A no-longer lonely planet comes to Britain

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The Independent Online

Gowalla, a social networking site based on where you know as well as who you know, is set to become the latest social media site to open an office in the UK. It comes as the company sets its sights on doubling the size of its operations this year and reshaping itself as a "social Lonely Planet".

Josh Williams, the co-founder and chief executive of the location-based network site, said: "We have been growing our international businesses and we are looking to set up in Europe, most likely in the UK. London is interesting because it sits at the gateway to many other places."

Foursquare, a rival location network, as well as the social networking group Twitter, have already announced plans to open in London.

More than 40 per cent of Gowalla's activity is international, Mr Williams said, with a particularly strong European base predominantly in Scandinavia and the UK.

He hopes that "four or five" employees will be in London later this year. The group has 30 employees and the London move is part of a plan to double headcount in 2011.

The site, which was founded in 2009 by Mr Williams and Scott Raymond, now has more than onemillion users registered.

Users "check in" to a location using their mobile device, adding comments and recommendations which can be seen by their friends. Alongside the user-generated content it has signed deals with publications including National Geographic and The Washington Post to provide more descriptions, maps and insights.

Gowalla raised $8.4m (£5.2m) at the end of 2009 and Mr Williams said last week that the company would look to raise more. The company is looking to become a "social travel guide" challenging traditional guidebooks. He called it "Lonely Planet written by your friends".

He added: "The honeymoon is over for location-based services, now people are asking what the future is. The real story now is how useful these services are and how people can use highly localised and contextual services."

Gowalla is not a Silicon Valley-based start up but was founded in Austin, Texas, and is not worried by the rise of location services such as Foursquare, Loopt and even Facebook with its launch of Places. "Location is a hot place to be, we don't see them as a threat," Mr Williams said. He said had not heard about David Cameron's plan to create "Silicon Roundabout", a version of America's Silicon Valley in London, first announced in November. However he backed the idea.