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In my last post, I talked about what Gowalla was.  One thing I didn’t mention are the Gowalla Rules. Gowalla is like Lego used to be—it’s a tool without any rules.  The Gowalla site doesn’t really explain HOW or WHY you use it, or even WHAT it’s for.  They just tell you to get an account and start playing.

The site doesn’t have a list of items you can find.  It doesn’t have a list of categories.  It doesn’t have a big set of rules, or a user forum, or much of a way to contact the company.  It’s more like a box of crayons: you just use it how you want to use it.

Since starting, I’ve had other people tell me I was doing Gowalla wrong, or that I was cheating.  And I’ve told people *they* were doing Gowalla wrong, and cheating.  But the truth is, there’s really only one “cheat” in the game, and that’s to hack the system to check in somewhere that you actually are nowhere near. (And even that is a little grey, if you see my rule 1e.)

Here are the rules I’ve come up with.  I’ve played quite a bit.  I’ve currently checked into 790 unique spots, and I’ve won a free t-shirt and a free iPod, and I’ve also been given extra editing power as part of the Gowalla Elite Street Team.  So these rules comes from a lot of experience and time spent wandering around thinking Gowalla things.  But they’re not official rules, of course, and I’m really curious to know if you agree with these rules or have your own to add.

1) Places

1a) You should feel free to check in to any spot that Gowalla says you can check into, at any time.  You don’t have to go into the physical place or buy something or spend any time there. However, check the rules below for restrictions.

1b) You should not check into a place if you don’t know where it actually is i.e. if you can see it in your list but you don’t actually know what it is or which direction it’s in.  You don’t have to see it, but you should be able to point directly to it from where you are standing.

1c) You can’t check into something from a car or a bus, with a few exceptions. You can check-in from a car for bridges, for drive-throughs, and for any spot that it would be dangerous to check-in on foot.

1d) You can’t cheat and check in somewhere that you really aren’t, like for instance if your iPhone malfunctions and thinks you are somewhere else on the GPS.

1e) The exception to this is if you were by some spot, and you didn’t check in, and then later you find you suddenly can check in even though you’ve moved far away.  That’s not subverting the premise, which is that you wanted to check in when you were near.

1f) The exception to this exception is if you miraculously find yourself allegedly near a REALLY cool spot to check in, according to your iPhone—for example, a prison or Versailles.  In that case, go for it.

1g) If you can check into a spot, but you know that spot is in the wrong position, let someone know who can fix it, or fix it yourself.

1h) If a spot exists for a thing that is no longer there seasonally, i.e. a circus or a hockey rink, you shouldn’t check into it.  If a place is closed and permanently gone, you also shouldn’t check into it.  Yes, even if you could.

2) Creating and Founding

2a) If you create a spot, don’t also found it.  Leave that for someone else so that 10 other people can found it, not just 9.  This is something I just decided not long ago, so you’ll see earlier spots where I created AND founded it.

2b) If you create a spot, go back later via the Web interface and clean it up. Make sure it’s properly placed, and has a good description.  Add the Twitter and Web site if you can.

2c) When you create a spot, write a description, or at least go back that evening and add a description.  Places are WAY more interesting when there’s a description.

2d) Categorize a place properly, but be inventive.  I’ve called a tattoo parlor a “hardware store” because of the icon, and a lobster shop an “aquarium” because you can watch large live fishes in tanks.  I’ve also seen an office that’s called a Zoo, which is stretching it, but funny, so it’s OK.

2e) Do not create Starbucks or fast food restaurants unless you go there ALL the time or there’s something actually interesting about them; they mostly clutter up Gowalla and don’t offer much fun to check into.  And do not found one either; do you really want to give them more cred? Save your stuff for dropping at interesting places.

2f) Do not delete a spot once you’ve made it unless it’s really wrong.

2g) If a place closes leave the spot there but note that it is gone in the description.

3) Items

3a) The first thing to realize is that it’s not wrong to vault items, but it’s also not right to vault everything you find.  Half the fun of Gowalla is in sharing cool things you find with others, and the other half is in keeping cool things you find for yourself.  Be balanced.

3b) As a guideline, if you get an item at a place, try not to also drop that item or exchange it at that place.  It’s no fun going to a coffee shop that’s full of nothing but coffees. If you absolutely gotta drop your fresh find to grab an item you want, though, it’s OK to do so.

3c) I vault one of every kind of item, and leave the rest in the world by founding other places.

3d) I try to swap an item at a spot when I check in; just to give the items interesting histories.

3e) I collect frisbees.  If there’s a frisbee, I’m going to talk it and vault it.

4) Checking In

4a) I try to leave a note every time I check in, this is especially true when it’s a place I’m actually interacting with and not just passing.

5) Friends

5a) I’ll be friends with just about anyone I’ve met.

5b) If you’re active in Vancouver, and have more than a handful of checkins, I’ll probably send you a friend request, and I’ll accept yours if you send me one.

5c) Otherwise, you better have a really interesting nickname or a really cute avatar.

6) Street Elite Rules

Some people have advanced editing permissions.  These are special rules for them.

6a) Clean up titles and fix typos in descriptions.

6b) Add descriptions where there are none, but don’t change someone else’s description unless you KNOW it’s wrong.

6c) Leave places out of titles.  Call it “Starbucks” not “Starbucks on Broadway”.  Use the description to clarify the location if that’s necessary.

6d) Be VERY careful merging.  I have mistakenly merged two Starbucks together that should have been two different spots.  And, I’ve had a spot I worked hard to create, get merged into another nearby location, which was super frustrating.  So be careful, and if there’s any doubt, leave both spots alone.


“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?




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