Photo By: Gregory Pleau

Photo By: Gregory Pleau

In the 1960’s there was a counter-culture movement that wanted to spread power over a broader base rather than the “ruling” elite.   This movement was in evidence {again} in the last few years as part of the 1% protests.   I’m not so much a radical that I find myself totally aligned with those movements, but what I do find revolutionary is the ability to collaborate in the social media age.

Much has been said about how Twitter helped with the Arab Spring.  That’s such a big thing that I suspect many people don’t see how it can help them today.   Over the last few years I’ve helped organize an event with about ten other people, give or take a few.   We aren’t an official body, we have no financial consolidation, we are just a group of volunteers trying to do something fun for a broader community.  It flat out amazes me how much we accomplish using free online tools from a variety of suppliers.

Our event usually gets something around 200 people to come out to the woods for an evening of geocaching in late fall.  We just held the eighth installment of BFL Boot Camp this past weekend.  There are other geocaching groups that organize similar events with an even larger turnout.  Admittedly their events are in warmer parts of the year and take place during the day.  We are happy with our turnout.   Our only goal is try to provide some fun for those people that do attend, so that total number of attendees isn’t our goal.  In all cases these events are collaborative endeavors between groups of volunteers. (and a few voluntolds 😉

In my day job we use commercially supported collaboration tools to help us get our jobs done.   For our volunteer efforts we don’t have the finances to pay for commercial products so we rely on open source or free solutions.   Everything starts with the promotion of our event, for free, on the largest geocaching website in the world.  We don’t pay extra to have our event mentioned on the site.  Having our event listed there gives us exposure to thousands of geocachers that may be interested in our event.  We haven’t tried using Meetup to augment our event.  I don’t know that it would add significant value beyond what we already get.

Our event is spearheaded by northernpenguin.  Even though he’s the final arbiter of our decision making process it is actually a very consensus driven process.   As of this writing we are working on selecting a theme for BFL9.   We started by posting ideas on in a private Facebook group.   We collected up those ideas and put them in a poll on Facebook.   The organizing group then casts some votes and we go with the most popular theme.   That’s collaboration and it’s all free.  As another example this year one of the organizers needed to find an articulated skeleton.  He posted what he was looking for on Facebook and later that week when I saw a skeleton in store I posted a reply.  I bought the skeleton for him.  I even left it in the woods and sent him the coordinates on where to find it.  (you gotta love GPS).  None of us pay to use Facebook.  [We pay with our personal information John] Facebook allows our group the ability to post ideas and get feedback in near real time from a geographically disparate group.   From end to end our group spans a distance of about 100 kilometres yet we are able to stay in constant contact.

Another facet of Facebook that we use is the ability to post pictures.   During our build process we share pictures of what we are building and ask for feedback.  We also get a lot of encouragement from posting the pictures which helps give us the energy we need to complete our work.   It can get stressful as event day approaches and being positive about the work really helps keep spirits up.

All of our online work culminates in the creation of our “launch kit”.  This is a 20 page document that lists general and specific details about the caches placed as part of the event.  The launch kit is drafted online using Google Docs.   Each organizer has access to the Google Document and contributes their portion.   Everyone supports the document creation through edits to what has been submitted.   This spreads the workload around making it easier for everyone to contribute.   The completed document is then made available on the event website which is a hosted WordPress site.  There is a fee for the hosting but the website software is free.

To really help make our event enjoyable we encourage attendees to load the Ontario Trails Project (OTP) map.   The OTP is a crowdsourced project that aims to include all of the trails of Ontario.   The data is supplied by geocachers and non-geocachers that walk the trails of Ontario.   northernpenguin collects, filters and manipulates the data to produce a free, crowdsourced map of the trails of Ontario.   There are over 14,000km of trails in the OTP.  This is another collaborative solution made possible with modern technology and social media.

The feedback from our BFL Boot Camp is overwhelmingly positive.  It is incredibly rewarding to read the comments and know that the work we have done is appreciated.   It takes a good six months of efforts to put the BFL Boot Camp together.  At the size it is now it would be nearly impossible to put this event on without access to collaboration tools.   To buy access to comparable commercial tools would easily cost into the thousands of dollars.  Our event and the tools we use to put it on is just one example of how social/collaboration tools are giving more Power to the People!


I have been writing the cachemania blog since 2008. I'm interested in the development of geocaching and the many ways that people play the game.

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