The 6 Commandments Of Gowalla's API. Thou Shalt Not Fake Check-In

Earlier today, location-based service Gowalla formally unveiled their new Check-In API. This is big news because it means third-party apps can write to Gowalla’s API for the first time. Looking over the documentation for this API reveals some interesting things. Notably, there are six “commandments” that Gowalla says developers should follow.

Behold, Gowalla’s 6 API Commandments:

  • Check in where the user actually is
  • Don’t encourage checking in where the user isn’t
  • Never check in without permission from the user
  • Encourage social behavior, discourage bot-like behavior
  • Rapid, repeated checkins are not tolerated
  • Use the API responsibly

Each is pretty self-explanatory. But what’s interesting is the very clear discouragement of fake check-ins. Compare this with Foursquare, which not only tolerates, but in some ways encourages people to check-in where ever they want. For example, at our CrunchUp a couple weeks ago, Foursquare’s Tristan Walker spoke glowingly about users creating the fake “Heatpocalypse” venue in New York City during the recent heatwave. Clearly, Gowalla doesn’t want that kind of behavior on their network.

To make it more clear, in their API docs, Gowalla also states:

Gowalla aspires to connect real people with real places. Our goal has always been for people to go out and explore both locally and around the world.

That almost makes it seem as if Gowalla is setting itself up in more of the Facebook model (real people) whereas Foursquare is taking on the Twitter model (brands and real people) for identity. That said, Gowalla does feature brands as well (here’s USA Today, for example), but those accounts only seem to be about creating trips and not actually pretending to check-in places. Also, Facebook is clearly moving more towards a brand identification model as well as they continue to open up data.

Here’s another interesting tidbit from the API docs:

Never “auto check-in” a person without their explicit permission. This is seriously uncool.

The “auto check-in” is a hot topic recently as services like Future CheckIn are popping up to let users check-in to Foursquare (and presumably soon, Gowalla) without them having to explicitly do so. Gowalla obviously wants to make it clear that these apps must ask for explicit permission to do such things. That means Future CheckIn may have to slightly alter the way it works if it wants to play nicely with Gowalla’s API.

So what happens if you violate any of Gowalla’s commandments? “Applications that disregard the guidelines above risk violation of Gowalla’s Terms of Service and may have their API access suspended without warning. So keep cool, my babies,” the service notes.

Looks like Mike won’t be checking-in on the Moon with Gowalla anytime soon.