Opencaching Tipping Point

The phrase tipping point refers to the point in time when an idea spreads on its own, organically. It is the point where attitudes change and the general population starts to move in a new direction. A little over a year ago Garmin introduced opencaching.com. Since that time Garmin has offered promotions and incentives to get geocachers to use their site. Is it working?

According to FirenIce the opencaching site has about 20,000+ geocaches.  I haven’t confirmed this with Garmin but I’m not worried about the accuracy for now, you’ll see why shortly.   If we assume that each cacher on opencaching.com has placed 2 caches that works out to about 10,000 users.  That might be a bit low so let’s say it’s 20,000 users.   Groundspeak claims that their site geocaching.com has about 5 million users.

According to a recent study the tipping point for a new idea is adoption by 10% of a given population.   I’m not scientist but that number feels about right.  Roughly  1 in 10.   So if we are to accept Groundspeak’s numbers that means that 500,000 geocachers would need to adopt a new idea before it spreads on its own within the caching community.

Using the assumed figures I’ve listed above it would appear that opencaching.com is about 480,000 users away from tipping.  The questions now are:  will it take 500,000 users in order to make opencaching.com tip and what kind of growth rate does Garmin need before they lose interest in the project?

Is It Just a Game?

Some people have said that I’m hyper, others have said that I’m aggressive, I don’t know if I’m either of those things but I do know that I’m easy going about geocaching. This cannot be said for some people.

There are a few things that I might get excited about when it comes to geocaching, one is spoilers in the logs the other is geocache quality. Those two are hot buttons for me because they affect how other people are forced to play the game. If you want to read the hint before you get to a cache, fine by me. That’s not my style but I’m playing my game, not yours. I am not to excited about seeing hint in the log that’s for sure. I’m not a fan of that because it’s hard to avoid. If you put out poor quality caches either by choosing a less than worthy location or by using an inappropriate container then that affects all who play the game.

What I’m not going to do is get worked up by someone “cheating”. In this respect geocaching is like golf. If you cheat in golf you are affecting your game play not mine. If someone wants to hack a Where I Go cartridge, go ahead. If someone gets the final coordinates from a friend, go ahead. Just keep that information to yourself. I’ll play my way and you play your way. As long as what you are doing isn’t affecting how other people get to play then I’m not going to make an issue out of it. One caveat here. Doing things that adversely affect the general public’s perception of geocaching does get me excited and not in the happy face kind of way. I want to keep playing for a long time and that won’t happen if we aren’t courteous to those who also use the spaces we do.

Geocaching is so much better when we are having fun. Can we focus on that for a while?

Improved Geocache Navigator

Map & Menu - Geocache Navigator

Geocache Navigator is finally touch screen friendly.  Trimble has made that improvement and a few more to the latest release of Geocache Navigator.   I’ve been busy working on an upcoming geocaching event which has severely limited my available time for caching.  I was in Toronto this past week without my GPSr and decided to take advantage of some downtime and find some caches.  The ability to look up caches close to my location is my favourite feature of the Geocache Navigator software.   I’ve been able to do that since first using this app a few years ago.  Three are a couple of new changes to finding and saving caches in this new version of Geocache Navigator that I think are quite helpful.

For starters the new app is touch screen aware.  I use Geocache Navigator on my BlackBerry Torch.  In previous versions of the app the navigation buttons were touch sensitive but the maps were not.  In the new version you can scroll maps by dragging your finger across the screen.  This is much faster than the previous method.  To make scrolling even faster the app now stores a cache of map tiles locally on your phone.  In this way the application doesn’t have to constantly request map information over the air.   The ability to repetedly zoom in and then out without requesting map tiles makes the application much faster.   These features appear to be so new that the official user guide for the application does not reflect the new map features.  By default the new maps show aerial imagery.  You can switch to the traditional map view from the menu.

A brand new feature to the application is the ability to save caches to the phone.  Saving the caches to the phone saves only the cache details.  It does not save the previous logs but it does save the hint.  There are several areas that I cache in where cellphone coverage is a little spotty.  The ability to save cache details in advance makes it much easier to rely on my BlackBerry when I don’t have my GPSr nearby.  I still prefer my GPSr for outdoor use but my BlackBerry loaded with Geocache Navigator is very handy indeed!

The End of Geocaching

I am a little concerned that geocaching might be on the downward slide.   What makes me think this?  The length of online logs.   I’m noticing a trend in the logs I’m seeing towards shorter logs for new cachers.  I ran some numbers on a cache I just published and cachers with more than 500 finds wrote logs longer than 150 characters, 50% of cachers with fewer than 500 finds wrote shorter logs.   As much as I like to read longer logs the length of the log isn’t the issue.   Twitter has shown us that you can be brief and be interesting at the same time.  What this is showing me is that we have developed a geocaching culture of take without enough give.

I try and make my caches interesting.   I’ll try unusual hides, interesting places, something to make it more than a numbers run.  My only reward for doing this is to read the logs of people that find the caches.  If I spend a few hours on the creation of a cache I would hope it warrants a longer log than TFTC.  Unfortunately not all cachers feel as I do.

I know that if I do 20 caches in a day it is hard to write something unique for all the finds but I try.   I’m not concerned with the logs on power trails.  I’m thinking of caches where the cache owner put a bit of work in to the cache but the finder didn’t reciprocate with a suitable log.  How does a newbie cacher know how long a log should be?  Who is teaching cacher etiquette?

Unlike baseball or soccer or darts there are no geocaching leagues.  We don’t start out in peewee and progress up to Triple A.  It is for this reason that geocaching associations and geocaching vendors provide a critical role in the success of  geocaching.   Without these related organizations there is no one to teach new cachers etiquette or technique.   A film canister is NOT a suitable cache container where I live but where do you go to learn that?

If you are like me and would like geocaching to continue for a long time then please let hiders know you appreciate their effort by writing complete logs.   Here’s something that geocaching listing sites like geocaching.com can easily do:  add a character count to the log submission.   Let me sort, group or search by log length.  I don’t need favourite points if I can see the log length.   If every log for a  cache is less than 50 characters then I know it’s not is cool as a cache where every log is longer then 200 characters.    You could even go as far as showing the average log length at the top of the log entries.

If you are supporting geocaching education let me know and I’ll tweet about it.   Something everyone can do to support the geocaching community is to join their local association.  These associations and groups are great ways to learn about geocaching.

Listing Sites Add Features

There is nothing static about the major listing sites.   Geocaching.com has released “Challenges” to a mixed reception.  Opencaching.com has introduced “find verification” but that requires a firmware update.    I’m not sure how either of these will make geocaching more fun.

The “find verification” tools over at opencaching.com will no doubt be appealing to certain types of geocachers.  I’ve read some of the forum posts where cachers get quite animated when it comes to the authenticity of log entries.  I’m not the kind of cacher that gets my knickers in a knot when it comes to whether or not someone actually signs the physical log for my caches.  The verification process might stop the odd cacher from logging “I was close enough but I didn’t find the container” and claiming the find.

I created a listing to see if I could add a verification code.  The process was very easy.  From the summary page you click on the “Verification Code, Add” link.   Your code number and QR code are then created with an option to print the QR Code.  The QR code is printed at a reasonable size for placement in small geocache containers.

Groundspeak has not been idle either.   The introduction of Challenges, a sort of replacement for virtuals, was introduced this week.  Not everyone is happy.  I have yet to see a positive response from my geocaching circle.   There are a number of neutral responses but the overwhelming majority are negative and I don’t get that.   If you don’t like it then don’t do it.   Groundspeak is not required to innovate only in directions you want.   Groundspeak is a technology company and as such gets a little too enamored with their own technology.   My sense is the designers at Groundspeak really like this new tool and rushed to get it out there.   Having some pre-loaded challenges that would appeal to the core geocaching audience, by that I mean challenges that require finding something, might have helped foster a positive attitude.   The “Kiss a Frog” challenge was cute but it doesn’t appeal to the core audience.

Cacher Northern Penguin created a challenge that I think appeals to a portion of the geocaching core audience.  The challenge is to complete a multi-day hike on the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail.  This seems like a reasonable addition to geocaching.

My reaction to Groundspeak’s Challenges feature is wait and see.  The technology has merit but will cachers use it for good or evil?

I find these recent changes interesting in that they show the differences in vision for both companies concerned.  Garmin has introduced features that bolster their hardware centric view of geocaching.  Scan the QR code with the built in camera.   Groundspeak on the other hand has introduced a variation on game play just as they did with Wherigo.   Both changes have their place in the spectrum of game play that is geocaching.   I play the game the way in a way that makes me happy, I hope you do too.