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Gowalla: We're still in the location race

Are the location wars still raging? Gowalla, which some critics say has totally lost the battle with Foursquare, just inked two new promotional deals.

It's been fewer than four months since the much-hyped "location wars" of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, where eager onlookers were quick to pit rival "check-in" services Foursquare and Gowalla against one another to see which one dominated the social-media-crazed nerdfest. Yet, by most accounts, Foursquare has emerged victorious.

Earlier this week, a set of statistics made the rounds claiming that Foursquare is now five times bigger than Gowalla and is growing 75 percent faster. A source in the location space added a tidbit in a conversation with CNET: not only is Foursquare winning in terms of users overall, but those users "check in" far more frequently. And in spite of Gowalla's initial coziness with Facebook--the design-savvy service is run by a team of veteran platform developers and counted many Facebook employees among its active users--it was Foursquare that the social network was rumored to want to purchase.

But Gowalla is still fighting for market share, launching two new promotions on Thursday that hype up features that Foursquare doesn't have: the ability to share photos at a check-in, and a new "real-time moving spot" gimmick that automatically updates location.

The first promotion is with athletic megabrand Nike and Lance Armstrong-founded nonprofit Livestrong in conjunction with the Tour de France cycling race. Livestrong has orchestrated a "chalkbot" machine to paint user-submitted messages of encouragement on Tour-traversed roads, and that robot will be checking in with its location on Gowalla as well as posting photos. Additionally, Gowalla users who check into Nike retail locations will receive a commemorative virtual "pin."

The second promotion is with edgy T-shirt retailer Threadless, tying into a big marketing campaign that the Chicago-based company just kicked off: traveling around the country in an old-school Airstream trailer. The team on board won't just be checking in as part of the promotion, but will also be updating its location in real time (this is thanks to technology that Gowalla has licensed from SimpleGeo, another location technology start-up that shares some common investors). Gowalla members have an incentive to "follow" the Threadless trailer: if they track it down in the flesh and "check in," they'll receive a free T-shirt.

Granted, Foursquare is inking far more promotional deals, with new sponsored "badges" and local coupon discounts popping up left and right. Gowalla's survival may depend on brokering deals that further promote it as a wacky travel-guide app rather than a way to hunt for deals and find your friends--features that Foursquare may indeed have won over already.