Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast Transcript (Episode 22): Adventure Lab, New Search Map

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00:13 Chris Ronan: Hi everybody, welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ. I am Chris Ronan, username Rock Chalk, one of the lackeys here at Geocaching HQ in Seattle. Thank you for listening to our podcast. Today, we will hear from Brendan Walsh, who is overseeing the new Search Map Project. Brendan was on here a few months ago to describe that project and to sound the bell that the existing search map would be retired some time in the future. That time is nearly here, and he will have more about that. But first, Bryan Roth, HQ’s President and co-founder here to chat about the new Adventure Lab app. It also sounds like Bryan has been working out a possible new radio voice. So here we are talking Adventure Lab.

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01:07 Bryan: Welcome to the Geocaching Podcast. Geocachers, get ready, ’cause here we go.

01:15 CR: Bang, you nailed it.

01:16 Bryan: Boom. Great. Boom!

01:19 CR: Boom. Well, Bryan, you are now a member of the Five-Timers Club on the Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast. You are a five-time guest on the podcast.

01:35 Bryan: That is pretty incredible, Chris. I am honored to be here once again, for the fifth time, apparently.

01:41 CR: For the fifth time.

01:42 Bryan: That’s pretty awesome.

01:43 CR: And it does come with a prize. I didn’t tell you this before, I didn’t want to get your… I wanted to get your authentic reaction to this prize.

01:48 Bryan: I’m authentically excited already. I don’t even know what the prize is.

01:52 CR: You get a gift card.

01:54 Bryan: Yes!

01:55 CR: You do, that I found in a cache last week. To a regional burger restaurant…

02:01 Bryan: Okay.

02:02 CR: It has $0.91 on it.

02:04 Bryan: Really?

02:04 CR: Yes.

02:05 Bryan: Alright.

02:05 CR: You get it.

02:06 Bryan: What is the regional burger company?

02:08 CR: Can we mention it? They haven’t paid for that. They haven’t paid for advertising on here.

02:12 Bryan: Oh. Well, this is a non-commercial podcast.

02:14 CR: Burgerville.

02:15 Bryan: Burgerville?

02:16 CR: I was down in the Portland area, where they have Burgervilles, they don’t even have them here in Seattle, so you’re gonna have to drive to Portland or Vancouver, somewhere like that, to use your $0.91 gift card, which I’m sure you’ll do because it’s a prize and you’re proud of it.

02:29 Bryan: Well, for the geocacher who put the $0.91 gift card to Burgerville, in the cache, I just wanna say thank you. I can’t wait to test it out and have a few french fries or something like that.

02:41 CR: And I’m sure you can do a lot with that. So we are talking about Adventure Lab, which you and I and Nate Irish, at the time back in December, I think it was, we talked about it a little bit on the podcast then but at that point, it was a very soft launch, there weren’t any new adventures out there, but now here we are, it’s April and we have worked with geocaching organizations, and we have given individuals an opportunity to put some new adventures out there. And so now this seems like a good opportunity to talk more about this project. So for people that aren’t familiar with it, how do you describe the Adventure Lab app?

03:20 Bryan: Adventure Lab is really an extension of geocaching that allows for geocache creators and experienced creators to build new types of experiences and adventures to entertain and delight the geocaching community.

03:35 CR: And what are some of the features of the Adventure Lab app that you’re most excited about?

03:41 Bryan: So, as you mentioned earlier, a lot has changed since we did the last podcast in December. We launched the Adventure Lab app on iOS and Android in March, at the end of March, so just a few days ago, we retired the responsive web player, and the goal going forward is really to leverage these new apps in their current form and as we’re going to enhance them in the future, to allow people to create, share and play more dynamic multimedia experiences with the community. One of the things that we’ve done upon release of the app was we said, “Alright, we wanna begin testing this and what’s the best way to test it? Let’s put it in the hands of the geocaching community.” So working with a number of teams at Geocaching HQ, we created a program where cache creators who have attained certain levels of cache quality and favorite points and placed caches and activity and stuff like that, could opt-in on a web page and say, “I would like to be considered to build one of these experiences as a test.”

04:50 Bryan: We also reached out to about somewhere between 40 and 50 geocaching orgs all around the world, and we said, “Hey we’d love to give you a credit for the Adventure Lab builder, so that you can create an experience.” And the near-term goal is really to get as many of these quality experiences into the app and available for the community to play with, as we can over the next few months. From the group of many, many geocachers who opted in, we chose 250 and we reached out to them and we gave them a credit and we gave them the instructional manuals and sort of did a little bit of hand-holding for certain individuals, and did the same thing for the geocaching orgs. And what’s exciting is that if you look at the directory in the app now, there are, I believe over 100 experiences that are available to be played and they’re geographically distributed.

05:47 Bryan: So at least at this point, there may not be one near every geocacher. In all likelihood there isn’t one near most geocachers but again, this was really just the beginning of the test. So we’re getting some really cool experiences. There’s adventures in South Africa, there’s a Martin Luther King adventure in Atlanta, there is a Robin Hood adventure in Nottingham. We still have things like the Antietam Battlefield Adventure. There are history tours. There’s a Van Gogh tour in the Netherlands, and so from all of us at Geocaching HQ, we’re really excited to see how the creators have taken this platform and created these fun experiences. And so what we’re doing from here is we’re paying attention, we’re looking at the feedback in the app. We are listening to the creators and answering their questions and working with them to make adjustments to the building platform. We are making adjustments to the player, both for scalability and minor adjustments that will support better game play.

06:56 Bryan: We’re taking a lot of notes. And we are looking at the next list of features that we wanna add to the app. We’re going to be doing some discoveries, some user testing and some more research and this testing phase is really a big part of that, to learn how is the community using this app, both on the playing side, on the creating side and on the sharing side, and then making determinations and stack ranking the features and the requests from the community, and ultimately trying to deliver a better platform as we go forward.

07:27 CR: A few of the new features of the app are location validation and linear game play. Could you talk a little bit about what those mean to players?

07:35 Bryan: Sure, well, first of all, the retirement of the web player, I would think everybody understands is a pretty significant change to the way that lab caches have been played. One of the challenges that we had with the responsive web player was that creators would put a lot of time into building a location-based experience for people to come and play. And what was happening was, they would release this experience and the find codes were being shared online or in Facebook groups or whatever, and people were logging the experiences from all over saying, “I completed this, I got the find code, I have completed this full lab cache.” And so when they looked at the leaderboard, they were seeing at the top of the leaderboard groups of people who they knew did not come to play their experience. And it really detracted from the way that creators were feeling about the game.

08:32 Bryan: So one of the things that we were asked for is, please stop this, it’s been called cheating, it’s been called couch logging. Call it what you will. But the ultimate goal as a location-based entertainment company is we want people to actually get off of their couches, leave their televisions and game machines behind and go outside and go to these locations and play this. So we said, “Alright what can we do to ensure or at least do our best to ensure that people are actually visiting the locations in order to get the find code, and that people can’t just share the find codes online and get credit for completing an experience that they didn’t actually complete?”

09:14 Bryan: So we added location validation and it is a feature that when you are creating an adventure lab experience, the creator can define the radius. And there are some choices. So you can do 10 kilometers, 100 kilometers, and there may be other options going forward, but the goal is for the creator to say, hey, at the very least I want the player to be within 10 kilometers, if they’re gonna say they have the find code. And so, while somebody could stand, if they get the find code and it’s been shared with them, could they couch log it from nine kilometers away? Sure they could, but they can’t really couch log it from the other side of the planet. And so that’s something where we’re really trying to cut down on it.

10:02 Bryan: Another aspect of that is we found people who have found work-arounds. You can spoof location on an applications. There are other ways. It’s like a better mousetrap and a better mouse. There are ways to complete these experiences, still without going to the precise location. And so one of the things we’ve done is we’ve sent an email to some of the top couch loggers and we’ve said, “Hey we wanna reset expectations. While maybe we haven’t been completely clear in the past, we wanna be completely clear now that our expectation is that you go to the location in order to obtain the find code and only then can you log it. And if you don’t do that, there will be some consequences.”

10:44 Bryan: So we sent that email out to quite a few people, and the word spread and after a little bit of time, we are noticing that the couch logging has decreased drastically. There are still some folks who are doing it, and so they’re about to get a second email, probably some time after this podcast airs, but the second email is gonna say, “Hey, we set expectations with you the first time. We don’t want you doing what you’re doing. If it continues, there are potential repercussions. And if you wanna ask what the repercussions could be, right now, we have some ideas, one of the ideas is, we might delete all of your lab cache finds.” That would kinda take away the incentive for couch logging lab caches. The truth is, it’s not something we wanna do. We’re not really interested in discipline, but at the same time, we’re very interested in making sure, that somebody who creates an adventure lab experience actually gets the kind of results from the community that they’re expecting. And we wanna see that this platform is played with in a fair manner. So, location validation is part of the new applications. It’s one of the reasons that we retired the web-player.

11:54 Bryan: Another new feature is linear game play. And this is something that we got feedback from creators over the past few years, saying, “Hey, right now, if I create an experience, anybody can go to any of the locations and log it in whatever order they want and while that’s fine for some experiences, if I wanna create a story-driven adventure for example, and lead people through a story, I need to make sure that they get chapter 1 before they get Chapter 2, 3, 4, and so on.” And so by adding the ability for a creator to designate the order in which the lab caches are completed, it allows for more robust storytelling, which is just another use case for this platform that we wanna make available to creators.

12:40 CR: There have been some concerns raised by people who are GPS users or people with maybe data issues, things of that nature, concerns that they are not able to take part in some of these experiences, now that the web player has been retired and GPX downloads are not available, what would you say to folks like that?

13:00 Bryan: Well, we removed GPX downloads for one particular reason, basically in adding linear game play, the requirement of linear game play is that you go and you find the first location and once you get the find code, then you unlock the second location and so on. The problem with providing GPX downloads is, we would essentially be providing all of the coordinates and that would take away from the ability of a creator to create an experience that takes people to a series of locations in a particular order.

13:32 Bryan: So it’s a problem that we have right now. I think that there are things that we might be able to do in order to provide coordinates that people can put into a GPS unit, if they wanna navigate to particular locations that is something that we are going to be looking at as we go forward, but in rolling out the mobile applications and retiring the responsive web player, we really had to make a choice and that choice in this case was to remove GPX downloads at least for this period of time, until we have a better solution.

14:04 CR: So if somebody wants to try this out, they go to the App Store, they download it and then they look and see what’s in their area or if there is something in their area.

14:13 Bryan: That’s correct. If you wanna try it out now download the Adventure Lab app, it’s available in iTunes store, and it’s available in the Google Play Store, you can download it. And one of the first things you’ll see after you log in with your Geocaching account, or create a new account, you will see a directory, right now it’s sorted by the distance from you. We have some ideas about adding search functionality and a map view and things like that in the future. For right now, we’re gonna show you the closest one to you hopefully, it’s close enough for you to go out and give it a try. If it’s not, then you may have to wait a little while. And our plan is to open up other opportunities for creators to create more experiences. And so the long-term plan is to have an adventure at every location and that’s something that we talk about all the time at Geocaching HQ. It’s gonna take us a while to get there. And this is iterative development, so we are going to release features, we are going to test them, we’re gonna gather feedback, and we’re gonna respond to that feedback and try and build a better platform, day-by-day.

15:16 CR: Great, well, thank you, Bryan, and enjoy that gift card and your five-timer status.

15:23 Bryan: I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to the sixth time. Everybody out there in geocaching land, happy geocaching to all of you, cheers.

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15:38 CR: And if you would like to know more about Adventure Lab, there is an FAQ on the geocaching blog. Or just download the app and try it out. Another important project, these days is the new search map. Brendan Walsh is a senior product manager at Geocaching HQ with some important information about that project. Here is me and Brendan.

16:01 CR: Well, Brendan welcome back to Inside Geocaching HQ. You were here back in December, on episode 18 talking about the Geocaching search map and at the time, and I’m quoting myself, if people wanna go back and look at the transcript it’s online, I said, “And not to freak people out, but there will be a day somewhere down the road where this project that you’re working on, will become the Geocaching search map.” And we are approaching that time and so we thought it would be good to come back on here again talk about where your team is at, again remind people of what this project is and what the steps are so that everybody’s aware, because not everybody likes change, but change can be a good thing and there’s some fun changes coming, if you hadn’t seen them yet. So let’s just start with this project, an overview of what it is and where your team is at with it right now.

16:53 Brendan: Sounds great thanks for having me back on, Chris. Yeah, as you noted, in December, I came on and we talked about the changes that Team one is working on for the geocaching map and search functionality as part of the map. For those out there that read forums I’ve been posting, the updates, and we’ve been kind of updating, a couple of updates a month on a two-week cadence or so, and we’re getting to the point, as you mentioned, where we’re looking at actually making some more significant changes, in other words retiring that old search map and really encouraging more and more of our geocachers out there, to take advantage of the new search map technologies, we’ve built. So, as there are a lot of steps and we wanna make this as easy on the community as possible, and we also wanna give them some time to make themselves at ease with this new situation. So we do have some steps and if you’d like, I could take the community through those steps now.

17:54 CR: Sure, and just to reiterate something we talked about back in December was people have been able to opt in to this new map and some people were forcibly opted-in. I don’t know what the exact term is for that, but they were, whether they were given a choice or not, they were opted-in, then they could opt back-out. But whichever way you’ve gotten here, there has been an opportunity now for a few months, for people to see what this new map is, and what we’re heading to now, is a time when that option won’t be there anymore. It’s going to be the new search map. And so if you haven’t tried it out yet or if you haven’t been forced to try it out yet, now is the time you still have some time to do that. And so… Yeah.

18:37 Brendan: That’s a great point and to follow up on that, we are gonna pretty soon opting, as we say more and more geocachers into the new map experience in larger and larger chunks. So something like 50,000 or so at a time to get us to that 100% of opt-in rate. So yeah, this is gonna be a change for some folks and through this development process, we’ve tried to check in with the community as we do updates and kinda get a sense of how does this feel for you along the way? And one thing we’ve noted is that there are two really, two key ways to go look for caches when you’re in a planning stage. And one is like to search, literally put in a location and see what geocaches are around there, that location…

19:28 CR: Use filters and all that stuff.

19:29 Brendan: Call up filters, get it… Hone your search down to a tight little area, both location and attribute-wise, for instance, not attributes in the way we think about them here at Geocaching but filters and sorting and distance can all be tied together to create like, “Okay, this is the area I wanna go and these are the caches I wanna go get.” Now, that’s what we would call searching. But there’s also the idea of browsing. The idea of, “I’m not really sure exactly the area or the filters I’m interested in, but I just wanna kinda pan the map around, zoom in and zoom out on an area may be close to where I live to, or where I’m traveling to is probably a more common use case, when you don’t know the area really well. In that case you’re browsing. And we, internally call that the browse map.

20:19 Brendan: So one thing we heard from the community, and we’re kinda gonna make this change is that if you can envision our new map experience, I’m sure you’ve checked it out a couple of times, Chris, we are going to add, for lack of a better term, a link on that new search map which will take you directly to the browse map. The browse map looks a lot like the old search map, right? So this is where this gets a little confusing to actually explain this to people.

20:48 CR: Easier to show it than it is to talk about it on a podcast.

20:51 Brendan: It’s true, but I’m gonna try my best here. So where we’re really going is we wanna get to a place where all search traffic goes to the new search map. So you’re searching for something, if you’re mapping caches after you’ve searched for something, that’s gonna go to the new search map. If you’re on the header of our website and you click from the play menu, View map, that’s gonna go to the new search map. But from that new search map, you’ll be able to go back to your beloved browse experience as well. It’s gonna be a little different than what you have now. We’re gonna continue to listen to you and see if we can make edits along the way, but that’s kind of where the direction we’re taking it and that’s coming soon. Kinda looking at probably end of month timing, is targeting for something like that. And like I said, we’ll be posting all these details with screenshots in our forums to explain this change. So how I’m enunciating it here isn’t really clear, hopefully this forum post will be. We’re excited to hear what you think about it, and we’re gonna take it from there.

22:01 CR: And there will also be, I think, a link to maybe the forum release notes or something like that from one of the newsletters that you get as well. So we’re trying to get the word out about this, not just here on the podcast, but in as many places as we can.

22:13 Brendan: That’s really a good point. I’ll be working with our marketing team to help them just kind of craft the newsletter, the portion of the newsletter that speaks to this. And we’ll also be linking back to the forum posts, as you noted. So folks out there can really… If you’re confused about what I’m saying here, like I said, you can check out the post and that should be clear.

22:34 CR: Yeah, so for me the most important takeaway… Again as somebody… I said this back in December, I am one of those people that you have to pry a product from my cold, dead hands before I wanna let go of it. So I’ve tried out the new map and I go back and forth, but I think for me, the most important thing as a user is that, okay, I’ve had a lot of warning. Brendan gave me a heads-up back in December and even before then, it’s now April. He’s giving me another heads up, the time is really coming down here. And if I haven’t tried it yet, or if I haven’t gotten really comfortable with it yet, I’ve got a couple more weeks and then it’s time to jump off the diving board.

23:17 Brendan: It is. We’re all gonna jump together, and I think it’s gonna be an adjustment, initially for some and we’re prepared to be in the front lines and listen to those customers that may have… We may have disrupted their workflow, where I’m hoping to be there to help them identify a new workflow that hopefully is equally as pleasing to them. But yeah, this is something we’ve been gearing up to, as you know, since… Well, before even December it was always kind of the plan was to replace the search map, so to speak, with this new search experience, based on the latest technology. It’s pretty robust, it’s just the beginning. So yeah, like you said, we’ll all be jumping together soon.

24:00 CR: Well, I know you’ve had an opportunity to use the search map extensively recently. You were in Arizona, you did a bunch of caching with some other lackeys down there.

24:09 Brendan: Yeah, that’s a really… Thanks for bringing that up. So I joined HQ back in May, I’m a product manager and although I do have a geography degree, I wasn’t the most active geocacher. I’d been really focused on the actual day-to-day of working on the maps and search experience here at HQ. And I had this great opportunity through a group here at HQ of folks that just wanted to get out and spend a weekend caching in good weather, get away from Seattle for a little bit. We have… In a group, we’re calling Traveling Lackeys and they’re about eight of us that flew down just after work on Friday night to Arizona. It was wonderful. 80 degrees. I was with expert-level geocachers who took me under their wing and just had an amazing experience.

24:58 CR: You found the oldest cache, I think, didn’t you, in Arizona?

25:00 Brendan: Oldest cache in Arizona.

25:01 CR: Yeah, nice.

25:02 Brendan: Wonderful. We all got a little sun burned, which we were happy to do. And then also, one of the lackeys who joined us set up an event at a big brewery in Tempe, so got an opportunity to meet geocachers in the Arizona area, came out and had a lot of great conversations. Had some beers, had some food, it was a good weekend.

25:23 CR: Very cool.

25:23 Brendan: So yeah, it’ll be one of my challenges to the team of lackeys here with is, “Let’s pay attention to our mapping experience and our search experience, and use it as a real life use case and take feedback and bring it back to the team as well.” So always learning.

25:39 Bryan: I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody with a geography degree.

25:43 Brendan: Funny that you should mention that. I remember my senior year in college, and our advisor, bringing in an agent from the FBI to talk to us and coincidentally or surprisingly, they had said that there are more geography degrees in the FBI than any one undergraduate degree.

26:02 CR: Wow, I clearly don’t know enough about what goes into a geography degree.

26:08 Brendan: We weren’t prepared to go to the FBI. Let me tell you.

[laughter]

26:12 CR: And then the other thing we didn’t… If we ever have a music podcast, you’re our guy, right?

26:17 Brendan: I’d love to do… Oh that…

26:18 CR: If we have a Geocaching HQ music podcast, you’re the guy. Tell us about your music.

26:23 Brendan: Sure, I don’t wanna pitch my label here, so I’ll leave the name out of it. But as a, just a way to stay connected to the music world and community, it’s a passion of mine, I started a record label with a friend. It’s really just a labor of love, we haven’t taken any profits. We have three bands on the label right now, and they’re just scrappy young bands who wanna have their stuff on vinyl. So we’re literally making records. It’s super fun, an old man like me gets to stay connected to the young kids who are making music and it’s kind of a win-win for both of us.

27:00 CR: That’s really cool, so we need a… We should get a podcast theme song some day. We’ll get one of your bands to…

[laughter]

27:05 Brendan: That would be great. Sign them up.

27:06 CR: To work with us on a podcast theme song. Well this has been great. And I hope that if people haven’t tried out the new search map, this is the impetus for them to jump in there because the time is coming. We got to get in there and get after it.

27:22 Brendan: I agree, I encourage everyone to jump in and as Chris says, the time is coming, the time is almost here. So please, please check it out and always send your feedback my way, that’d be great.

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27:38 CR: For more on that project, go to the release notes section of the Geocaching forums. We will have a link to that section on the podcast page. If there is something you would like to hear about on the podcast, drop us an email at podcast@geocaching.com. That is podcast@geocaching.com. Until next time from all of us at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.

Chris
Hopelessly addicted cacher and Geocaching HQ's Community Relations Manager.