Neither Facebook nor Gowalla have confirmed this news directly at this point. We have reached out to both companies
and will update this post as we learn more.
Update: A spokesperson from Gowalla has told us that the company does not comment on rumors or speculation, and would not confirm one way or the other the truth of the CNN report.
Update 2: AllThingsD has obtained a note from Josh Williams, the founder of the company, telling investors that the “ink on the deal is not dry” and that the situation is in a holding pattern. But not a denial of the actual deal taking place.
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The deal comes on the same day that we learned of another bit of Facebook mobile news: the company has hired a new head of mobile developer relations, James Pearce, who had been in a similar role at Sencha.
CNN is reporting that the deal (value undisclosed) is of the “acqhire” nature: most of Gowalla’s employees, who are currently based in Austin, will join Facebook in Palo Alto to work on Facebook’s Timeline feature, launched earlier this year at its f8 conference.
However, if this deal is actually happening, there could be more to this than just a talent acquisition. Given Gowalla’s emphasis on photos for its check-ins, and its growing database of city-specific information about venues that its users visit, you can see how some of that could form the backbone for further mobile services launched (or integrated) by Facebook into its own network. That would omplement what Facebook already offers users (check-in places, local deals) and making more stickiness for its site for mobile users, and for those on PCs checking up on what their more mobile friends are doing.
However, it is not clear whether Gowalla would remain as a standalone service after a would-be acquisition from Facebook. The company has a strong track record of closing down startups, and ingesting what it needs and wants from them for its own projects.
Gowalla held a lot of promise when it first launched in 2009 by Josh Williams (pictured), who remains head of the company, but ultimately it lost some steam among a sea of location-sharing apps. So what started as more of a check-in service that competed with Foursquare was relaunched in August 2011 with a pared-down set of features based around the idea of location sharing and travel guides.
As for revenue drivers, there have been some deals for “badges” to promote certain places — for example a deal with Disney (NYSE: DIS) for its amusement parks — but it’s unclear whether Gowalla has had enough people using these services to make that marketing angle work as a business. A deal with Facebook, if it is true, could give the basic concept behind Gowalla a significantly bigger audience — or let the engineers who created it add some of that sparkle to Facebook. And then, who knows, it might just pop.