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Gowalla and Foursquare lead traveler to House of Pies

Slice of Bayou Goo pie from Houston's House of Pies (photo by Sheila Scarborough)In my tourism training hat, people often ask me about the utility of location-based services like Gowalla and Foursquare.

Here’s an example of why they’re so handy….

I was speaking in Houston at the TFEA (Texas Festivals and Events Association) annual conference, and I needed a quick meal near the hotel.  It was a rather ritzy area – at one point I tweeted, “I’m looking for a Taco Bell in a Smith and Wollensky part of town” – but I did find a sandwich joint where I could run in and out and get something to go.

While parked, I checked in on both Gowalla and Foursquare, because I’m experimenting with them for my tourism-related clients. Both services use the GPS function on my T-Mobile Android smartphone to figure out where I am, and then show me nearby places that are listed in their database.

Both kept showing a nearby House of Pies.

Who wouldn’t want pie after a long drive and before a big speaking gig the next day?  Who has kids and spouses who like pie?

I rest my case.

Without the digital insights from Gowalla and Foursquare (and Yelp if I had launched that app, which also has a location-based function and checkins) I would not have noticed the neon-lit House of Pies building diagonally across the parking lot from me on Westheimer, a major Houston thoroughfare. There’s also a House of Pies on Houston’s Kirby Drive and they’re on Twitter as @HouseofPies1967.

One slice of their house specialty later, I was a fan of their Bayou Goo pie (a “pecan crust with a layer of sweet cream cheese, then a layer of vanilla custard swirled with chocolate chunks and topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings”) and even more of a fan of location-based services that bring me the information I need, when I need it, where I am located.

It’s hard to beat that convenience at 9 pm in an unfamiliar city, I’ll tell you!

Take a close look at privacy and notification settings before you use these; the default setting tends to be a public broadcasting of your location via Twitter, Facebook, etc. and you need to think through those implications. You can choose not to inform anyone when you check in, of course; Foursquare calls it “off the grid.”

If you have a smartphone, consider getting one of these free travel apps – I’m partial to Gowalla because it has a scavenger hunt aspect that kids will like, and lots of cool Trips for travel ideas. For more insights, here’s Gary Arndt’s post Gowalla vs Foursquare as tools for travel.

These services can really help with the “what’s around here?” question as you travel.

(This post was included in the 21 July edition of Wanderfood Wednesday. Check it out for other foodie posts!)