Instead, we're quietly flagging people we think are "misusing" the service based on frequency and geography. We're basically doing the same thing Gowalla is doing - calculating how far someone is from the place they say they're at - but instead of preventing the checkin at all, we just flag it as "mischevious". Eventually, we'll algorithmically use these flags to figure out who are cheaters are and then start to prevent them from earning rewards, becoming mayors, dominating the leaderboard etc. This is a pretty hard problem to solve (which is we haven't fixed it yet) but we're definitely taking the time to make sure we get it right. The last thing we want to do is call our users "cheaters" when they're not.
--Foursquare founder Dens Crowley commenting on Scoble's post on Antifeatures: big mistake that location app developers make
I've been working on a long-ish post on Gowalla and Foursquare, but I wanted to quickly comment on, um, Dens' comment. I'm a little captivated by both Gowalla and Foursquare. Each has features the other could learn from. Cheating on Foursquare is something I've heard people complain about again and again. And if Foursquare hopes to get businesses onboard sponsoring mayors and doing other things for users, those businesses will likely want assurances that the person they're giving, say, a free beer really has been there before.
Yet Dens point regarding precheckins is very valid; I did it last night on the way to a restaurant because Harper hates it when I fiddle with my phone during dinner. I'm glad Gowalla prevents cheating, but two nights ago it would not let me check in at a location because my iPhone was confused as to where I truly was. So, while Foursquare isn't doing enough to prevent cheating right now, Gowalla is already doing too much.
It's going to be interesting watching these two go at it. There's certainly room in the market for more than one location-based game--there will be lots of them and the really captivating ones certainly aren't to market yet--but these two are so similar that my guess is only one will benefit from a network effect. (I use both to check in places now, but that's only because I'm really interested in these kinds of things.) Foursquare has a huge head start, but it's still small enough that could evaporate in a matter of weeks if Gowalla snares enough influential power users who begin evangelizing the product--something that's already beginning to happen. It may be a pain for the developers, but the competition between the two will force both products to become better, which is great for the rest of us.