The Eureka Moment: Challenges

Jeremy Irish: CEO and Co-Founder of Groundspeak

By Jeremy Irish,

To me, the core geocaching experience is the “eureka moment” when finding a cache.

The word, Eureka, comes from the ancient Greek εὕρηκα heúrēka, meaning “I have found it.” I love this word. It represents that elated feeling of discovery when you move a few leaves to discover that container in the woods, or reaching under a park bench to extract a magnetic key holder. It is a sense of accomplishment and marks the end of a successful journey.

Finding a geocache is fun and rewarding, but I’ve always been frustrated of the limitations of a geocache. As a physical object, some places are inappropriate for placing a cache. They can’t be hidden close to each other to reduce confusion, many locations have to be regulated by land managers, and some locations just can’t support a hidden container. But there are lots of cool and interesting eureka moments in the world. So how can we get people there without a cache?

We tried this before. Our early attempt was to support virtual caches, which weren’t geocaches at all but unique locations on the world for people to discover. The best of those virtuals still exist today as grandfathered listings, but there was a time when virtuals were hard to qualify. The biggest reason was that we were applying the guidelines of geocaches to virtuals, which required a reviewer to publish them. No one could determine what the subjective threshold for what was a virtual was and wasn’t, so the constant angst resulted in the retiring of virtuals. For years we have focused on the core game of geocaching, but have always wanted to find a way to bring virtuals back.

Click on the image for a preview video of "Geocaching Challenges"

Spring forward to 2010 when we added the feedback section of our web site. It became quickly apparent that the community wanted virtuals back as much as we did. However, knowing the history of virtuals, we couldn’t just flip a switch and have the same process again. So we sat in a room and tried to distill the idea of virtuals into one sentence. The result was “go somewhere and do something.” This evolved into Geocaching Challenges.

Find a location of interest and challenge someone to take a photo or complete some kind of task unique to that location. Make it fun! Take a picture of yourself holding up the Tower of Pisa. Pull statue Lenin’s finger in Fremont (Seattle). We’re looking for the community to define the best challenges in the world.

We also know in the early days that there won’t be many Challenges, so we’ll be issuing Worldwide challenges daily. For those old timers, these challenges will be like the old Locationless caches. For example, we’ll challenge you to take a picture of yourself on a boat, kissing a frog, or dressed like a pirate. We’ll be using our feedback site as a way for the community to suggest Worldwide Challenges.

What are the guidelines for issuing a challenge? Unlike caches, there aren’t any official guidelines. Instead, you can rate challenges with thumbs up or thumbs down, and there are reporting tools available in the case that a challenge is inappropriate or unavailable. We’ll be tweaking these tools and introducing new ones as the activity grows, to ensure that the community can collectively decide what is appropriate, and what isn’t. For example, there is no 520’ guideline and Challenges won’t be blocked from being issued at Disney World, or even a pub.

There will be some restrictions at the start. To reduce the growth during the early days, only Premium Members can submit challenges. Premium Members will be limited to creating a Challenge once every 24 hours. Our hope is that we’ll be able to open this up further once we tweak our system to address the feedback we get from the community.

We’re also releasing a whole new set of mobile applications for Challenges, on the iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7. We expect that this new activity will be primarily accessed through these free applications, though we’ll continue to support GPS devices.

I’m very excited about Challenges, and look forward to seeing what the community can do with the new concept. I also look forward to constructive feedback on how to improve the activity and make it a part of the core geocaching experience.


Jeremy is the president and co-founder at Groundspeak, the company that started Geocaching.com, Waymarking.com and Wherigo.com. He lives in the Emerald City (Seattle).
  • Anonymous

    Like the origins of geocaching, we want to start simple and potentially get more complex as we figure out the best way to manage the new activity. So today, challenge someone to do something or take a photo at a specific location.

  • Soozcat

    So how are the new Challenges different from things like the Photo Goals category on Waymarking?  (Aside from the fact that the Waymarking website is confusing, difficult or impossible to use on the go, and being allowed to languish by Groundspeak, that is.)

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  • Sure, some virtuals were Photoshopped or the information was looked up on Google.  But some Geocache logs were not found/signed but were still logged.  In both cases, a person got a number added to their total but completely missed out on the fun of going to the intended spot.  Their loss.

    I understand why the original virtuals were hard to maintain and verify by GC.com.  However, looking at the feedback, it is obvious that people liked them and want to be able to log a find in Yosemite or Disneyland or Hoover Dam without having to find a container that won’t last.

    The new Challenges may turn out to be popular and work well.  It may turn out that they replace virtuals better than expected.  But they might not.  Obviously, there are going to problems with anything in this realm.  Some of this initial backlash is anticipating this but it is too soon to know for sure.

    I will offer this: allowing the internet community to vote or rate anything, even if it is made up of a specific audience such as Geocachers, opens up a big can of worms.  You can hope for objectivity but something about being online seems to ruin that in many different cases.

  • OzGuff

    [sarcasm]And without the 528′ limitation one should be able to find/complete thousands in a few hours![/sarcasm]

  • Anonymous

    It’s not about the numbers.

  • tomfuller & Quill

    I do wish that Groundspeak (Jeremy) would come up with another name for these.  I completed my first geocaching challenge in 2006. It involved signing the log of a geocache in each of the 36 Counties of Oregon. When I had completed the challenge, I was able to sign the logbook. I am now working on 2 or 3 other challenges which require signing logs.
    I will not be logging any of the new “challenges”. I may change my mind.  I will continue to log the old virtuals if they interest me.
    As for Earth Caches, I worked hard to create a good one that could be verified by me that you visited the site. I hid a container within the Earth Cache site where you have to determine the answers. You can also get the smilie for the container.

  • Grunriese

    Suggestion: Need to provide a means of editing and deleting your own completion logs

  • Finderskeeperz

    I’m not sure so far I am a big fan of the Chelenges yet either, but I’m willing to give it some time and let the good folks at Groundspeak come up with the solutions needed to make this an activity that most will agree on and enjoy.  Besides, these are the same people that came up with the idea of Geocaching that most of us hold so dear.  Be patient, give it some time, stop being so resistant to change and for heaven sakes, stop with all the negativety!  I would like to suggest that a peer should not be able to rate a Challenge unless they have completed it.  Otherwise, how do they know it is not worthy?

  • Anonymous

    I agree with most of previous comments.  This sounds like a fun activity – altho I do agree that it should be kept separate from geocaching.  This should be a separate activity – something that people can do without actually requiring a GPS.  And I do think they should be really unique and different (not like “stand on your head in a public park”)  I do like the virtuals as they do take you to places you might not have known about (sacred burial sites, statues, etc) – places where containers could not be placed.  And back to geocaching itself – for some people, it’s ALL about the numbers.  Otherwise why would they do the “walk the trail and get one every 161 feet” ones – no challenge there. I like the ones that involve a trail but more like you have to walk the 10 mile trail in just to get the cache – and then walk back out again – just for the fun of it – enjoy the scenery instead of looking for a micro every 161 feet! I do agree that the challenger activity should have its own separate area (not necessarily separate website but could be) and stats be kept separate. I think it could be included on a cacher’s statistics page but not added into the geocache total. 

  • Anonymous

    Further to my previous comment when I said “something that people can do without actually requiring a GPS” – I meant it as “something for those people to do that don’t have or don’t want to have a GPS – a harmless inexpensive hobby.  Now that I say it like that, maybe it should be a separate website with the people that belong to both to have the option to have it show up on their stat page (but still not included in the cache total).