Foursquare fights back

Just after Gowalla started getting some nice press for their campaign activity, Foursquare fought back by acquiescing to Jordan Raynor’s suggestion and creating an “I Voted” Badge.   Foursquare is also hosting an “I Voted” website, which will track polling place check-ins nationwide.

As Foursquare looks to cement their lead in the location-based network game, it’s a wise move to become involved in politics.  But there’s a danger in entering the political space to “encourage civic participation”; Generic get-out-the-vote efforts simply can’t match the passion of a hotly contested election.  A non partisan GOTV worker might knock on your door and encourage you to get to the polls by citing the need for participation to support Democracy; a partisan GOTV effort will tell you why the world might just end if you stay home and let evil win.  Which is more likely to encourage action?

By engaging with campaigns, Gowalla’s political strategy fuels the more effective of these two methods and encourages market expansion.  The “I Voted” concept is a good start, but Foursquare will have to continue to expand and integrate with individual campaigns to continue its dominance of the location-based social network market.

Will politics turn Gowalla vs. Foursquare into Facebook vs. MySpace?

In the world of location-based social networks, Foursquare has been the early leader, closing in on four million users.  Gowalla and SCVNGR have been battling for a distant second place.

Gowalla’s move to cut into the lead came back in August, when it released a set of tools for campaigns – tools that many campaigns have been taking advantage of.    Last week Politico’s Morning Tech followed up on the campaign toolkits:

Since the tools launched, Gowalla tells us, hundreds of political events, such as a rallies and town halls, have been created on the location-based service and thousands of people have checked into these events. And Gowalla users like to share which events they’re at on other social networks, too. About half of people who check into political events on Gowalla push out their status, comments and photos to Facebook, Twitter or both social networks.

And it sounds like interest in the politics-geared tools is growing. Gowalla says it has already started talking with both Democrats and Republicans about using its service for the 2012 elections. In Gowalla’s home state of Texas, the tools have gained traction with several candidates competing in local races.

Gowalla smart to take the long view, since location-based tools probably won’t be as prevalent until the Republican presidential primary campaigns.  But since those campaigns will start on November 3, Gowalla is equally smart to start catering to campaigns now.  At the same time, Foursquare has been somewhat deaf to calls for better political engagement, such as Jordan Raynor’s “I Voted” badge concept.

Foursquare still has a dominant market share of close to 70-80% (by the rough numbers).  But in the early days of online social networking, MySpace was similarly dominant.  The key is that the location-based market in 2010 is similar to the social network market in 2004 – it isn’t mature yet.  By most counts, the top three location-based networks boast five or six million users – or 1% of Facebook’s membership.  There are simply an awful lot of people who haven’t plunged into the location-based markets yet.

So what are the current also-rans to do to expand the location-based market – and make sure the new recruits choose something other than Foursquare?  By targeting campaigns, Gowalla is actually recruiting political activists – passionate users who will join their network (or possibly even switch from Gowalla) in the pursuit of a bigger goal.  By starting in 2010 and targeting 2012, Gowalla isn’t just executing a political strategy, but a business strategy as well.