Salkever's Valley on Gowalla vs. FoursquareIf you ever wanted more reasons why Gowalla is failing to match Foursquare in the check-in game, read the email I received from the Austin, Texas, mobile social network last week. Here's the key part:

"Whole Foods and Tazo Tea have teamed up for some Gowalla fun which kicks off today, runs for the next six weeks, and which can win you some tasty tea or even a $25 gift card to use at Whole Foods. To start with, we've outfitted all the Whole Foods Market spots on Gowalla with the custom stamp shown above. Check in at a Whole Foods Market store nationwide in the next six weeks and you'll have a chance to win one of the goodies. In addition, Tazo is releasing three special Tazo items on Gowalla. Collect all three and you'll earn a Tazo Pin."

Um, wonderful. So I'm going to check in at Whole Foods and enter a contest to win a whopping $25 gift card and maybe some special team items that aren't even mentioned in this promo. I'm sorry, Gowalla. A contest for a $25 gift card simply isn't going to cut it in an era of total Groupon frenzy with 75% discounts on hot restaurants.

Making It Drop-Dead Simple

Foursquare, on the other hand, has made it much easier for local and national merchants like Starbucks to issue coupons and create a monetary incentive to check in to participating locations. And Foursquare has been able to encourage the development of a richer ecosystem around its primary check-in service. Take Snacksquare, a service that runs on the Foursquare programming platform and make it drop-dead simple for local merchants to send text-message offers to Foursquare members who have checked into their establishments.

Granted, Gowalla has made efforts to also offer these types of incentives. Witness a deal this summer that automatically entered people who checked in at Best Buy (BBY) into a contest to win an Eye-Fi memory card. To the losers, Eye-Fi and Gowalla offered a year's worth of free wireless hotspot access if you purchase the card. Nice try, but these types of geek-centric offerings are unlikely to generate the type of interest and uptake that dangling a freebie Americano would.

Maybe I'm being too hard on Gowalla. The service is very pretty, and it certainly has its devotees. Further, as I posted previously, Foursquare has the ex-Google juice and the bicoastal advantage. I admit I'm no check-in monster. But to get me and the masses of Americans to do it more often, I think Gowalla, like Foursquare, will have to find a better way to show me the do-re-mi.

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