Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast Transcript (Episode 4): Logging Changes, Send to Garmin

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Chris Ronan: Hello everybody, this is Inside Geocaching HQ. This is our podcast, welcome. We are happy to have you. I am Chris Ronan, your host. It has been a busy time at HQ since our last episode, lots happening around here. There are now 3 million active geocaches in the world, huge milestone. Hopefully, you went out and you found the cache to get the souvenir that marked that occasion. We also had another souvenir opportunity with Cache In, Trash Out week, and another souvenir on Big Blue Switch Day, that is May 2nd, when we, essentially, celebrate the day that geocaching became possible back in the year 2000. Today, we are talking about some of the new features and changes to the Geocaching website and to our app. I will talk with Ben Hewitt about the “Send to Garmin” feature. That’s a cool new toy for those of us who cache with our Garmin GPS devices. First though, I have a chat about logging changes with three folks at HQ who have been very involved in updating the way that we will all log geocaches via the app and the website. The changes will be noticeable, but they are necessary, and I personally think that they will make logging a lot more efficient. So here is me and a few of my fellow HQers, Nadja, Becca and Stuart, talking logging.

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Chris: Okay. So today we’re talking about the logging process on Geocaching.com and the Geocaching app, and we have Stuart, Nadja and Becca who are all very involved in working on logging in at HQ, in addition to lots of other stuff that they do, so maybe first we’ll hear about what they do. So Stuart, how long have you been at HQ? What is the overview of what you do at the office everyday?

Stuart Schwartz: Well, alright. Howdy. My name is Stuart Schwartz, and I am a lead developer on one of the delivery teams here at Geocaching HQ. I’ve been at the company near six years. As a lead, I effectively direct the technology as it’s being built by this team. I am one of three components to how that’s directed. There’s a technology side, a product side, and a UX side.

Nadja Conklin: Hi, I’m Nadja. I’ve been at HQ for a little over two years. I’m a product manager at HQ and I work on the web team, specifically with a core team of people including Stuart, Becca and myself, and a couple other very dedicated engineers. And yeah, as a product manager, what I do is I spend most of my time doing research and planning for projects and then helping make sure that projects and features get out the door smoothly and efficiently and in a great way that helps our users.

Becca Olson: Hi, I’m Becca. I’m a UX designer at Geocaching HQ, and I’ve been here for about four years. I work with Stuart and Nadja along with the rest of the team to make sure that the things that we’re designing work well for people. So I test them with people and work with Nadja to do research beforehand and also do the visual design.

Chris: So before we get into some of the stuff that’s gonna be changing here in the coming weeks with regards to logging your geocaches, Stuart, can we talk just first about, I think it’s just such an interesting process, just think about the fact that you have tens of millions of logs every year on ocaching.com and through the app. I think last year there was something like 80 million found logs, and I would assume there are some challenges and some… Some interesting things that you have to work through to make sure, from an engineering standpoint, all of that stuff happens the way that it should happen.

Stuart: Indeed, that’s true. First and foremost, I think the biggest challenge is not losing data or corrupting data from the past. So this game has been around for quite a while, near 15 some odd years, almost 16, I believe we just had 16. We’ve ended up with nearly one billion logs. We’re somewhere around 800 million at the moment, this is geocache and trackable logs. So the sheer volume is pretty intense and when we look at it as a whole, it’s a little overwhelming, but one piece at a time, it’s manageable.

Nadja: Okay. So we’ve talked about the enormity of the whole thing and now we have some… People are gonna start noticing some changes here in the next few weeks, next month or so. Nadja, can we talk first about why before we get into what the changes are, why are these changes going to be happening?

Nadja: Sure. Well, like Stuart was mentioning, the game has been around for about 16 years and there’s been a lot of change at HQ recently. So we’re addressing some growing pains along the way. And on the website, that’s namely… It’s around old code. Our existing logging page is in old code. And what that means is it limits the ability to work on logging and logging-related projects, namely drafts and syncing up with mobile and allowing some fun features like photos of favorite points in drafts. Without a new logging page, we wouldn’t be able to do things like that. Also old code dependencies can slow down development process, anyone that has worked in engineering, I’m sure, is familiar with that, which means that we can’t respond to customer problems as quickly as we would like to. And also the existing logging page, it’s not localized or mobile responsive. So, by working on a new logging page, we can address all of those things and also make some improvements along the way, including UX improvements and tackling some things with time zones and other exciting things.

Chris: Okay. So, there’s some interesting challenges there that need to be met and a lot of research I’m sure has gone into figuring out how to address those challenges. So, Becca, can you talk about that a little bit. What kind of research do we do, as a company, to figure out how to address these issues?

Becca: Yeah. We did a lot of research coming into this project about how people log geocaches, how people log maintenance and needs archived logs, things like that. And we do a lot of talking to users all over the world. We’ll do phone interviews and ask and we also watch them go through the current logging flow and see where they run into problems and pain points, and then we’ll take the information from all of that and start to recognize where we can improve and how we could make changes. And then once we have the product designed and developed, we’ll release it slowly to beta testers and to play testers, and ask them questions, ask for feedback along the way, and we can make changes before doing a full release to everyone.

Chris: And there are changes that are made along the way to, aren’t there? I think that there’s a thought among some people, not just with geocaching products, but any product, they think, “Oh, they’re just gonna give us what they want to give us and that’s just it.” But as beta testers know, you guys make a lot of little adjustments along the way based on the feedback that you get.

Becca: Yeah, absolutely. That’s why we wanna release to small groups at a time, and so we can gather that feedback and make quick changes before we release to everyone. And then even after we release to everyone, we’ll continue to gather feedback and make sure that we’re making changes that make it the best workflow possible.

Chris: So, as your team was doing research, Becca, was there anything that came as a surprise to you, that caught you off guard?

Becca: Yeah. With the report a problem, research, specifically, we went into that with the hypothesis that people were not logging needs maintenance, or needs archived logs because they were afraid of offending the cache owner. And as we talked to people and watched the way people did that workflow, we learned that that is partially the case, but it was also largely that people didn’t understand the difference between needs maintenance and needs archived. They maybe didn’t understand what the output of that was, who was being notified once they submitted one of those, where that log was gonna be posted. And then also people weren’t a fan of writing two separate logs, so if they’re already writing a found it log, having to go back through that process and writing a second one for needs maintenance, or needs archived. And so collecting that data was a little bit different than what we expected, and we used that to design the new workflow.

Chris: Okay. So, Nadja, what kind of things are people going to start noticing as they’re logging caches here in the next several weeks?

Nadja: Well, aside from a brand spanking new logging page that is mobile-responsive and localized and looks pretty great. One of the most exciting things is the way that Becca was referring to, how players report a problem. In the research that Becca was referring to, we learned a lot about how users do or don’t report a problem, and we noticed that there was some confusion that players were having with reporting, “It needs maintenance,” or “It needs archived.” Not knowing where that information was sent to or what benefits it has for the game. So what we wanted to do was really empower users to report problems, and in an easy way, that didn’t require them to write two different logs because we know how important it is for the community, not only with letting cache owners know when there’s something wrong with their cache, but also improving cache quality in general.

Nadja: So, something that players will see is a little flag on the bottom of… Below the log text box that allows a user to report a problem right in the context. And it’ll allow to select from some of the most commonly reported problems with caches like a wet log book or something like that. And that will be appended directly to the log text, and then on the other side, when it is on the cache details page, you’ll see not only your original log text but a separate log that shows the needs maintenance, or the needs archived log. Another great win is that players can now attach photos while they’re logging rather than waiting until after they’ve logged a geocache, which I think is a pretty big win. And we’ve also aligned a lot of things with mobile and how favorite points are awarded, things like that. So, overall, I think it’s a pretty seamless experience.

Chris: And there are some rule changes too with logging, correct? And we’ve announced a little bit of that before, but maybe we could just… People that haven’t heard, some of the changes that will be coming in that regard too.

Nadja: Yeah, exactly. So there will be some log type changes, things that we’ve wanted to do as a company for a really long time and things that our community has asked for. So, those include duplicate logs. So, for example, once you’ve found a log you won’t be able to log that find again and that would go the same for events, attending, and will attend, and webcam photo taken. And then also for cache owners, we’re making some changes there that align with the vision of the game. Cache owners will no longer be able to find DNF or needs maintenance their own caches.

Chris: Of course, change is always hard for anybody and it’s especially difficult when you’ve been logging a certain way for so long. I’m sure that there’s going to be educational opportunities here, via help center, and stuff like that. And then also a chance for people to give feedback. Correct?

Nadja: That’s absolutely correct. Throughout… When you’re using the new logging page, we’ll have an area for users to give feedback via a survey and also a link to the blog post with a lot more information on how to use the page and also connecting with any forum notes about the project as well.

Chris: So then, Stuart, getting back to the engineering side of things, we make these changes and how logging is handled, that sound pretty significant compared to what is… The way it’s been done for a long time, how does that change things on the engineering side?

Stuart: That’s a great question. Nadja mentioned earlier that we had some older code in place and that was preventing us from moving quickly, that’s pretty true. Part of the problem is that our technology, our code stack from previous years is deprecated technology, so it’s difficult to find pre-built assemblies and libraries that work with it and it’s difficult to find programmers who can work with it as well. So in today’s era, we’ve been moving to newer technologies and while moving to a newer technology, we had to make a decision, do we just port over what’s existing or we do freshen it up and give users what we believe we will converge on as a better experience? We went with the latter. The technology we chose is MVC with a single page app running on top of it, I won’t go into too many details, but it leverages an API that feeds the front end with data rather than being tightly coupled through post-backs as older web forms technology used to rely on.

Chris: And so there’s a few people out there nodding their heads and saying, “That sounds amazing,” but just, in general, it sounds like it’ll make things a lot smoother for the engineers here and enable us to move more quickly in the future, right?

Stuart: Indeed, it will allow us to move more quickly and it will allow us more flexibility in our UI, our user interface. The user interface maybe will be able to leverage functionality, the same functionality on multiple locations on our site in the future. That’s pretty exciting for an agility point of view as we want to roll out features in new areas, leveraging existing functions.

Chris: One thing we haven’t hit on yet is time zones and that is something that a lot of people may not even think about, it may not have ever affected them, but there are certain parts of the world where we hear about it quite a bit, about how the website or the app handles time zones, Nadja, how are things gonna change in that regard?

Nadja: Things are gonna change for the better. We’ve been making a lot of steps to get to a good place with time zones. For anyone that’s worked with time zones or even just done a brief Google search on time zones will know that it’s very complicated and especially with our game, it’s really important that we have time zones correct. So that doesn’t just mean for people living in Seattle, it means for people living all over the world. So what we’re doing is moving towards having time zones in the time zone of the cache. So that means that everywhere on our site in all the cache details pages, all the logs will be in the time zone of the cache which has taken a lot of work to get us here. We are very nearly done with that, it should be all in place across web and mobile in the next few weeks.

Chris: And so how does that differ for people that aren’t aware, who haven’t been affected, how does that differ from how it’s been up until this point?

Nadja: Right. So up until this point, if you were perhaps traveling to another country and you came back to your home country and were logging a cache, you might see that your date was off by a day, maybe ahead or behind. This will erase that confusion and prevent logs from being out of order, it will prevent maybe a published listing happening after some geocache logs were made. It will really just align all of those logs that come through and make sure that they’re in the correct order and in the time zone of the cache.

Stuart: So to speak to the technical side of time zones, again, this company is been around for quite a while and the code base has been around for quite a while and these features, they didn’t all start at the same time, they were tacked on at some point or another. So, in the beginning, there was just a website and the website you were allowed to put in whatever date you wanted, and it didn’t really matter what time zone or what time was specified with your find. That was… It was easy and cool and everything was just in Seattle, but as the game became more popular around the world, moved across continents, we ended up finding that people were entering the date where they think they found it, which is in their own time zone, which is where the cache is generally. So we ended up with this heterogeneous collection of time zones with the dates associated with each visit, and it’s a little confusing especially if you’re not in the same time zone as the geocache.

Stuart: But as long as everything’s listed out on the site exactly how it went in, everything kind of works out. What ended up getting really confusing was later, sometime later, we introduced mobile applications. And the mobile applications all uploaded their time zones in pacific time, no matter where you were, which would render out to the website in pacific time. So if a person had logged a find in the time zone of the cache where they thought they were and then their friend had logged it via the app at the same time in the same location, they would show up possibly as two different dates if they’re on different sides of the planet.

Stuart: So normally, these would be simple fixes, but as I mentioned earlier, ultimate goal is not to lose data so this data has come into our system with these assertions of time that aren’t necessarily correct, but they are what people have come to rely on as truth of what they’ve done. So while fixing time zones, we’ve worked really hard to coalesce everything into a similar paradigm while not losing past data. And we think we’ve done it by pushing everything into the time zone of the cache, all logs coming in through uploading field modes, through mobile apps, through our APIs, and through the web, will all come in and be stored in the timezone of the cache and displayed in the timezone of the cache. So, we believe that will create a nice, unified experience.

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Chris: There’s only one person I know who can make time zones sound cool, and that is Stuart. Great talk there with Nadja, Becca, and Stuart. If you have questions about the logging changes as they are happening, please read the geocaching blog. There is a lot of great information there. So if you go to blog.geocaching.com www.geocaching.com/blog, you can read all about the logging changes, and of course, lots of other geocaching-related stuff. Also the geocaching help center will have information about the logging changes there as well. Okay, next up, “Send to Garmin.” Those of us who like to cache with a GPS device know the workflow for getting caches onto the device can be fairly involved. That is why we were very excited to release the new “Send to Garmin” feature on the website. Ben Hewitt was the point person on that project and we talked all about it.

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Chris: So we released “Send to Garmin” and it’s a great feature for those of us that own Garmin devices and Ben worked on this project with the folks at Garmin and with several folks here at HQ. I wonder if we could go back to when this project was first beginning. What precipitated it? What were the things that made HQ and Garmin say, this would be a nice feature and this is something that we should start working on?

Ben Hewitt: Absolutely. Anybody who’s been around Geocaching.com long enough knows that we have a “Send to GPS” feature on cache details pages and on the little map previews on our browsing map. And anybody who’s used those long enough also knows that those have been breaking more and more over time. It’s a really handy feature if you’re able to use that. It just pops the file for the cache right on your device without having to do anything else and you can unplug and go geocaching. And we know that people love that. We’d heard a lot of support inquiries and foreign posts, and we’d seen just a lot of feedback about, “Hey, this used to work, it’s not working anymore, and it was really important to me.”

Ben: So we heard that message loud and clear. And so a while ago, I went to Bryan (Roth) and I said, “Hey Bryan, you need to set me up with a contact at Garmin so we can talk about how to fix this.” Unfortunately, it’s not something that either Garmin or us could fix with the existing “Send to GPS” functionality because the reason that doesn’t work anymore is that modern browsers don’t support that technology anymore. If you really want to do some research, you can go Googling around about this. If you check out Garmin’s communicator plugin page, they have a link to a blog from Google that explains why that technology is no longer supported, and it’s for your benefit and my benefit, and everybody’s benefit because it’s more secure. So good thing for your computer security, bad thing for “Send to GPS” technology.

Ben: So we knew we needed to do something different and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to do that by ourselves. I started working with some folks at Garmin a while ago, and I said, “Hey, how can we do this differently? We can’t do ‘Send to GPS’ anymore, you know that, we know that. What can we do differently?” They spent a little time thinking about options and they came back to us and said, “We think we could do this kind of functionality with our Garmin Express software.” If you have a Garmin device, you may already be familiar with that software. It’s really useful for keeping your device’s firmware updated. You can load new maps with it. It’s a good device management tool for your Garmin GPSs and watches, and other gizmos, if you have those. Garmin said they would build some new functionality into Garmin Express for us and for other partners that they have, but we became the guinea pig for Garmin to try something new out.

Ben: And so, it took quite a bit of back and forth. They would build something into Garmin Express, we built some new services on our end, and then they would send us a beta-build of the software and we would test. And we’d give them feedback, and they would give us feedback on our end. So there was a long period of back and forth where we were really trying to get it right, trying to set this up to be the best experience we can have it be for our mutual customers, for people who are geocachers and Garmin GPS users. That led us to the point that we got to this week, which is releasing our first version of “Send to Garmin” functionality that uses Garmin Express, and we added that on the new lists page where you can… Using Garmin Express, you can now, with a click of a button, send an entire list of geocaches to your Garmin device using Garmin Express.

Chris: So let’s talk about how it works then… You need a Garmin device, obviously. You need Garmin Express software. So somebody who’s new to this, what are the steps? I want to start using “Send to Garmin.” How do I go about it?

Ben: So there’s lots of ways that you could go through it. My personal favorite is to go to the homepage, the search page, run a search, find the caches that I’m interested in. Maybe it’s just everything in a big region or maybe it’s some specific things that I’m interested in, for the geocaching I’m doing today. Check the boxes along the side. I add them to a list, and then I go to the list page, and over on the right of each list, there’s a little dot dot dot menu, a little circle with three dots in it. If you click that, you’ll see the Send to Garmin button in there. Like you said, Chris, you have to have Garmin Express installed for this to work. You have to have your device added in Garmin Express.

Ben: Both Garmin and we, did quite a bit of work trying to onboard people to this flow, and so if you don’t have those things ready to go when you go try this, we’ve got some, but we hope our helpful pop-ups that coach you through the process of, “Here’s a link to go get Garmin Express.” Garmin has good instructions about how to set Garmin Express up. And then we have, on the lists page, some instructions about where to find it. So then, of course, though, you can create a list in lots of ways. You can add caches to a list from the map, you can add from cache details, you can add it through partner apps, and other mobile applications and desktop applications. So any way you can create a list is great, and then once you have that list, then you go back to the lists page and send it to Garmin from there.

Chris: It’s interesting when you… And I know you’ve talked to a lot of people about this too, how many different ways people have to get geocaches onto their device. And I know for me, personally, the way I would get my list onto my Garmin is, “Okay, you run a pocket query and then you gotta download the file, and then you gotta find the file and put it on to your… ” This is a… For me, personally, it’s a great streamline thing, but of course, there are other ways that… A lot of people just like being able to send that one cache onto their device. And I would imagine there’s a lot of different ways then that this functionality can find its way through the website. Maybe you could speak to at least just the possibilities of that, although we can’t say for certain exactly what’s going to happen tomorrow and the next day.

Ben: For sure, so we wanted to try something new out, that’s what this is. We know it’s brand new, we know it’s gonna take a little bit of learning for people to get used to it. And we thought that, given all we’ve done with lists over the past few years, that this was a really good first place to try it. What we released this week is not meant as a replacement for anything just yet, it’s meant as a cool new toy for people who find that workflow useful. That said, we’re also… We put in… We’re monitoring usage of this feature, we’re listening to feedback, we wanna know how it works for people and if this is a good tool for them. And if it is, then we’re absolutely… We’d love to add it to some other places, including, potentially, replacing the existing Send to GPS which still works, but you have to jump through some pretty serious hoops to get it to work. So this is a start, what we did this week, it’s not the end game, it’s a start of trying something new, it’s a start of trying a different collaboration with Garmin. I’m pretty excited about what we have to offer today, but we also know that there’s more work to do.

Chris: So there are some parameters with using this software and this new functionality, of course, you need to have a device that is supported by Garmin Express, and in our testing, I know we found that that can go back many years. There are some very old devices that do work, but there are some that don’t and that’s an unfortunate reality, right?

Ben: That’s the long and short of it. I know that Garmin has worked hard to make Garmin Express support as many of their devices as possible, but like a lot of software, and like a lot of device life spans, there are things that are no longer supported. So I feel the pain of people whose device may not be supported by Garmin Express. I’ve had some trusty old GPSs that I’ve beaten into the ground until the buttons were falling off. So I know that feeling of the beloved partner. But we are doing our best and I know Garmin is doing their best to support a wide variety of products, but the truth is that not all of them are supported by Garmin Express.

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Chris: So there’s some background on the Send to Garmin functionality. Thanks to Ben for his time. Thanks again to Nadja, Becca, and Stuart for chatting about the logging changes. Good episode, hope you enjoyed it, we would love to hear what you would like us to cover on this podcast. Please drop us a line. Podcast@geocaching.com is the address. That is podcast at Geocaching.com. A few of you have written in with ideas, we’re gonna try to cover those in the coming weeks but keep those ideas coming, podcast at Geocaching.com. Thanks for stopping by, we will talk again soon. In the meantime, from all of us at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.

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