(link to podcast)
00:14 Chris Ronan: Hello, everybody. Welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ, the podcast about the goings on at Geocaching HQ in Seattle. My name is Chris Ronan. My user name is Rock Chalk. And on this episode a special treat, I am having a conversation with a number of Geocaching volunteer reviewers from around the world. This is the first of several conversations that I’ll be sharing here on the podcast. These are the people who spend countless hours reviewing cache submissions, serving the geocaching community, and just doing a lot of really great things for the game of geocaching. Through the magic of Zoom, I have connected with volunteer reviewers from countries all over the world. And in this first conversation, I am chatting with folks from Switzerland, the Netherlands, Arkansas here in the United States and Israel. And in future episodes, I will share conversations with reviewers from even more countries as we get some really great insights into what these volunteers enjoy so much about being community volunteer reviewers. So I hope you enjoy it. Here we go.
01:40 CR: Okay. Well, we have a very internationally diverse conversation here with reviewers in four different parts of the world, and I think it’ll be great to hear the different insights that you all have and a lot of, a ton of experience here among this group. So let’s just start by everybody introducing themselves. I’ll start with Urs. What is your reviewer name? Where do you review? And how did you get started in this whole community volunteer reviewer role?
02:12 Urs: Yeah, my name is Urs. My reviewer name is srebeelis. And I am part of the team that reviews in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I think I’ve been doing it for three or four years. I’m not even sure without checking. And I got into it by being asked by my colleagues who are reviewing in Switzerland. They had a vacancy with somebody stepping down, and they approached me. And actually the first time they asked me, I turned them down because it was just not a good time in my life. We had just bought a house and moved and I didn’t think I’d have the time, and then a year later they came back and asked again and I said, “Yes,” and here I am.
02:55 CR: Rene, what is your reviewer name, and how did you get roped into this whole thing?
03:02 Rene: Well, my story is quite similar. My reviewer name is Diogeones, that’s the Dutch pronunciation, or Diogenes for the English audience. I became a reviewer I think almost six years ago, and like Urs, I was asked by other reviewers because I did a lot of work and two little hands. So I just stepped in, and unto today, it’s a fantastic job.
03:33 CR: That’s great. Jonathan, how about yourself?
03:38 Jonathan: I’m the reviewer for Israel. So I have a little bit of a different story from others because caring for an entire country changes your perspective in the way you deal with the job. So. My reviewer name is Matmonai. Everybody in Israel knows me very well here. I think I have a large fraction of the population here, the geocacher population on my cell phone on quick dial. So I can tell them, “You’ve done a bad job here. You’ve done a good job there.” I can ask for clarifications. It’s really a different job in my case, I think. So my name Matmonai is Hebrew for… It’s actually a very interesting word. It’s the person whose job is to deal with treasures. Okay. There aren’t many languages where there’s a word for that, but there is in Hebrew. So I grabbed it. Everybody really likes it, I think. And, yeah, I’ve been doing it ever since and been involved for about five years.
04:43 CR: And I saved for last, the one reviewer name that I feel confident in pronouncing without asking for help, and that [chuckle] is Chuckwalla from Arkansas. Hello, Frank.
04:56 Frank: Hi, this is Chuck Walla. As Chris said, I’m the reviewer for Arkansas, and I also review for Oklahoma, which for those folks in other parts of the world that don’t know the US, they are neighboring states. I’ve been the reviewer for Arkansas since 2006. I guess I’m the old man in the group here. And Oklahoma I picked it up in 2017, so three years there and 14 years for Arkansas. For a short while I did Louisiana as well for about a year. And that was probably about four years ago, but like I said, I’ve been a reviewer that long. And as I was telling the other reviewers, my name is basically a desert lizard that resides in the deserts like in Southwestern US, like Arizona. I used to live in Arizona for a while and enjoyed seeing these lizards that are kind of interesting creatures, and when I was looking for a reviewer name I decided to pick that. So I’m not… My name is not Chuck.
05:58 CR: Well, I was just thinking as we talked about this a little bit before we started recording as well. I think we can almost do a blog article about Geocaching user names, not just reviewer names ’cause how many times do you meet somebody just out in the community and you hear their… You haven’t maybe met them before, but you’ve seen their username on logs or on cache pages, and then you actually hear the username and you think, “Gosh, I’ve been totally saying that differently for maybe a long time,” and with at least three of you here that’s… [chuckle] I’ve been saying your reviewer names one way in my head for many years, but now I’ll have it down. [chuckle] Well, let’s start by just talking about what all goes into being a reviewer from your own standpoint because I’m looking at each of you, varying levels of experience, but each of you have been doing this now for at least four years, which is quite a long time. Urs, when you first got into this, Was the level of commitment what you thought it would be now that you’ve done it for a while?
07:06 Urs: Yeah. Pretty much. My colleagues who brought me into the role were fairly open about how much time it would need. So in those years that I’ve done it, it’s pretty much matched what they told me to expect. Of course, it varies. In summer and spring, it’s a bit busier than in autumn and winter. But overall, I think it’s pretty stable.
07:29 CR: And you are part of a team. Correct?
07:32 Urs: Yeah.
07:33 CR: And so how do you all balance things or bounce things off each other? What is the dynamic like within your team?
07:42 Urs: I think we’re a bit unusual, compared to other countries in that we take shifts, seven people spread across five teams, and we split Switzerland and Liechtenstein in half. So we have two local cues that are roughly of the same volume, and we have one team covering each half of those two countries for a week. So we have one-week shifts, and basically we work one week on, one week off. And the fifth team is more or less there to cover for holiday absences and so on. So roughly we work two weeks out of four, maybe we get a two-week break every once in a while. And during that week, we’re responsible for that half of the country that we’re assigned.
09:09 CR: Rene, besides being on a team that has multiple people, your wife is also a reviewer as well, correct?
09:16 Rene: Yes, she is. And like in Switzerland, we have seven regular reviewers, plus one earth cache reviewer that is also part of our team. And unlike Switzerland, we don’t have any shifts or divisions. We just take the cue for Netherlands and whatever is there, we take it. We don’t keep our caches with us. We just put them back, and if they come back, they’ll come in for the queue for general grab. My wife has one of the special roles in the team, and that’s the reaping part. Of course, it’s very important to publish and review new caches. It’s just equally important to make sure that the quality of the caches keep a high standard, and that’s where the reaping comes in place. And I think we are doing a pretty good job now in the reaping process. That’s how the Dutch team operates.
10:21 CR: I would think that it would be nice to have someone… It would be nice to have teammates, but then also to have someone… Hey, there’s Ingrid. [laughter]
10:29 Rene: Hi, Chris’ wife.
10:33 Ingrid: Reaping.
10:33 CR: The wonders of Zoom.
10:35 Rene: She’s reaping now.
10:36 CR: Oh, of course. So not just to have teammates that you get to work with, but then also having someone right there, 10 feet away. If something comes up that you might not be quite sure of to be able to collaborate on things.
10:49 Rene: Sure. It’s quite convenient just to have a sparring partner. If you have doubts or questions about a certain cache, we can just discuss it with one another.
11:00 CR: Frank, there in Arkansas and Oklahoma, you do not have a team that you’re working with. So how do you get feedback or collaborate if there’s questions that you might have about a cache submission.
11:12 Frank: Most of the time, if I have a cache that I have a question about or sitting on the fence about, there’s a place where we can go, special forums for reviewers. And so I’ll post a question there and ask about, “Hey, what do you think about this?” And I usually almost always tell the cache owner, “Hey, I’ve got a question about your cache. I’m gonna get the opinion of other reviewers.” And I tell them what my problem is with their cache, so they’re aware of it. Sometimes they’ll come back and actually make a change based upon my just making a comment or having some doubt. Other times they’ll wait and see what the other reviewers come up with. And it’s a good forum to get feedback. Sometimes I’m off base in how I’m looking at something, or maybe I’ve misinterpreted stuff. And a lot of times, that’s not the case. So that’s basically my network there as a single reviewer. Of course, I’ve had a lot of reviewing over the years, and so a lot of it’s just plain experience in handling situations in the past and knowing how they were handled and how they were resolved either the feedback from other reviewers or feedback from Geocaching Headquarters.
12:24 CR: I would think some people might look at it and say, “You’ve been doing this for 14 years now, you’ve seen it all.” But the game’s always changing, isn’t it? And new stuff is always popping up.
12:37 Frank: Cache owners always, they have a way of coming up with new stuff all the time. It’s just amazing what they can come up with, what new ideas, what curve balls they can throw at me in the reviewing process. I know one of the things there was a moratorium on challenges a few years ago. And it’s amazing how many new challenges people can come up with, and as reviewers we have to look at it, “Does this meet the guidelines?” And it’s amazing what people could come up with is challenges. Most of the time they’re, “Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that, but that’s okay.” Sometimes it’s like, “No, you can’t do a challenge on that.” So yeah, the other thing is although I don’t have a team, if I need to take some time off, if I’m traveling where, sometimes I like to go to places where there’s not Internet service amazingly. I like to go through the Grand Canyon, raft through the Grand Canyon about every three, four years. No Internet service there, plus I don’t carry my phone or my computer with me. So… But I reach out and there’s other reviewers in the US that’ll help me out. Hoosier Reviewer has been one that I’ve had help from. He reviews Indiana. And then Isht Kinta out of Louisiana has helped me out in the past. He also does Mississippi.
13:54 CR: Jonathan, you kind of referred to this earlier, that Israel is kind of a unique situation where the game is kind of at a different phase of its, maybe you’d call it its maturation process. How does that affect how you have approached the volunteer role there?
14:14 Jonathan: Okay, so the volunteer role is, as I said, a little different in Israel. And I’m sure it’s similar in a lot of small countries like Israel. I get a lot fewer caches in my queue than the others, maybe a quarter of whatever reviewers get. However, I spend a lot more time per cache. A lot of caches that I get are written in [14:39] __ or English. So I have to spend quite a bit of time, sometimes 20 minutes, half an hour editing, typesetting, making sure that the cache is readable and okay. And then we have security issues, and issues like people putting it in an archeological site. We had a cache not long ago that they wanted to put in the International Airport in Israel, and you can imagine what kind of security issues we have there. And we got it done. We got it done. I managed to contact the head security person of the Israel International Airport and make sure that that was okay. So we go that extra mile for our caching community. It’s more personal, I would say, in Israel. And we try to really do a little more because we have a little more time and there are fewer caches.
15:42 CR: I know you said that you’re… I think you referred yourself as a part-time translator, but I do wanna just hit on that a little bit, that volunteer role of translators. Just maybe just give a real brief overview of what that is for people that might be familiar with reviewers, but they don’t know as much about the folks that translate for the website and the geocaching apps.
16:08 Jonathan: Sure. So we get every now and… I say, “We.” I get an email from Geocaching HQ every several months, I would say, with the new projects, a group of things to translate. Sometimes, these are announcements. These are Facebook posts, and of course the big one, the movie, the International Film Festival. It requires a lot of work. Usually, I am not able to do it all myself. I lasso a few other volunteers that help me with those, and there’s always people that are happy to help. And we divide it up between ourselves. And so we can get it done in a timely fashion. In the case of the film festival, I usually treat everybody that helps for a little for an extra geocoin or something like that as thanks. And then oftentimes, I host the film festival over at my place or a place nearby. So we have an opportunity to do something for the community ’cause as I said, a lot of people in Israel don’t speak English. And we thank the people that help.
17:20 CR: Well, I would love to hear from each of you some tips that you have for the community people that are thinking about placing geocaches, how they can make the process of cache submission go more smoothly for you and for them. Urs, let’s start with you. What’s some advice that you like to give to people when they ask?
17:43 Urs: Well, I think the basic thing that would really help is if everybody has read the guidelines before placing their first cache. There’s so many things, small things that take up time in your reviewing that could be avoided if people had a look through the guidelines and would know what they can do or shouldn’t do. So that would be a first step, and the other thing is really to be communicative. They have the chance to give us information to help us review their cache, and very often we just get very short sentences or a brief paragraph, just providing the minimal information that they have. And sometimes it would be easier if they just said a little bit more and volunteered some information on their own without us having to go back and ask for things. So if you could sort of save doing the loop at the start where we have to go, “Okay. Basically, it looks okay, but I have those questions. And if you had provided this information on your own, we wouldn’t need to do this loop.”
18:51 Urs: The final thing, I think, is to really read our notes that we write when we hand back a cache to be adjusted, to read those notes carefully because we give them the information that we need. We tell them what the issues are. We tell them what they need to adjust, and very often, they look at one of those things or address one issue and just skip over the other three that we also mentioned in the note. And that makes for a lot of extra effort and delay that is not necessary if they were more careful in reading our notes. That would be my biggest wish, I think for more careful reading comprehension.
19:29 CR: Rene, how about advice from you?
19:32 Rene: Yeah. I can fully find myself in the worst of worst on the submission process. We have similar issues in the Dutch community. Besides what we also see, the Netherlands is a densely populated country, and it reflects in a very high-cache density. So that’s often results in conflicts with other caches. What we are recommending players to do, before they submit a cache is, let’s have your location tested by us. We have a process called saturation check. They can submit the cacher page. It can be blank, but we can provide a yes or a no for the location they have found. It saves them a lot of work and frustration, and it saves us some work because most of the conflicts that we have in the cache process could have been avoided. So that’s one tip.
20:33 Rene: The other tip. People, please find a lot of caches before you even consider placing one of yourself. We see there’s a relationship between the quality of the cache page, the review process, and the cache itself, and the number of finds the CO has.
20:54 CR: Frank.
20:55 Frank: I’ll have to second what everybody else has said so far, because I think the guidelines are very important. I would also tell new geocachers, go to the Help Center. There’s a Help Center. There’s a link for it at the bottom of the page, when you log into the website if you’re using a computer. And the Help Center really has a lot of useful information about hiding geocaches and topics related to geocaching. I would suggest go in there ’cause a lot of times I get questions. If people had just gone in the Help Center, they would understand or they would already know the answer. There’s also regional policies of geocaching policies. There’s a Wiki for that, and for Arkansas, I’ve set up one and in Oklahoma, I’ve set up a separate one. I would advice new geocache hiders to go to those Wikis and see if there’s any special requirements. For example, National Parks typically don’t allow geocachers to be placed within them, but there are certain places that maybe the park superintendent will allow it. You need to get permission from them and get a permit.
21:58 Frank: National Forests within Arkansas and Oklahoma require permits. State parks require permits, that sort of thing that people need to be aware of that. And I see a lot of new geocache hiders, typically, submit a cache in a State Park and they don’t realize a permit is required first from the State Park. I second the part about finding several geocaches. I actually responded to a geocacher this morning who wanted to make… They’d done one geocache hide, but they wanna do a better one. And I said, “Well, look in your area and find one with lots of favorite points. Go and see what made them favorite caches. What was good about them? And that will give you some ideas on how to improve your geocaches.”
22:39 Frank: One final thing I’ll throw out is, when you record your coordinates, check them. Make sure they’re right. And when you put them on the cache page, when you’re developing the cache page, make sure you type them in correctly ’cause that’s one of the biggest problems I see is either coordinates that are quite a bit off from where they said the geocache is hidden or for example, I found geocaches submitted for Arkansas or Oklahoma, they’re in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, China, Africa, the Pacific, you name it. I’ve seen it in different places and said, “Well, this can’t be there,” because they entered the coordinates incorrectly when they were typing in the cache page. It’s a simple self-check. And that’s the key thing. Just self-check your page before you hit Submit for Review.
23:23 CR: Well, as we are all sitting in our homes because of this pandemic, I feel I should ask about how the pandemic has affected the review process for each of you in your different locations. I imagine that it varies a little bit in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Urs. How has reviewing in the pandemic been different than prior?
23:46 Urs: Well, we had a total suspension of all reviewing activities from mid-March till, I think it was late May, not so much because we were forced to by government rules. We were lucky in so far that, though we were recommended to stay home, we were still allowed to go outside, as long as it was close by to our relief. Caching was an ideal activity to do for people who wanted to get outside. However, since we’re a small place, and we’re also densely populated with caches, if we publish a new cache, very often, these first-to-find hunts turn into spontaneous mini meetings and mini events of, I don’t know, maybe two or three or sometimes up to half-a-dozen or a dozen cachers, who meet at ground zero, which is fun, and really a cool thing to happen, normally. But with social distancing, it was something that we said, “It’s probably not something we should encourage, and there’s plenty of caches to be found without new ones being placed to encourage people to meet in this fashion.”
24:57 Urs: We stopped publishing and reviewing during that time, which in large parts of the community, was met with very much understanding although there were the odd cacher who didn’t like that decision. For us, it was a nice break, except that we paid for it when we started again because during the first few weeks, we had probably 10-12 times the caches we normally reviewed. The first week I pulled a shift, I think I spent four or five hours a day just playing catch-up. And I’d go through my queue and I’d think, “Ah, I’ve probably cut it in half,” and I’d press Refresh and then the screen came up again. It was double the number it was before we even started. [chuckle] But we’ve been publishing again since mid-May, late May. And caching and reviewing-wise, things have returned to normal. Also, we started sweeping again in June. As far as geocaching is concerned, we’re back to normal operation.
26:04 CR: Rene, how have things been affected in the Netherlands over the last several months?
26:09 Rene: Yeah, it’s quite similar to what Urs just told. We stopped our submission process mid-March, and we got back, I think, early May. And because we were expecting quite a tsunami of new caches, we decided, “Okay, it’ll happen anyway, so let’s review them and publish them all on the same date. That gives a lot of people opportunities to claim a first-to-find… And it’s… Well, it’s worked out well and after that, we just reconvened to the normal review process and normal publishing, except for the events. That took a little bit longer, because we felt not comfortable to publish events again because of the social distancing rules, because of the stay-at-home policies. That started back in back in July, we started to publish events again, but with restrictions. Most of the community understood what we did. They supported us.
27:23 CR: And Jonathan, in Israel, how has the pandemic affected the review process for you there?
27:30 Jonathan: Well, we basically had the same process like everybody else, but we had an interim period. I don’t know how it was with other countries. We had a few weeks where the law was, you can leave within 500 meters of your house or to go to work. And there were people that were hiding in that period. And I was really on edge and I would call a few people up that were doing a little… Taking a little too advantage of that period, ’cause I was really concerned about people breaking the rules in order to get there first to find. I didn’t want that. We talked with the people involved and it was very helpful to have everybody on my phone book and we got through that. And then that’s a few weeks, after that, they opened it up so you can go anywhere. The moratorium was lifted and yeah, we had the same kind of deluge that everybody else had. It was kind of fun to see and invigorating and yeah, it was wonderful.
28:34 CR: Well, by my count, there is 31 years of reviewer experience in this group here. When you guys think about why you keep doing this, why you keep making this commitment, because it is a huge commitment as we’ve… As I’ve heard you all talking about, just what you do as reviewers, there’s a lot of time that goes into it. And Frank, you’ve been doing it the longest. I don’t know if you could have imagined you were signing up for 14 years of this when you first started. But what makes you keep wanting to do it?
29:04 Frank: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I guess… I guess it’s something to do. It’s like a hobby. I’m retired. I’ve been retired for nine years now, full-time retirement. Although, I did work part-time as a contract engineer for several years, but now I’m not even doing that. It gives me something to do in the morning. When I get up, I grab a cup of coffee, sit down in front of the computer and work my way through the review queue and see what’s out there, what people have submitted for review. Basically, it’s, yeah, it’s just a hobby. It’s something that keeps me interested. It’s a way, also, I feel I can give back to the geocaching community, kind of a service, if you would. And it’s good to have a network of friends worldwide that you communicate with and learn about their experiences and see different perspectives of how geocaching works in their countries or how different things are being affected by such things as a pandemic.
30:02 CR: Rene, how about yourself? You’ve been at this for about six years now, you and Ingrid. What is it that you all enjoy about this so much?
30:12 Rene: Well, what’s not to like about it? It’s a fantastic job. I’ll do it now for a long time and do it with a lot of pleasure. It’s supporting the game. That’s… I think it’s even an understatement, because you help people, you help the game, you meet great new people. And like last year, when we were in Georgia at the Mega event, we met a lot of American colleagues and that was so, so much fun. And yeah, again, it’s a lot of fun to do. And seeing your work results and you submit caches and everything goes smoothly, that’s one of the many rewards.
31:00 CR: Jonathan, besides reviewing, we touched on your translator work as well. There’s so much that you’ve been doing for the game now for seven years. What is it that keeps you engaged?
31:12 Jonathan: Well, I think back to myself. I remember it was 2005, 15 years ago, that I first basically fell in love with the game. It was really love at first sight. As soon as I read about it, I knew this was for me. And I just… It’s the passion for the game. If I can help other people, if I can guide people just starting off, if I can bring them into the, so to speak, the way I was and pass on the passion, then my job is done. There aren’t that many opportunities where a person gets to really make the world a better place. And I feel that geocaching, in the sense that it gets people into the outdoors, it gets people to break out of their four walls and confine, it really does improve people’s quality of life. And people that didn’t even realize how boxed in they are, you get them outside, even if you have to push them a little bit, it really improves them. And I’m just happy to be part of that process and make people healthier and make people enjoy it. And people laugh at me. I have all these friends that roll their eyeballs whenever I tell them, “Oh, it’s geocaching.” I don’t care. It’s for us crazy few and that’s fine. And find people of birds of a feather and help them out and show them.
32:49 CR: All great points. Urs, how about yourself? You’ve been at it now for four years. What keeps you going?
32:57 Urs: Well, on the one hand, it’s giving back to a game that’s given me so much enjoyment and pleasure and contributing to that and the community in itself is a reward. And on the other hand, I think it’s people on all levels. It’s contacts with the cache owners in Switzerland that I meet through the review process, but also at events. It’s working with my Swiss colleagues, my reviewer team, an extremely cool team that has a lot of fun next… Besides work, and not the least, the international community. I’ve met some of you in person, but most, I only know virtually through the reviewer forums. But even there, I think we have a very cool community that has fun. That works together well, that is a joy to be a part of and that’s what keeps me at it.
33:56 CR: How about that? What a great group to have a conversation with. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And stay tuned for upcoming episodes when, again, I will be chatting with other reviewers from around the world. If you have something that you would like us to chat about on the podcast, please send us an email. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org. That is email@example.com. We always love to hear your suggestions and any feedback that you might have about Inside Geocaching HQ. Thank you so much for downloading our podcast. From me and from all the lackeys at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.