Gowalla and the Travel Channel announced today that the two companies will be working together to offer "the integration of proprietary Travel Channel content into Gowalla's social networking service." Along with another deal, Gowalla has started to connect the virtual with the real, a direction we think will be key in succeeding in the location-based app arena.
According to a press release, the agreement will begin with tomorrow's premiere of "Food Wars" on the Travel Channel. In much the same way that Foursquare began offering special badges and information on venues featured in Bravo's television shows, Gowalla will begin adding new features based on the locations in the show. Here's the company's explanation:
The first content integration will focus on the new series, Food Wars, a new Travel Channel offering where blindfolded participants choose sides to determine "Who Makes The Best Dish In Town." Food Wars pits the nation's most famous culinary rivals against one another for a final showdown, where a blind taste test will settle the debate. Locations used in the series will be integrated into the Gowalla platform and Gowalla users will be able to check in and find specific show information, along with the details of the culinary showdown that was filmed there, pick up Items specific to the show, and be awarded specially created passport stamps.
Gowalla also quietly released an Android version of its app this weekend, which is currently available for download in the Android Marketplace.
This comes just in time for SXSW Interactive, which is bound to have thousands of techies roaming Gowalla's hometown of Austin. As the CNET article on the deal points out, Gowalla has led rival Foursquare in the funding realm, with $8.4 million in Series B funding last year. And while we do like the look of Gowalla, Foursquare offers real-life incentives, such as discounts at certain locations for becoming mayor. Well, just in time for the aforementioned SXSW, Gowalla will have some real-life incentives too - Austin's homegrown Sweet Leaf Tea.
Now, the Sweet Leaf deal isn't quite up to par with a Zagat partnership, but it's one to keep in mind over the next couple of weeks nonetheless, as you're wandering Austin's streets and growing more dehydrated by the moment. (Yes, we know how much beer you really drink.) According to Gowalla's blog, there will be virtual Sweet Leaf Tea cans around town that will be redeemable for the real thing, so keep an eye out.
Gowalla's first foray into integrating its virtual collectibles with real-life goods came in early January, with its partnership with InCase, a maker of iPhone cases, among other things. As part of that deal, users could collect different InCase-branded virtual items and when they checked in at Apple stores, they had a chance of winning an iPhone case upon checking in. So just by going to a location, you were entering a contest for a real-world prize.
And really, it's this sort of thing that we think will keep apps like Gowalla afloat. Long after the shininess of "checking in" and collecting "virtual goods" for their own sake wears off, real-life incentives will be there. Whether they come in the form of information, as is the case with the Travel Channel deal, or in the form of tasty sweet goodness, as with a can of Sweet Leaf Tea, we're going to need something more than a virtual beatnik to keep us checking in everywhere we go. And of course, letting our friends know where we are, and vice-versa, is great, but if one company gets into the real-life game and another doesn't, guess which one we'll probably be playing.