandy, but where is the cold, hard cash? Tonight, panelists will holster their weapons and take a moment to share a frank discussion on the current status and future evolution of location-based-networks.

Event Details —

Date: May 5, 2010

Time: 6:00pm – 8:00 pm

Location: AT&T Conference Center

Tickets: $25 or $10 for students

Panelists will also be hosting a get together immediately following the discussion downstairs at Gabriel’s Café.

For more information, check out the Rice Alliance event page.

Event: “The Business of Location: Making Money with Geo-Aware Services”

Gowalla Poised To Overtake Foursquare, Loopt, Cleans Up Twitter.

GowallaLately I’ve found myself making a few gripes about the amount of irrelevant noise that was entering public streams with the rise of location-based networks, but Gowalla 2.0 changes that with the introduction of threaded comments and photos. As far as Twitter and Facebook is concerned, location-based status updates are largely irrelevant to a majority of a person’s friends and followers.

I enjoyed the game dynamic when I *played* Foursquare, and the overhauled interface in version 1.7 is refreshing. But, I don’t see Foursquare solving the problem I’ve been having with Twitter, and I really want to love Twitter again without the location noise. Gowalla 2.0’s tight integration around comments and photos has the potential to significantly reduce it *if* people stop broadcasting location to their public status. Granted, this doesn’t exactly benefit either company when it comes to customer acquisition, but I think it will improve the quality of public streams dramatically.

Twitter’s Pipe Could Benefit From Gatekeeping

For me, Twitter is now borderless and operates at internet scale. Twitter is largely an open protocol, but for a lot of people outside the technology sphere it’s mechanical and lacks relevance — in part to its innovative public API. I originally joined Twitter for it’s uniqueness at helping me connect with friends and locals, and enjoyed the social conversation that came from it. But then it transformed to news and event dissemination, one-way status updates, marketing, et al. and lost touch with the personality of locality. My usage of Twitter fundamentally changed with time, and I’m still using Google Reader regularly so I don’t buy the RSS-for-everybody argument.

While Twitter’s explosive growth has been nothing short of impressive, Gowalla and Foursquare bring new meaning to 140 characters when it’s contained in a more contextual environment that naturally revolves around being social with friends. This is the problem Loopt tried to solve from the beginning, but misunderstood the sensitivity of real-time location tracking and element of “fun” for early-adopters. They’ve tried to band-aid a solution but ultimately increased the complexity of the user interface and clouded the service. Loopt seems over-thought for a mobile experience, and the banner ads cheapen the service compared with Gowalla and Foursquares brand-centric engagement.

Gowalla and Foursquare Become More Public, Ignore Privacy Issues

Identity TheftThe issue of privacy has largely been unaddressed by most LBS services, and Gowalla 2.0 expands its service to be even more public. There are positives and negatives to this. It’s certainly fascinating to watch location interaction, but privacy is something many people don’t fully appreciate until they’ve been violated.

PleaseRobMe.com scrapes the service of a more complex problem. Identity theft is an entirely different ballgame played by evil geniuses, it’s a complex form of social engineering and data mining. The cost of identity theft is staggering, up 37% since 2007 at $54 billion, the year social media began to show its face. Identity theft is serious business, in some cases it can impact a victim’s life for years making it difficult to apply for jobs or buy a house. It’s important these and other social services address the privacy issue head on. Depending on a consumer’s level of participation and habits, it’s not difficult to find their home and work address, location they last used their credit card, and the exact amount they spent god forbid they use the hyped Blippy service.

My biggest gripe with Gowalla is the friending process because it incorporates two of the largest social networking services that lack location relevance. I have tons of invites from people following me on Twitter that I know very little about. Facebook’s friends-of-friends is important in who I accept as a friend, and those feelings are even stronger in Gowalla. I hope to see location have more relevance in the filtering process, and an intersection where social ties are strongest across multiple networks. I also want the option to exclude myself from being visible on Gowalla.com and any public API. I don’t mind anonymous usage data but I value my privacy.

Gowalla’s Advantage Is In The Details, It Has Heart

Gowalla 2.0Gowalla’s advantage is the emotion within the product comparable to that of Apple products, and big brands will surely love this attention to detail too. Gowalla has an army of designers. On top of its increasing utility, the sheer number of high quality, hand-crafted design assets they are accumulating will be a significant barrier against competitors.

Offering trips, stamps, pins, and now photos, the passport approach summarizes meaningful memories. Passports are the ear marks of life. When it comes to brand promotion, marketers will drool over the semantic data and opportunity to engage consumers on a unique level. Foursquare was more fun for a period, but the collective dynamic and utility offered in Gowalla 2.0 will be far more lasting. Here’s to a rocking SXSW 2010, go discover Austin!

Don’t forget: Kick off SXSW at Austin Tech Happy Hour tonight at Molotov.

[cb type=”company”]Foursquare[/cb]
[cb type=”company”]Gowalla[/cb]
[cb type=”company”]Loopt[/cb]

Gowalla Poised To Overtake Foursquare, Loopt, Cleans Up Twitter.

Foursquare vs Gowalla

Since I moved to Austin in October, Foursquare’s game of location-based tag has held my interest, allowing me to familiarize myself with the town a bit better and connect quicker with people in the tech scene. I hadn’t yet experienced the a-ha with it though. So when I heard of Austin-based competitor Gowalla, I was willing to give it a shot. Even more so when news hit of its $8.4M funding round; if investors on the level of Greylock are handing it money, something’s afoot in this sector.

The two services are virtually identical, asking users to check in via their cell phone at spots around town. Foursquare awards mayor-ships and badges for frequent use, while Gowalla scatters pins and offers items to drop at locations. (For a closer look at feature sets, check out Josh’s recent post.)

Why would one do this? Well, it’s a bit like Twitter, in that you don’t get it until you’ve tried it. But the overall philosophy is to create a network of known places in a town, allowing users to find each other on the fly and leave tips and deals about certain spots.

To conduct my due diligence, I reasoned that a thorough test over the holidays made sense. I’d be in several different cities and could put both services through the ringer. I lasted one weekend. The comic effect of sitting in my car everywhere I went, bringing up two apps and going through the steps to check in, was simply too much. And I’m positive it was annoying for those who are friends with me on both services.

On Saturday afternoon, I took my daughter to The Nutcracker at the Long Center. Gowalla couldn’t find my “passport” (user account) as I sat in the parking garage so I abandoned the pursuit; my 4-year-old was protesting, “Mommy, what are you doing? Let’s go!” During intermission I tried again, this time with success. After checking in, the service asked me to “drop” something. Drop something? What the hell does that mean? Who’s going to pick it up? I chose a Beatnik Poet, clicked the ‘notify Facebook’ option and moved on. No idea what happened to the poet; hope an item with disparate philosophies isn’t harassing him.

The rest of the weekend went about the same, with Foursquare getting the bulk of the check-ins. Only when I had a bit of downtime did I use Gowalla. I simply didn’t see the point. I have more friends on Foursquare, know the interface better and get the rules of the game. In this regard, Foursquare wins hands-down; it’s easier to get going and immediately understand. Gowalla features several catchwords that I haven’t parsed yet: pins, stamps, item drops, etc. If it’s going to spread effectively to consumers, the service needs to be easier to jump into cold.

Foursquare has its negatives of course. An annoying Twitter/Bit.ly conversion bug results in the posting of mayors’ pictures on my Facebook page. So when I’m having coffee with a friend at Once Over, the accompanying image in my newsfeed is of a random stranger. (Foursquare is aware of this, but blame Twitter and say they can’t fix it.) Adding a Facebook notification feature would partially solve this problem. And its process for adding new locations is unnecessarily complex. Seems to me it would be easy enough to pull addresses from Yelp or a similar service so that you’re not required to input all the data on your own.

But at the end of the day, I’m sticking with Foursquare. It simply has the leg up. Not fair perhaps, but until Gowalla tempts me with particularly engaging and notable features, I don’t have a compelling reason to shift all my friends and energies.

And here’s the thing: this is a space that is going to merit our energies in the coming months. Take a look at these two recent posts and note the common thread: Yelp. The primary competitor for Foursquare and Gowalla isn’t necessarily each other; it’s Yelp. And Om is right on the money that Yelp should be worried.

Yelp is currently my yellow pages. I use it in place of Google for all local business searches. But its personal reviews and ratings lose any attraction if I have a catalog of recommendations from trusted friends on an alternate service. And that’s where Foursquare/Gowalla/Bobs Yer Uncle is going to win. Did Yelp walk away from Google because they’re smart enough to recognize this? Are they planning their own acquisition? Or were they foolhardy, thinking they’ve got a lock on a market that is sliding out from under them?

I’ve had pneumonia the past month so haven’t been much for drinking. When friends came over this weekend, we joked about when I would start testing my liver again for the holidays. Finding myself at Chuy’s last night with my family, I did a quick check-in on Foursquare. Five minutes later, that friend texted me, telling me that Chuy’s mojitos were excellent and a perfect way to inaugurate my holiday imbibing. (She was quite right.)

I suppose I could’ve powered up the Yelp app at the table, searched for Chuy’s and paged through the reviews to find drink recommendations. But no one on there knew my background, my drink tastes, my prior conversations. The power of linking businesses to personal networks, and exploiting those personal connections without being intrusive, has been a nut that’s needed cracking for some time now. Foursquare and Gowalla have cracked it. Whether the market is big enough to hold both of them remains to be seen.

Foursquare vs Gowalla

Dis-cord: Tweet Your Turf

It’s ok if you are not yet convinced by all this “location, location, location” hype; there have been convincing arguments made against the integration of location-aware software. Just don’t be disappointed when the entire world becomes virtually geo-tagged and your company is left off the grid.

Location-aware software in mobile devices can be beneficial to both businesses and consumers. I’m sure we won’t have to wait long see a variety of newly unveiled use-cases and a steady uptake of mainstream integration throughout 2010.

Why? For starters, on the data back-end, location-aware software adds a valuable third dimension to an already abundant cache of user-generated data sources. Location cognition in software will accelerate Apple’s original idea of “there’s an app for that” to an entirely different level.

Something as simple as a location stamp does little good; but when that same location stamp is compared to, and mashed up with, the ba-gillion different kinds of time-stamped UGC currently available, the value added creates a whole new untapped reservoir for researchers and businesses to dive into.

Businesses would be poorly advised to ignore this as just another “trend.” The potential data at their fingertips could ultimately prove to be an invaluable arsenal of previously-hidden tools in their marketing research.

Think about it: getting everyone to use to their phone in this manner would undoubtedly produce the ideal intersection of mobile advertising and user-recommendations, all combined with the addictive nature of social media.

If businesses choose to inquire, they could determine an unbiased view of what, where, and why people care about their product or service – and that sure beats the customer surveys that noone takes unless they’re totally pissed off. Why ask and annoy your patrons when you could geo-crowd-source all the information you could ever ask for?

Better data = better advertising = better sales.

In a perfect world, you could let the natural competition and recommendations spawned from your patrons drive sales. However, we don’t live in a perfect world and sadly, the above equation is far too optimistic and over-simplified, and we’re not there yet.

Currently, the world we live in is an opt-in society, and none of the magic data I allude to above will be available unless marketers and businesses uphold their end of the bargain, and offer the necessary incentives required to be rewarded with the data they desire.

Queue up the other side of the record: consumer-facing incentives on the front-end are a must. Location-aware software should be the next step toward uniting users’ virtual assets and communities with real-world value.

There has already been several use-cases speculated around the potential of this feature. Interested in knowing when, where, and exactly why there is a traffic jam on a highway? Or maybe why is there a crowd at a particular venue during South By Southwest?

I speculate the maturation I seek in real-world value for consumers will manifest in the form of these three categories: entertainment, physical goods, and real-time news redefined.

Local startup, Gowalla, has pretty much nailed the entertainment vertical. Their app combines physical exploration with the entertainment value of treasure hunting. Users are incentivized to check-in to reveal hidden rewards that may be stashed by other users in a particular location. Great idea. Rock on.

Similar to Gowalla, but with better market traction, is Foursquare. When users check-in to Foursquare at a specific location, they earn points that unlock a hierarchy of badges that convey their status.

If they keep playing their cards right, Foursquare will have a commanding lead in the market share because businesses have already begun to adopt it as the location-based platform to incorporate the philosophy I mentioned above – using their rewards/badges system as a scalable tool to deliver real-world goods. A scalable example that is already on the horizon is location-specific discounts or coupons offered (sponsored) by specific companies. And that’s just the start.

With the adoption of location-aware apps and Google announcing QR codes and Place Ranks, I expect to see a whole new convergence in the way mobile users interact with businesses, whether they’re ready interact back or not.

Lastly, when I say “real-time news redefined,” I am simply adding on to the existing definition. Currently, real-time news is delivered in streams, like Twitter (which Bing, Google, and Yahoo have all been forced to adopt into their searches).

News in “real-time 2.0,” so-to-speak, will most certainly have to include location. A “breaking” story, such as a crime, could truly be reported at the very moment and exact location where it occurred.

On a much larger scale, geo-aware software allows us to watch trends as they evolve and spread across the nation. The next election, for example, will undoubtedly produce a cacophony of data.

Any number of uses for more accurate, location-specific news will emerge over the next year, but ultimately this technology facilitates real-world value in the form of direct and agile responses to events as they occur.

For the time being, geo-specific tweets and games are currently novelty items, but as uptake increases, expect to see a massive land rush of virtual assets and real places, the substantial adoption of incentive-based programs, and a wealth of data dumped onto the table for anyone’s taking. Get in now.

Dis-cord: Tweet Your Turf

Gowalla Raises $8.4 Million

Following rumors from Silicon Alley Insider last week, Gowalla officially announced today a funding raise of $8.4 million in venture capital from Greylock Partners, Maples Investments, Shasta Ventures and others.

Gowalla is a location-based social networking application for smart phones. Similar to Foursquare, they let you share and discover new locations based on your social networks. Users earn stamps for their digital passports based on the places they’ve visited, which range from Seattle’s Space Needle to the Austin Java down the street.

The company has raised a total of $10 million since it was founded in 2007. Currently, the service is free and available on iPhone and Android-based smart phones.

Gowalla officially launched 10 weeks ago and according to the article in Austin American Statesman, “50,000 users have joined since” then and “users have created and checked in at 150,000 locations in over 8,500 cities in 100 countries.”

See our past coverage of Gowalla here.

Gowalla Raises $8.4 Million

Gowalla Adds Android Support, Goes Tête-à-Tête with Foursquare

UPDATE: We have learned that Gowalla is funded by the highly-regarded Founders Fund and Alsop Louie, making them a.) no slouch for funds and connections, and b.) FF’s first Texas investment, an exciting move. Given how much Texas companies gripe about Valley VC’s not taking them seriously because of location, we’ll pursue a follow-up post on this topic.

UPDATE #2: Here is the SEC filing for the $2 million round.

The location-based social networking space continues to heat up, and two horses lately seem to be separating from the pack — Foursquare and Austin-based Gowalla (both launched at this year’s SXSW in March).

What’s proving to be the difference-maker for these two is the addictive, social gaming feature-set that each incorporates — including but not limited to checking in at various establishments or “Spots”, victorious “mayorships” that signify a high frequency of patronage (and often trigger special deals and coupons), breadcrumb-ish tips and trips that guide the uninitiated through new neighborhoods and foreign lands.

Foursquare undeniably has the early lead, mostly because of the credibility its founders and investors have brought to the table. But until a few weeks ago, Foursquare only supported select cities, which allowed Gowalla to secure a growing user base, especially outside of the US.

Foursquare is taking a mostly top-down approach to their expansion. Although users are highly incentivized to add new locations and associated information, the service is manually preloading local business information, with a bias towards accuracy and completeness.

Gowalla, in contrast, is taking a much more bottom-up approach — venue listings are largely crowdsourced.  This strategy of course requires a critical mass of motivated users in order to succeed at scale, but it comes with the advantage of location-agnosticism, allowing the service colonize new markets more quickly. Users are also much more invested in a service they have helped build from the ground up.

In the last 6 months, Gowalla has fared particularly well abroad, where Foursquare had no foothold…as yet. Rapid expansion and very healthy growth by both parties promise to level the playing field considerably. Foursquare’s recent addition of 15 Eurpopean cities shows that they’ve been paying attention to their Lone Star competitor’s traction. Gowalla likewise has been adding new features like integrated Twitter functionality for both Passports and Spots, in an attempt to replicate and extend Foursquare’s word-of-mouth spread, particularly at the local level.

Gowalla just added support the Android platform via the browser (instead of a native app). This is a scrappy move — functionality and location access are seamlessly ported over, with little UX degradation. A native app is in the works, but with Foursquare already on Android and about to add Blackberry support, time is of the essence. The smaller and mysteriously-funded (angel? VC? self-funded?) Gowalla (a product of Alamofire, the incubator-ish design studio that also makes Packrat) will be hard-pressed to keep the pace — clever technical placeholders, grassroots community support, and user-contributed content are their best bets. We hope to follow-up on the company’s funding status and funding ambitions soon.

In the meantime, Gowalla has certainly turned the head of many a jaded Austinite, in no small part because the company’s approach is in many ways a manifestation of the city it which it is itself located — a design-centric, obsessively agile, particularly scrappy gang of misfits with community love and enough gumption to bet against industry uber-seeers Tim O’Reilly and Fred Wilson.

Gowalla is also perhaps the most accurate measuring stick we have right now as to how well Texas companies can compete with their well-funded breatheren on either coast.

Gowalla Adds Android Support, Goes Tête-à-Tête with Foursquare