Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast Transcript (Episode 1): Nate Irish on the Geocaching apps and Geocaching.com

NateAndChris
NateAndChris

Chris Ronan: Hello, everybody. It is Inside Geocaching HQ, the podcast, welcome to it. Very happy to have you tune in. I am Chris Ronan. I am the public relations manager at Geocaching HQ in Seattle. My job is to talk about geocaching, which is a pretty awesome job. I have been at HQ for two years. I’ve been a geocacher for just over five years and I love talking about geocaching and that’s why I’m so excited about this podcast. I hope you enjoy it. I hope we can bring some new information to you. This is our very first episode. In the future we will give you a chance to ask the questions, but for this first one we reached out to the many awesome geocaching podcasters and bloggers and vloggers out there and gave them the chance to ask the questions because they’re the pros and they came through just as we knew they would. They asked some great stuff, and I’m gonna start with Darryl Wattenberg of the GeoGearHeads podcast because Darryl I think asked a good question to start with, so here he is.

Darryl Wattenberg: This is darrylw4 of the GeoGearHeads podcast and welcome geocaching.com to the podcasting space. My first question that I really wanted to know is, why did you decide to do a podcast? Why now? What are we looking for from this new show?

CR: Thank you very much, Darryl. Hey, we just thought this would be another great way to connect with the community. We’ve got the blog, we’ve got the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all that stuff, but being able to talk about things is sometimes better than just writing about it. Lackeys often get a chance to appear on podcast such as GeoGearHeads, but there are times between those appearances when we’ve got stuff to announce or things to explain or just stuff to talk about and we’re hoping this will be a good avenue for doing that. Darryl, I’m hoping you and I can do some geocaching together in Michigan there sometime where you are based. I have yet to find a cache in Michigan. I’ve got a few on my list so hopefully we can make that happen. Not during the winter, mind you. Not during Michigan winter because I want nothing to do with that, but maybe spring or summer next year we can make that occur.

CR: Okay, so episode one, topic number one, the geocaching app. We will have a conversation with Nate Irish who leads the product teams here at Geocaching HQ. He had some interesting things to say about the app. We also talked about the website, so hopefully that all sounds good for our first episode. We’re gonna go ahead and get started. Me and Nate Irish and a lot of questions from podcasters, bloggers and vlogger. So, here we go.

[music]

CR: Let’s go back to when you first started. Obviously, your brother Jeremy starts the company. How did it come about that you ended up joining him here?

Nate Irish: Yeah, well, it was great for me. I was in Colorado going to junior college and driving a taxicab. [chuckle] I have been geocaching with Jeremy. He took me out to find my first geocache in the Rose Garden in Portland on a visit. So I was living in Colorado, going to school, driving a cab, geocaching had started to get big, and he couldn’t keep up with the emails anymore and he had about 600 unanswered emails in the support queue. Well, he knew I was a decent writer ’cause I had done some traveling and I would send back story-like dispatches from the road. And so he knew I was a good writer, he asked me if I would just log on and answer some emails and he would hire me as an employee. I thought that sounded great and so for the first six months or so, I would just roll out of bed in my pajamas in the morning and start answering some emails.

NI: After about six months of that, cleared out the queue, of course, and he said, “Well, if you move out to Seattle there’s a lot more that you can do.” And it was exciting. So I did the QA for a while and then my title shifted to product planner, which was a made-up title and it was really just, “Nate knows the product really well and he has some really good ideas about features that we should implement, so let’s put him in a position to direct how our resources get used.” And over time it grew into me having a team of product minded folks who can help us figure out what are the problems that the community is facing and what are some solutions that we could implement to solve them. And I’d glassed over completely here, hence, the emergence of the iPhone as a tool.

CR: A little bit of a thing.

NI: A little bit, yeah.

[laughter]

NI: It shifted our focus a little bit and expanded the audience greatly. Not everybody could afford or desire to have a $100 plus device just for geocaching or for hiking. And so, that opened up all kinds of new possibilities for us in terms of the audience that we could reach with geocaching. There are good things and there are bad things that came along with that. Of course, as you make geocaching more accessible then you have to also make sure that you’re careful about how you’re introducing them to the game of geocaching. We have a very jargony game, a game that has a lot of unwritten community rules, ethical rules about how you interact with caches, what kind of a responsibility it is to place a geocache and make sure it’s maintained, and all that stuff needs to be explained.

NI: In most cases, I think that geocachers hear those things from other geocachers and that’s great for us that whenever somebody’s introduced to the game from an existing geocacher, we know that they’re gonna get an education right off the bat. We don’t have to do too much to bring those people into the fold. But there’s still many more people who just see in the app store, they go to the navigation category and they see what’s this geocaching at number one? What is that even about? Download it and then they don’t have somebody there to hold their hand, so we have to be thoughtful about how we onboard those people into the game. And it requires a little extra work, and sometimes it means we can’t do other things.

CR: Fast forwarding to today from 13 or so years ago, what is your title now and what are your responsibilities encompass today?

NI: Well, I’m product team manager. Basically I have a team of product managers who… They’re assigned to development teams, so they manage the back log from four to five software engineers and front-end developers, and they work really closely with our user experience designers to research problems, to do customer interviews, to learn more about where those problems come from, and how might we solve those problems, and they are presenting solutions for us to build. One of the things that we try to be good at is really having an end in mind when we build something and knowing what it is that we’re hoping to accomplish by building that thing. That’s something that we’ve matured into over the years, because I think in the past, if we just had an idea we would run with it, and we wouldn’t think too much about how do we know we’re done? What does done look like? What does success look like? We try to be a little bit more methodical and thoughtful about that stuff.

NI: So yeah, I have a great team. We consider ourselves to be servant leaders at HQ. We’re a support team. We exist so that other people can do their job most effectively. And that’s a position I like to be in. I don’t necessarily like to do podcasts or be out in front, to be the guy on stage. I’d rather be in the background supporting people who do like to be up front, supporting people who have really incredible talents in building software and designing great experiences.

NI: And that extends out to the community too. I love the fact that what I do supports millions of people having adventures and experiences outdoors. That makes me excited to come to work everyday, because when I think about play, the concept of play, I think that a lot of people overlook what that means to the world and to the growth and development of a person. I think play is sacred. We get to spend time with each other when we play. It’s fulfilling. It’s wholesome. It’s healing. The stories that I get to hear sometimes of a father connecting with his son, his teenage son that they don’t have anything else in common, the teenage son doesn’t wanna be seen with the guy. It’s a story as old as time. But here’s something geocaching that they can go out and do together, and they connect on that level. And that’s play, but that’s so meaningful. I think that play matters.

CR: Okay, so let’s get into some questions for Nate, and again these are coming from bloggers and podcasters and vloggers from around the world. And let’s hear again from Darryl Wattenberg of GeoGearHeads.

DW: One of the questions we keep getting over and over again is what is the target for the official geocaching app, the one formally known as the intro app and is now just the everything app? It does seem like it’s working its way up from the more basic user, but it doesn’t seem to be an app designed for the serious, more experienced user. So, is there a target for that? And how is it determined as to what that target is?

NI: Is there a target? Yeah, I would say in the beginning, it shifted over time. In the beginning it was the completely new user. The app that we have today, the foundation of that app was as an introduction app to geocaching. So I can say 100% that a few years ago that app was developed with just the new user in mind. However, we are a small company and it is difficult to manage and maintain and build six or seven apps, and we’ve been in that situation in the past where we had multiple apps on Android, multiple apps on iOS, we had Windows Phone 7 apps. And that it’s just unmanageable for a team our size, and so we made a decision to invest all of our resources in that free app so that it would serve the new users, as well as the advanced users.

NI: We’re not there yet, obviously. We have a long way to go still. We’re taking steps in that direction to make sure that it adapts to the level of the user. As a starting point, we’ll always need to make sure that we pay attention to that new user. There’s really no getting around that. I think if you look at other apps, they have the advantage of being able to build strictly for that advanced user, most likely a lot of the listeners of this podcast. And I’m certain of the GeoGearHead podcast as well. And so that means that they don’t have to really think about things like tutorials when we create a new feature, which surprisingly takes a fair amount of time to get right because it’s really easy to make a bad tutorial that no one will ever use or pay attention to. It means that we have to be really careful about things like accessibility. We’re concerned about people with color blindness or that have vision impairments. These are concerns that as a company with such a large audience, we have to make sure that we attend to the needs of a variety of different players and play styles.

NI: So we definitely are trying to move that app into a more advanced territory. A lot of the features that we’re planning on releasing soon are meant to target that user of our old paid app, which there’s still quite a few features that we hear people asking for. Offline maps is one of the big ones and that’s something that we’re gonna be addressing really soon here. Another one, well, there are many smaller features like personal cache notes, the ability to seek caches with corrected coordinates at their location on the map. We can talk about souvenirs, is another big feature. So we’ve catalogued all of those features that people are asking for and are putting in place plans to actually add them to the app.

CR: Alright, so next up was the Geocaching Vlogger, Joshua, and here is his question.

Joshua: Hello Geocaching HQ. It is Joshua, the Geocaching Vlogger, and I just wanted to first say congratulations on episode one of geocaching.com’s podcast. I think it is so awesome that you guys have decided to start this. What a great way to stay in connection with the geocaching community. I wanna thank you for reaching out to me and asking if I had any questions for episode one so I decided to go to my viewers of my geocaching videos and asked them what they wanted answered from Geocaching HQ. And I had a ton of answers. People were very curious about several things, but there were two topics that people were most passionate about, or two themes that came forward. The first one was around innovation. What innovations does geocaching.com see themselves bringing forth in the near future? And especially around the idea of cache types?

Joshua: There were many people that were like,”Oh, my gosh, wouldn’t it be great if geocaching.com would create a new cache type?” Some people wanted to have a history cache. Other people wanted some sort of virtual cache to come forward. With Pokemon Go coming out, there’s so many amazing things now that the phone could do. Is there anything that could be done regarding the technology of smartphones that geocaching could use? So that was the first question, “What is in the future as far as it comes to cache types and technology? That would be great to hear from your side of that. Also, many people were curious about the geocaching app. Many people wanted some of the features that they got from the classic app that they just haven’t got yet. So what are you working on right now as it goes with the geocaching app? And what is down the line for that? So guys, thank you so much for asking me to submit some questions and thank you for all the work you do to keep this amazing hobby going all over the world. Alright, thanks guys. Bye.

CR: Well, Joshua, thank you very much for the kind words and also for the questions. Nate, let’s focus on the question about innovation because we’ve talked about the apps a little bit and we’ll talk about them a little bit more later. But let’s talk about his question about innovation.

NI: Yeah, we’re really excited to innovate on the game of geocaching. One of the things when it comes to innovation that we like to consider is taking our cues from the community and what they’re already doing to innovate because I think that makes us all more successful in the end. Something that we see happen a lot with geocachers is goal setting and keeping the game fresh whether you have a 100 geocachers or a 1,000 or 10,000, being able to set a personal goal for yourself and go out and achieve that goal is something that keeps people geocaching and that’s something that we wanna tap into. And I think that there are aspects of the app and the website and the game of geocaching in general that we can expand to include that kind of activity.

CR: Okay, so LANMonkey from the Caching in the Northwest podcast, he asks, “We’ve heard rumors about the future of pocket queries and the advent of lists. Could you please provide us a bit of the roadmap of geocaching.com’s plans with respect to these two important and much used features of the website?”

NI: Yeah, they are very important and much used, you’re right about that. Pocket queries is interesting. We love pocket queries. That was our first biggest premium member feature and I think it was introduced way back in 2003 I wanna say, so right as I was starting with the company. It’s been used in a lot of different ways, pocket queries have. Some people use them just to filter a set of caches down to just the caches they wanna see. And in those cases, frequently they won’t even download the pocket query, they’re just using it as a way to filter.

NI: Another big way obviously is downloading and putting it on the internal memory of your GPS, your handheld GPS. Still a further way is using a third party tool to update a database so that you can slice and dice a large data set of geocaches. So pocket queries are interesting in that they’ve been used in so many different ways. I’ll tell you one of the downsides, one of the major downsides of pocket queries is that they don’t communicate with any other types of lists on the website. We have a number of different ways of creating a list of caches; pocket queries is one, watch list is another one, ignore list is another one, your notifications is also in that category. All of those different features do not talk to each other and you cannot move one list to another list. You can’t make a pocket query of your watch list and why not? It’s just a list of caches. If I have a list of caches, I should be able to do everything there is to do with a list of caches to that list. And so that’s the spirit behind investing in the lists feature, to try and address the things that pocket queries were doing, but do them in a more scalable extensible way.

CR: Alright, so Sydney from the Dutch magazine Live Geocaching, which is a fairly new magazine. You can find them at Facebook.com/livegeocaching. Asking, “We are excited to see which new features will be available in the Geocaching app. We are also curious about the new functions on the website. Are there, for example, plans to make the watch lists on cache pages publicly viewable?

NI: Going back to my last answer, the watch list is just another kind of list. I think the closest thing that we’d like to grow lists into is the bookmark lists. Bookmark lists are shareable. I think at some point in the future I’d like to merge watch list into the list paradigm and therefore, as a list it will be shareable.

CR: Cool. Alright, so Benny from Der Geocaching Blog over in Germany, you can find it at mudmen-ger.de. The perceived difficulty I think in the community of taking all of the features from the classic app and putting them into the new app, and I think I would wonder this too if I didn’t work here, essentially why can’t you just do a copy/paste of what’s in that old app and put it into the new one? It’s obviously more complicated than that.

NI: Yeah, it is more complicated. I think it goes back to one of my earlier answers just around trying to serve different experience levels with the same app. We wanna look at some of these features that maybe are a little bit more confusing to new users and try and reimagine how can we implement those in a way that is accessible to them as well as meets the needs of hard core geocachers. That is a really tricky balance to strike and it takes a lot of research, a lot of customer interviews, a lot of design iterations. We do a lot of usability testing with both geocachers and non-geocachers. And it teaches us a lot about the best way to implement that feature and it expands the time frame for development.

CR: Going back to Darryl from GeoGearHeads, he has a question about new Garmin products. And that’s a really exciting thing actually, is the partnership between HQ and Garmin right now. So here’s his question.

DW: I’m very intrigued with the Oregon 750 series, I happened to get one myself. I like the idea of being able to talk between the smartphone and the GPSr. But at this point it doesn’t really work for me. The whole thing that I’d really love to be able to do is use a smartphone for just about everything and send just the wavepoints to the app. Is there any plan to have the app talk with devices like the Oregon 750 in the future? Or is it always gonna be just the GPS talking with the smartphone as a dumb conduit to get the caches?

NI: I would say everything’s on the table. I mean, the technology that Garmin’s coming out with right now is incredibly impressive. We don’t have any current, solid plans to do that but I wouldn’t write it off.

CR: And you’ve been around obviously since almost the beginning. It’s been really interesting and really exciting to see the relationship between Geocaching HQ and Garmin really become a lot closer over the last year or so and we’re seeing that with the advent of this Oregon 700 series and I know that you know that there’s more stuff coming down the pike.

NI: There is more stuff and we were fortunate to get a sneak preview not too long ago. I’m extremely excited about the relationship that geocaching is having with Garmin right now. We look in the data and we see that most geocachers use Garmin devices. I was previewing the questions and I saw there was another one asking what kind of GPS I use. And when I go out usually I use my smartphone because I have a four-year-old and she won’t hike into the back country with me.

[chuckle]

NI: But if I’m hiking in the back country, I still use my old Garmin Colorado. I think Garmin is their own worst enemy there because they build such quality gear that it just continues to last. But in terms of the connected devices that they’re creating now, that opens up so many interesting possibilities for us in the future and it’s really cool to have close relationship with them so that we can take advantage of all that.

CR: And we got a couple questions you mentioned one just now from Sarah who writes the Geocaching Junkie blog over in Ireland. And she asked about the GPS but she also asked. “What is the single most important feature on the app to you as a geocacher?”

NI: Well, yeah, that is a tough one. The single most important feature. Honestly, it hasn’t been released yet but it’s about to be. Offline map capability is the most exciting feature. I cannot tell you… Well, I don’t have to tell you how frustrating it is to leave your house thinking everything’s cool and then you get within a quarter mile of the geocache and you lose network coverage. In the past, I would prepare for that situation and just make sure that I download a large area of geocaches in advance. I wanna dog food our product, so I use our free app all the time. And that’s bitten me several times already in that free app is to get to the location and then lose connection and not be able to find the cache. And I’m so excited that that’s something that we’re gonna be able to solve here very, very soon.

CR: Well, I think Sarah’s last question is a great one to wrap-up on and that is, “What is your favorite thing about working at HQ?”

NI: Oh, man. I think I said it earlier that play matters to me and it matters to the world. I have no delusions of grandeur about my position. I’m a lowly product guy. [laughter] And we’re not saving the world, we’re not feeding the world or clothing the world, but I think what we bring to the world is important too. It’s levity, and fun, and togetherness. And so I think that my favorite thing about working here is just having a piece of that, of just playing a part in delivering that level of play to millions of people. Just to say that is crazy to me, to have that kind of an impact on that many people for something that I feel is so valuable. That’s my favorite thing.

CR: So there you go. Nate Irish with some good information there, and we still have one more question. It is last but certainly not least from our friends down California way.

[music]

Sonny: Hey, I’m Sonny.

Sandy: And I’m Sandy.

Sonny: From PodCacher.

Sandy: The podcast all about geocaching.

Sonny: And you can find out more about us at podcacher.com. And over at PodCacher, one of the things we love to hear are geocaching stories that come from all around the world.

Sandy: And working at headquarters, I’m sure you guys hear lots and lots of stories. So our question for you is, can you share one of your favorite stories that you’ve heard this year?

Sonny: Alright. Hey, and thanks a lot. Looking forward to hearing that story, and keep on caching.

[music]

CR: Thank you Sonny and Sandy. We really do hear a lot of great stories about geocaching here at HQ. In fact, there’s something that we do here every month that I would like to tell you about. We have an all-company meeting, and one of the items on the meeting agenda every month is the community story. It might be something hilarious, it might be something heartwarming, it might be both. But whatever the tone of the community story, it’s always a really great example of how awesome the people are who play this game. And here is a really good example of it, a story that a lot of you have probably already heard about. But if you haven’t, you really should. It’s about something that happened near Benton City, Washington on October 30th, four people were out geocaching in a rural area when they saw an SUV at the bottom of a ravine. It was about 100 feet down a steep embankment.

CR: So these geocachers made their way down to the vehicle. They discovered that the driver was still inside the car. She had been trapped there for 14 hours. So the cachers called 911, help arrived, and the sheriff’s office has credited those geocachers with saving the woman’s life. That is an amazing story, and that’s a great way to end our first episode of Inside Geocaching HQ, the podcast. We hope you liked it. We haven’t decided exactly how often we’ll be doing this. We’re gonna aim for monthly to start with and then maybe hopefully it’ll become more often. So we’d love to hear your feedback. You can email us at podcast@geocaching.com. That’s podcast@geocaching.com. Tell us what you’d like to hear about, we’ve got some ideas for upcoming episodes but this is your show, we wanna know what you would like for us to cover. And once we’ve got our next topic teed up, we will let you know about it on Facebook and Twitter, and in our online forums and we’ll give you a chance to ask the questions for that episode. In the meantime, thank you for joining us, happy caching.

Janelle
Kind to animals. Loved by children. Excels at DNFs.