Following reports that the company as a whole had been acquired, Gowalla today announced that its founders and several team members have joined Facebook and will move to its Palo Alto headquarters. The Gowalla service “will be winding down at the end of January”, and options will be made available for users to export their data. Gowalla CEO Josh Williams says his company was impressed by what Facebook revealed at f8, and soon after he and other team members were asked to join the social network’s team.
I haven't had a boss in over a decade. This could get interesting. :)—
Josh Williams (@jw) December 05, 2011
Williams tweeted this morning about how he’ll have to adjust to having superiors again after running his own company for so long. Facebook tells us that “We’re excited to confirm that Gowalla co-founders Josh Williams and Scott Raymond, along with other members of the Gowalla team, are moving to Facebook in January to join our design and engineering teams. While Facebook isn’t acquiring the Gowalla service or technology, we’re sure that the inspiration behind Gowalla will make its way into Facebook over time.”
In his departure blog post, Williams writes that “Facebook is not acquiring Gowalla’s user data.” Instead, users will be able to acquire it if they want as Gowalla “plans to provide an easy way to export your Passport data, your Stamp and Pin data (along with your legacy Item data), and your photos as well.” Some loyal Gowalla users might not be so pleased with the news, and could blame Facebook for killing their favorite way to check in. The data export options should reduce this discontent, though.
The deal offers Gowalla’s founders a graceful exit despite being unable to keep up with Foursquare’s growing user count. Rather than fade away, the move to Facebook will surely bring them plenty of high-fives. By providing a way for them to save face, Facebook may have been able to attain some great talent at a relatively cheap price. The best designers, engineers, and product people usually aren’t out applying for jobs, they’re working for interesting startups. Rapid-fire talent acquisitions seem to have become Facebook’s preferred hiring method as well as a way to make sure disruptive ideas are coming from within its walls. We’re still trying to sniff out the price Facebook paid, but Gowalla’s founders might not have come away with much from the deal. Meanwhile, investors who put up $10.4 million probably didn’t receive the multiple they were hoping for if they even made all their money back.
CNN Money first reported a leak that Facebook would be buying at least some part of Gowalla on Friday, and AllThingsD attained details about an email sent to investors explaining that the deal’s ink wasn’t dry yet. Now with the deal finalized, we can start thinking about exactly how the acqhire will aid Facebook.
The Gowalla talent could help create compelling content for the profile Timeline based on the Places checkins of users. This was Gowalla’s core strength — badges, items, tips, notes, and other visual secondary content based off of checkins. When Timeline finally launches publicly, users could have the option to show which are their most checked in Places, how far they’ve travelled from home, or who they most frequently check in with. Facebook has never offered badges before, but might start now thanks to Gowalla’s designers and the Timeline providing a more stable place to display evidence of a user’s past checkin activity.
Another task the Gowalla talent could undertake would be turning Facebook’s location service Places into more of a Foursquare-killer. Currently, Places doesn’t help users discover locations based on their characteristics such as if they’re a restaurant, nightlife establishment, or public place. It also doesn’t let users find tips about what to do once they’re at a location.
Foursquare has refocused on providing this value, so Facebook will need to decide either to go hard in this direction, or keep Places more of a minimal location backbone. Considering Facebook won’t be integrating Gowalla’s location data, the latter seems more likely for now. So hey, congrats Foursquare, you now own the location tips space.