A lot of cool things came out of SXSWi this year. Swindlr, LLC announced the name of their awesome new web service, Zappn.com, for starters. Launch day is still a ways off for them, but a friend of mine tipped me off to a brand new (and readily available) iPhone app used for “letterboxing”, called Gowalla.

From Wikipedia: “Letterboxing is an outdoor hobby that combines elements of orienteering, art and puzzle solving. Letterboxers hide small, weatherproof boxes in publicly-accessible places (like parks) and distribute clues to finding the box in printed catalogs, on one of several web sites, or by word of mouth. Individual letterboxes usually contain a logbook and a rubber stamp. Finders make an imprint of the letterbox’s stamp on their personal logbook, and leave an impression of their personal stamp on the letterbox’s logbook—as proof of having found the box.”

Gowalla forgoes the finding of a hidden box by following clues. Instead, it provides users with a location on a map. Users are rewarded for reaching the spot and using the iPhone’s GPS to verify that they’ve arrived. When you visit a new spot, you are rewarded with the ability to pick up one of the “icons” that have been left behind by other visitors. Icons are virtual items that you can collect by visiting various spots. If you visit a spot someone else commissioned, then you trade one of your icons for one that has been placed there. If you commission your own spot, you merely leave an item behind for others to find. For instance, when I signed up, I was given two praying mantis icons. So when I created my first spot, I left one behind for the next visitor to pick up. However, if you really like a certain item, you can vault it to keep it in your collection forever. You can also get new items by visiting lots of spots, as some will, just for visiting, give users a free icon for which they don’t have to trade.

The Gowalla team is working on a variety of new features that will spice up the game. Personally, I hope to see location-aware leaderboards for users that have the largest collections (or collections worth the most points, as each icon has a different value). They’ve also mentioned that they plan to allow users to create their own trips and to report problems for spots that are duplicates (and with luck, dangerous, incorrectly placed, located on private property, or just flat out inaccessible).

One feature that isn’t available in Kansas City yet is “trips”. Trips are a series of locations that are all tied together. If a user visits all of them, they earn a special “pin” to commemorate the activity. One of the trips currently available is an Austin Pub Crawl.

Suffice to say, this is the type of application for which the iPhone was built. I can’t wait to see what additional surprises the team has in store for us and if you have an iPhone, please please PLEASE download the free app.

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