Skip to main content

What Facebook buying Gowalla means for users

Gowalla will probably not be around for much longer, if reports are accurate that it's been bought by Facebook.
Gowalla will probably not be around for much longer, if reports are accurate that it's been bought by Facebook.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • If you're a Gowalla lover, Facebook's purchase is almost certainly bad news
  • Facebook now owns any data you imported to Gowalla
  • Initial report suggests Gowalla employees will work on Facebook's Timeline feature

Editor's note: Editor's note: Pete Cashmore is founder and CEO of Mashable, a popular blog about tech news and digital culture. He writes regular columns about social media and tech for CNN.com.

(CNN) -- Facebook just purchased a service for sharing your location with friends, according to a CNNMoney report.

UPDATE 2:30 p.m. ET: Gowalla has confirmed in a blog post that its service will wind down by the end of January.

So what does that mean to those of us who use Facebook or Gowalla?

If you're a Gowalla user and love the service the way it is, it's almost certainly bad news. When Facebook acquires a company, it rarely keeps the original product intact. Instead, it voraciously devours these smaller startups to get to the talented developers housed within.

Beluga, a recent acquisition, is in the process of shutting down while Facebook works instead on Facebook Messages, a similar service. The initial report suggests this will be the case with Gowalla: Some of the Austin-based team will move to Palo Alto, California, to work at Facebook, while a few will stay behind in Austin.

101-year-old Facebook user
Facebook apps go beyond 'like' feature

The move also technically means that Facebook owns the data you entered into Gowalla. I'd bet against Facebook importing this information into your Facebook profile without your consent -- they're likely aware that this would result in another privacy scare -- but I do think Facebook will provide time to export your Gowalla data if they do shut it down.

Why is this a likely outcome? Because it's exactly what they're doing with Beluga. Existing users can download an archive of their Beluga messages until mid-December. Who knows, they might even provide a way to add your Gowalla check-ins to your Facebook Timeline -- but only with consent.

What about Facebook users? Is anything likely to change?

One conclusion you could naturally jump to is that Facebook wants you to share your location more often -- and the Gowalla team will build features into Facebook to do so. This would be logical: Facebook already launched a product, Facebook Places, for doing just that -- but they later scaled it back and merged the features into your status updates.

Maybe Facebook wants to take another shot? To some extent, perhaps.

My guess is that the integration won't be completely literal. I don't foresee Facebook providing "stamps" for checking in to certain locations, for instance. I don't think it will generate city guides for major metropolitan areas, either.

We know from the initial report that Gowalla employees will work on Timeline, Facebook's new scrapbook-like layout, and I'd guess that their skills will be used more generally, rather than working solely on location-based features.

We also know that a source with knowledge of the deal thinks that there's a broader similarity between the two companies. "Gowalla's vision is about people telling stories, and Facebook's vision for Timeline is about stories about important moments in life," said the source.

So don't expect Facebook to suddenly launch a wave of new location-based features. I think the fusion of the companies will be less visible than that.

What does all this mean to you? If you're a Gowalla user and the deal is confirmed, you may want to switch services. I don't think Gowalla will be around for much longer if this Facebook deal closes.

If you're a Facebook user, meanwhile, you probably won't feel a thing. Facebook just bought another group of talented developers and will continue to dominate the world of social networking for years to come. Your Facebook experience may even improve, thanks to the influx of talent into Facebook's ranks.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Pete Cashmore.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT