Yelp Fights Back Against Foursquare, Gowalla

Yelp, which recently launched “check-ins” via its iPhone (s aapl) app in a move that put it on the same playing field as Foursquare and Gowalla, is making those check-ins an integral part of its user-review services. As shown in the screenshot below, a review of a particular retail outlet or service in Yelp will now show whether that user has checked in at that location, and if so how many times. Users who check in frequently will get small “R” logos beside their names to show that they’re a regular at that spot.

Yelp — which was rumored to have had talks with Google (s goog) recently about a possible acquisition of the company — is also looking for financing instead of either being acquired or going public via an IPO, according to what Bloomberg calls “a person familiar with the matter.” This source says Yelp has been in talks with Elevation Partners LP about ongoing funding, something other sources have reported as well.

Although Yelp doesn’t mention Gowalla or Foursquare in its blog post, it’s pretty obvious that the user-review site is feeling the heat from the two location-based upstarts (at least one Foursquare founder was irked by what he said was Yelp’s copycat response, a post that was taken down but not before being captured by one fast-thinking Tumblr user).

As Om pointed out in a recent post, the combination of Twitter reviews (from friends and other trusted sources) and Foursquare tips and reviews from those who check in regularly makes a pretty compelling competitor to Yelp. In his post, product manager Eric Singley makes a point of noting how large the company’s user base is:

Last month, 26 million people connected with local businesses via the (now!) 9 million reviews on Yelp. Yelp Check-ins is a natural extension of our core product: increasing the ways users can share their information about local businesses with their friends and other users, as well as adding a way folks can contribute meaningfully to the site without writing a review.

Although some users of location-based services are signing out for good because of privacy concerns, the growth of Foursquare and Gowalla and similar apps seems to show that they have plenty of steam left in them. The big question dogging Yelp is whether check-ins added to its reviews will be enough, or whether Foursquare and/or Gowalla make for a simpler user experience and therefore a significant competitive threat. (For Gowalla’s perspective, see Om’s recent video interview with that company’s CEO.)

The Yelp blog post says that check-in information will be appearing only on specific reviews and user profiles for now, but that the company is working to integrate that data into other spots as well, and will also be providing statistics about user check-ins soon to retailers and other establishments through its Yelp for Business Owners service. Apps with check-in capabilities are also coming soon to other mobile platforms, he said.