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SXSW's location-tagging smackdown

March 12, 2010: 9:24 AM ET

Foursquare and Gowalla are squaring off for the title of top tagger at Austin's annual tech-fest.

By Caroline Waxler, contributor

The annual South By Southwest Interactive conference kicks off Friday and the advance buzz is all about a fierce competition between two location-tagging social networking companies: Foursquare and Gowalla. (Disclosure: I know the Foursquare co-founders.)

These services help you locate where your friends and contacts are at any given moment -- perfect for a conference of networking-enthusiasts who all want to connect with the people they know, and the people they only know virtually and want to meet in real life.

Plus, each service offers a competition element. In Foursquare, for example, people can be noteworthy and attain badges within the system for doing such things as being the biggest regular at a certain place (What Norm and Cliff from "Cheers" would do with this...) and going to a venue in which a lot of Foursquare members of the opposite sex are present. Gowalla lets you do such things as get virtual goods, and recognition, when you check in at a particular location, as well as when you reach particular milestones. (Think completing a pub crawl.)

This is so closely watched at South by Southwest not because people feel like they're witnessing magic but more for two reasons: One, everyone loves a good rivalry and two, South By Southwest attendees by definition love to geek out. (It's affectionately known as "spring break for nerds.") And, what better way to do that than to compete over who is the top visitor to the various venues associated with it? Foursquare is even giving out temporary tattoos to commemorate those achievements. (...Hells Angels these are not.)

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