CNN set off a firestorm of speculation when it reported Friday that Facebook had acquired Gowalla, the location-based check-in mobile app similar to Foursquare.
Facebook declined to comment, but Josh Williams, Gowalla founder and CEO did not deny the deal in an email to AllThingsD on Sunday, writing, “The ink on the deal is not dry, so our holding pattern is that we do not comment on rumours and speculation. I have another email penned that was ready to send you today, assuming you would get this news before the story was officially released. But now it is all over Twitter, so you have likely heard. A longer email will be sent soon.”
Turns out, as Business Insider reports and a Gowalla blog post confirms, that the Gowalla team is indeed joining Facebook — but not the brand itself, which will be killed off in order to supercharge the timeline feature on Facebook, whose own Facebook Places check-in function launched last year but never took off.
As fate would have it, Gowalla launched in 2009 on the same day as its chief competitor Foursquare, which leapfrogged to greater popularity and caused Gowalla to relaunch and refocus several times, unsuccessfully, in an attempt to catch up.
Most of Gowalla's employees, including Williams, will move to Facebook's Palo Alto headquarters to work on Facebook's Timeline feature. "It's a perfect match. 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," as an insider with knowledge of the deal had told CNN.
The acquisition of the technology but not the brand continues Facebook's habit of buying and dismantling companies as they’ve done with dozens including Beluga, Hot Potato, Drop.io, Snaptu and Digital Staircase.
The Gowalla news also came on the heels of FB’s announcement that it's going on a hiring spree to establish an engineering hub in New York City in 2012, although the Gowalla team will be moving from Austin, TX, to Palo Alto, as co-founder Josh Williams confirmed in his blog post today:
About two months ago, my co-founder Scott and I attended F8. We were blown away by Facebook’s new developments. 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!
Gowalla, as a service, will be winding down at the end of January. We plan to provide an easy way to export your Passport data, your Stamp and Pin data (along with your legacy Item data), and your photos as well. Facebook is not acquiring Gowalla’s user data. We know how much many of you loved Gowalla. 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.
We’re so very grateful for the support of our community, our investors, our families, and, of course, the City of Austin as well. You’ve all played a special role in seeing us to this day.