History (read: Twitter) has taught us that combining a great service with a stable, open API usually makes for a healthy ecosystem that has the ability to improve said service, both for its users and the company powering it.
New features and functionalities that are left out of the provider’s roadmap – for whatever reason – get implemented by creative third-party developers, leaving end users with more choice and experiences catered to their needs.
In the case of Gowalla, the location-based social network that rivals companies like Foursquare, Rummble, Where and plenty of others for world domination in the geolocation space, the foundations of that ecosystem appear to be shaky at best. The situation has gotten to a point where even the startup’s most rabid fans are freezing third-party development projects and call for the company to get its act together urgently – to become more like Foursquare, in many ways.
Leading the movement is London-based developer Ben Dodson, who has dedicated a lot of his time and resources on Gowalla Tools, a set of utilities for avid users (including an iPhone, Web, Twitter and desktop app). The man has penned an extensive, solid open letter directed at Gowalla management, in which he calls for the company to change its ways.
He’s not alone in his quest; several third-party developers have co-signed the letter, which is mostly a request for Gowalla to be more upfront about the changes it makes to the public API it debuted back in February, and to be more communicative in general.
I’ll let you read the whole thing (and quietly get a vicious headache from all the colors on that page) but here’s the vital part:
The major problem with the API is its fluid and changeable nature. Whilst we accept that any application will inevitably have bug fixes and changes, an API is supposed to provide a stable endpoint on which third party services can rely on.
This is not the case with the Gowalla API which seems to change on a whim fairly frequently. Worse than a changing API, the developers of any applications relying on the API are rarely informed of changes (and when they are, they usually appear a day or so after the event has happened and the community have worked out fixes for themselves).
Dodson, for one, is putting Gowalla Tools on hiatus until the startup fixes some of the problems he mentions in the letter, which goes into detail about the issues at hand and also proactively suggests a number of solutions (which, again, is basically to be more like Foursquare in the way that the Gowalla competitor reaches out to third-party developers and manages its API).
I contacted Gowalla CEO and co-founder Josh Williams about the whole ordeal, but as he was currently in the middle of a long meeting he’ll only be able to formulate a proper response later today. We’ll update this post when we learn more about how Gowalla views things.
Update: Williams responds in corporate speak:
As a small team we have been diligently focused on improving performance and positioning Gowalla for the future. We recognize this may have affected some of our developers over the past few weeks and we are actively working to strengthen communication and create an even more robust experience for our entire community.