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.
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.