Facebook Buys Gowalla For Location Sharing

Facebook has acquired location sharing service provider Gowalla, a key competitor to FourSquare

Social networking giant Facebook is snapping up the location sharing service provider Gowalla, a key competitor to FourSquare.

Rumours of the deal began circulating over the weekend, with a CNN report saying that many of the Gowalla employees would be working on Facebook’s new Timeline offering. Initially, Gowalla chief executive Josh Williams issued what on technology blog All Things Digital called “a non-denial” of sorts via an email, saying the ink was not yet dry on the deal.

Transition to Facebook

Williams on 5 December confirmed the deal in a blog post on the Gowalla website, saying that the company will be winding down its service in January.

“We know how much many of you loved Gowalla,” he said in the blog post. “It’s been the highlight of our lives as we’ve built it with your help over the past two years. As we move forward, we hope some of the inspiration behind Gowalla – a fun and beautiful way to share your journey on the go – will live on at Facebook.”

Williams said the company was working on an easy way for Gowalla users to export their information to Facebook, though he stressed that Facebook would not be buying Gowalla’s user data.

A source in the CNN story said the pairing of the companies makes sense.

“It’s a perfect match,” the source told the news organisation. “As far as the big picture, Gowalla’s vision is about people telling stories, and Facebook’s vision for Timeline is about stories about important moments in life.”

In his blog post, Williams said that the idea of Facebook buying Gowalla arose when he and another executive attended the F8 conference in September.

“We were blown away by Facebook’s new developments,” he said. “A few weeks later Facebook called, and it became clear that the way for our team to have the biggest impact was to work together. So we’re excited to announce that we’ll be making the journey to California to join Facebook!”

Even before Williams’ official announcement, the company’s website currently featured a large Facebook logo and sign-in box on the main page. The company is headquartered in Austin, Texas, but CNN reported most of Gowalla’s employees would be picking up and moving to Facebook’s campus in Palo Alto, California.

Check in

The Gowalla service, which lets users “check in” at locations around the world, either through a dedicated mobile application or through the mobile website, is also available as an app on the Apple iPhone and Android-based handsets.

Users do not have to register in order to visit Gowalla, but to access certain features of the service, such as connection through a mobile device and the ability to make friends, users need to register with Gowalla and create a member account.

In 2009, the company announced it secured $8.4 million (£5.3m) in a Series B funding round, led by Greylock Partners with contributions from Shasta Ventures, Maples Investments, previous investors Alsop-Louie Partners and Founders Fund, and personal investors Ron Conway and Kevin Rose, who have also invested in Gowalla’s rival, Foursquare, which, as of June 2011, reported it had 10 million registered users.

Last week, Facebook announced plans to establish an engineering presence in New York City and tap into the technical talent that the region has to offer. The Facebook NYC engineering office, the company’s first outside the West Coast, will open in early 2012 and will begin accepting applications immediately.

The office will be led by Serkan Piantino, an engineering manager at Facebook who previously managed the engineering team behind Facebook’s News Feed and built the infrastructure behind Timeline. He currently manages the engineering teams that power Facebook Messages and Chat.

“Building an engineering presence outside the West Coast is a big step for us, one we would take only if we found the right combination of talent and community support,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. “We’re particularly grateful for the encouragement and assistance of New York’s elected leaders, who understand what it takes to build a climate where technology can fuel economic growth and the creation of high-skilled jobs.”