00:14 Chris Ronan: Hello everyone, welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ. I am Chris Ronan. My username is Rock Chalk. I am one of the 80 or so lackeys who works for Geocaching HQ in Seattle. Of course, we’re all still working from home right now, but the podcast rolls on remotely. And today, I have for you another conversation with community volunteer reviewers. One of the best parts of my job is that I get to interact with volunteers almost every day from all over the world and I hope you find it as interesting as I do to hear about what they do for the game and why they do it. This recording includes reviewers from four countries, Italy, Norway, Canada and the United States. Let’s get to it.
01:06 CR: So we have reviewers here from several different countries, which is really exciting to get all these viewpoints from different parts of the world. And as we start, I’d like to just ask each of you to give your reviewer name, where you review, how long you’ve been doing it for and if you can remember back to how you started reviewing, maybe how you were asked or why you decided to say yes. [chuckle] Let’s start in Southern California with Marko Ramius, Tom.
01:39 Tom: Hey. Hi, my name is Tom and I’m Marko Ramius, my reviewer name for regular geocaches and also GeoawareEU1 for EarthCaches. Let’s see, my reviewing territory is Southern California, which starts at 36th Parallel if you will and everything south in California. Along with three other people, we have a team of four people for Southern California and I’m the longest standing, I guess, reviewer for that area. I was… I got my account opened in January 31st of 2006, I think it was. I’m coming up on 15 years, I guess in 2021 if we can ever get out of 2020. It seems like if I go back in time, this guy named West Coast Admin was the reviewer for all of the West Coast of the United States I think and he was getting burned out. He was just looking for some help and I think he asked somebody else in Southern California and they said, “No, but maybe FlagMan will do it.” That’s my player name. And so he called me up and asked me if I’d be interested. And I thought, “Well, sure. Why not? See what it’s like.” I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years and reviewing has really changed dramatically over the years and the tools that we have now are light-years ahead of what we had back then.
03:06 Tom: And some of the things we look at are a lot different than we did before. I guess the reason I wanted to do it, well, partly because I thought it was sort of an honor to be asked, but in addition to that, I just thought this was a great, great sport that I am involved in and I’d like to have an opportunity to give back to the sport and the game that’s really been a lot of fun for me.
03:31 CR: Let’s check in with Hans Christian in Norway.
03:35 Hans Christian: Yes, hello. My reviewer name is Hexa Nomos and I’ve been reviewing for a little bit more than seven years. I am one of six reviewers from Norway and I think on the statistics, Norway is Country number eight or nine or ten or something. Geocaching is really popular in Norway and also in other Nordic countries. We have a team of six members on the reviewer team and we also publish geocaches for the Spitsbergen islands blowing Norway in the North, but we have a split, the maintenance sweeping work, between us and fixed counties. I think I asked one of the older reviewers once on an event or something. And the year after, I was asked to join the team and I was very honored, of course. I think the driving force is to give something back to the community, the geocaching community so that was my goal then and it’s still is, trying to educate and trying to solve the big and small issues along the road.
04:53 CR: Staying over in that general part of the world, we have Andrea from Italy.
05:00 Andrea: Yes. As Chris said, I’m a reviewer for Italy and I’m a part of a team of three people. We also review the microstates inside Italy, San Marino and Vatican. I’ve been a reviewer since February 2008. It’s about just a little bit more than two years. And recently, during lockdown, we just decided to share an account for EarthCache reviewer for Geoaware and Italian Geoaware because before it was covered by Tom. Italy was covered by Tom. I’ve been asked by the first Italian reviewer, Kazuma to become a new reviewer about two years ago as I said. I had the chance to meet him because we were both part of a scientific nonprofit association. We had the chance to get to know each other. And when he decided to retire from his reviewer role, he asked me and I was the one to take his place mostly. I was very well, very much happy to be asked. I’ve always wanted to see how the game is from the other side and I like this part of the game, mostly in the way of helping people to publish a cache, to educate them about how to follow the guidelines, how to improve their listings and their caches to make them fit the guidelines more. And also I like very much to see what the caches that are sent to review because I always live geocaching as discovering of places, of stories. And so reviewing caches from all around the country, I had the chance to know a lot more than just finding caches.
06:49 CR: And we also have from Ontario, Canada, we have Cache-Shadow, Roy.
06:55 Roy: Well then, yeah. So my player name is RCA777, and reviewing, as Chris said, as Cache-Shadow since 2011, I think nine years, we’re at almost, almost 10. So I first got into the game itself, a family member had bought a GPS, and had actually called me to look up some coordinates on geocaching.com for them, and I found it interesting. I went with them, loved it, and then a few years later, two of the Ontario reviewers, there are currently three, there used to be four, they had seen how I had worked with the community and organized some events and thought, “Well, perhaps I could help out in a capacity for tidying up caches that had been abandoned.” So we call it sweeping. I was quite good with automating tools and working through computer programs, was very good at dealing with people in the community, and I said “It sounds like a good mix.” And I tackled that fairly quickly, and then found that I could probably offer more if I started actually reviewing caches, not just tidy them up.
08:00 Roy: And I was tapped on the shoulder and the qualifications essentially being that I’d like to work with everybody in the game, and I just wanted to give something back, and same as everybody else, it’s… The game made such a difference to me, it gave me this extra community that I could be a part of, it let me make great friendships. And to this day, I’ve traveled the world, seeing people I’ve met through the game, and just having that tap on the shoulder is a great privilege and a great honor, but I actually do something and not just sit at home and talk about it. And particularly within our reviewer team, we’re all different opinions. And so we all talk about different way things could be done, and it was a great opportunity for me to take that and use that voice and HQ listens to voices. And that was one of the other things I thought I could probably do about making the game more of what I thought it could be and other people thought it could be. And here we are, almost a decade later.
08:57 CR: Each of you has mentioned that you review as part of a team. And I’d like to ask a little more about how that works, as far as bouncing ideas off each other, things… Just how does the team dynamic work for reviewing, Hans Christian, in your area? How does that work, being part of the Norway team?
09:18 HC: In the Nordic countries, we used to have an annual meeting, most of them, both the Swedish, and the Finnish, and Danish, and Norwegian reviewers meet once a year, at least on a four-year rotation. We move through the countries, and that has been very good, both socializing with your own team and also the other local teams. And we have, of course, advantage with the languages, the meetings are in English because of the Finnish reviewers, but I think that’s a good thing. In addition, the Norwegian team also has an annual meeting, where we meet, and we have also a third meeting and a more technical meeting dealing with the software, the new sweeping system and so on.
10:06 CR: We have a great range of reviewing experience here from, Andrea, who just started within the last couple of years. Tom, I think you said you’re coming up on 15 years. I’m curious to ask a few of you how reviewing has changed over time. Roy, you’re right in the middle, I think, of the experience levels here. How would you say that reviewing has changed in your eyes, in the time that you’ve been doing it?
10:32 Roy: I think the way that players approach the game is a little different today than it was, say, 10 years ago as a player or even nine years ago as a reviewer. And I think that it’s easier for people to be involved in the game, and therefore they may not spend as much time making themselves aware of the nuances or of the guidelines, because they’re excited, they’ve got something that is easily available to them, and they just wanna go out and do it. And it’s a great thing. Whereas in years gone by, playing the game involved an investment. You’d buy a GPS unit, and that was your only option, and that wasn’t necessarily a cheap investment. And then you would painstakingly go through all the different requirements of playing the game. So on the reviewer side, the change in approach of geocaching being more accessible, sometimes can mean that the way that you take care of the reviews, you gotta ask more questions, because people have a tendency to want things now, which makes perfect sense.
11:34 Roy: But as far as being in the reviewer seat, the improvements in technology, and by technology, it really is the software environment, as HQ have released updates for players to improve the game, maps, features, etcetera, etcetera, they’ve not left reviewers behind, because they also improve tool-sets that we use on our side, which aren’t vastly different from what players use, just a few more extra buttons perhaps. Those have increased along at a similar pace. And so we’re now able to get more information upfront, to be able to help a geocacher get the cache published. Whereas back in the day, you might be taking information you’ve been provided and copying and pasting it into your own software or another third party tool. So that’s definitely changed, is there’s more of a… I guess from reception to publish can be more of an automated process, but you still need those eyes to read the cache pages and that certainly hasn’t changed.
12:34 CR: Andrea, you had mentioned earlier that before becoming a reviewer, you were curious about what it might be like. Is it what you expected? Is it significantly different than what you thought it might be?
12:48 Andrea: When you think about what a reviewer could… What being a reviewer could be, you always think about the good parts, like knowing the back side of the game. Then later you realize that it’s not only that, but I’m also trained in martial arts, I’m a martial arts instructor. I think it’s more or less the same theme. In martial arts there are levels like the belts in karate or something like that. The more you have a higher belt, it’s not about having better perks, better things for you but the higher the level, the higher the responsibility you have toward your community, toward the game itself.
13:33 CR: I know all of you attend events in the community, you’re very active in your local areas, I’m curious, when you meet people in the community, what are the most common questions that you hear from players? Hans Christian.
13:49 HC: People ask us about different things like how long we used to go through a cache page, what we look for, and some are very curious about the tools, but I reply that the tools are the same as you use, but we have a few more bells and whistles as someone said earlier. I think people are very polite and some ask questions and but I think generally, the community think we’ve done a fairly good job. It’s very good when you get some positive feedback. To be honest, I expected more negative feedback, but we try, well, at least myself, I try to treat people in a good way, and I’ve been working as a teacher for many years and perhaps that helps.
14:41 CR: Roy, I am reminded of a time, a few years ago when I had a chance to attend an event with you in Canada, and I was struck by how you seemed almost eager to engage people in various topics, some of them very, very challenging. It was something that you seemed to really enjoy and the folks that were there seemed to get a lot from it too.
15:05 Roy: Yeah, I’ve always taken the approach that if you can put yourself in the shoes of someone else, you have a better idea of how you can make those shoes more comfortable for them, and I do this in my own work as well as with my reviewing. I try and create an environment where the geocaches know that I respect that they are what makes the game happen, and I just hope that they respect that my reviewer hat when it’s on my head is doing its best to fulfill a role and enforce the guidelines. But there’ll always be situations where it might be not a one or a zero, it might be some middle ground or some gray area, and without our reviewer team, we take approach, the three of us that we like to try and nail down as many gray things as possible and make them one color or another. And so I find the best way to do that is to go and put myself out there and say, whether it be on social media ’cause I’m quite active in groups in Ontario here, “Do you have any questions?”
16:07 Roy: “Well, what can I help answer now, ahead of time to get ahead of your stresses that you might perceive are going to happen that may not.” And the reception has always been great. I’ve had people who, they’ve got their heart and their emotion, their soul into their design of a geocache, and it may not be guidelines-compliant for something that… It could be something they’ve overlooked or it could be a nuance they weren’t aware of and they may obviously be frustrated for a few moments, but invariably the end of the conversation is a thank you or they’ll see me in person at an event and go, “Listen, I’m really sorry if I gave you a hard time.” Like, I get it, I totally understand. And so I’ve just found that being out there and being, I guess, attainable in my own time really helps keep the community up-to-date and informed and at the same time lets you bring back things to the reviewer team so we can say, “You know what, that person’s got a point, what’s a good way to address that within our region” or even go to HQ and say, “You know what, what’s a good way for us to look at this maybe outside of our bubble of Ontario, Canada?” And yeah, I love events for that.
17:16 CR: Since I have a couple of EarthCache reviewers here, I’d like to ask about the EarthCache process because I will admit I’m completely intimidated by it. I don’t feel like I could personally hide an EarthCache ’cause it just seems so overwhelming to me. Tom, I’ll start with you. What are tips that you give to people when it comes to trying to successfully navigate the EarthCache review process?
17:39 Tom: Oh, well, that’s a… Very few earthcaches get approved on the first round. [chuckle] I must say that unless it’s an experienced hider of earthcaches. Instead there are some technical requirements, the reason that a cache get thrown back or pushback is that they haven’t provided an adequate science lesson on the cache page. It’s not good enough to just point out a location and say “Oh, is this cool” and answer some questions about the geology. There has to be like a robust science lesson about this specific site that could be reviewed or the cacher when they go to the cache they will be able to look at this particular location, find something very interesting in a geological manner and be able to answer questions about it that can only be answered if you’re at that specific location and the questions relate to the science.
18:37 Tom: That’s a… It’s a long-winded way of saying EarthCache guidelines pretty clearly state that you need to have the specific science investment and logging task that relate to the science lesson that also prove that you visited the site. And that’s… Those are the primary issues. Once you get past that then the other sort of technical things that we ask for is if it’s in a foreign country, then you have to have a listing in the local language, and you can have any other language you want and for me, I need English ’cause I don’t speak any other languages. So I ask for an English translation. And then also that you provide the answers to the logging questions in a reviewer note that will get deleted when the earthcache is published. So those are the issues that I see mostly.
19:26 CR: Andrea, is there anything you would add to that?
19:28 Andrea: Well, I mostly agree with Tom. The main issue is that people hardly find a connection between the place and the geological science lesson. And sometimes they are just trying to publish a cache that, they could not place as a traditional, they are trying to make it an EarthCache, so they can… Publish it anyway, but further more a general way, I would say that the same tips that I would say to a normal for normal viewing, like learn about the guidelines and about what you’re doing, and mostly communicate with your reviewer.
20:11 CR: While we wrap things up here, I could talk to you guys for hours, but, I want you to get on with the rest of your day, but, I’d like to just ask each of you if there’s anything that you wish people knew about the reviewer role, about what reviewers do, or about… Anything people can do to make reviewing smoother just any thoughts that you might have about what you do and why you do it, and maybe something that people don’t know about what reviewers do Tom, we’ll start with you.
20:43 Tom: The biggest thing that I would like people to know about reviewers, is that we’re on your side. We’re on the side of the person trying to hide the cache. We want caches to be published because we’re cachers ourselves we love to go caching. And the last thing we want is to be able to do is to… We’re not looking for ways to prevent a cache for being published, we’re, looking for ways to get caches published that fit within the guidelines.
21:09 CR: Hans Christian, what are your thoughts on that?
21:12 HC: I already told to them to in… This team, we’re all on the same team. There are not two teams there is only one team currently working on the same team. So I think being friendly with especially new comers, try to guide them regarding the guidelines and the idea of the game, if we need to tell them that, to act family to them. If you get a strange questions, try to always answer polite if I have a bad day, perhaps I should not review that day. And I think act positive and try to be a good guide for them, to guide them. And I think, for new comers it could be positive to join in some local events and to try to talk to a local experienced new cachers to get advice from them.
22:15 CR: Andrea, what are your thoughts on that?
22:17 Andrea: Well, Tom and Hans Christian just said pretty much what they think, learn and communicate the two main things that the geocacher should do when he wants to hide a cache, and with those, you will see the improvements in the caches in the whole game.
22:38 CR: Roy.
22:39 Roy: Reviewers support geocaches as much as they can, geocachers are the ambassadors of the game, every geocacher has it within them to make the game the best it can be. But reviewers themselves, they’re not infallible, and the reviewer a hat, when you’re wearing your reviewer a hat, you have a set of guidelines you’re working with to try and stop there from being absolute chaos, so there are different things in different places that work in different ways. So when I think of reviewers, first of all, it’s a volunteer role, the hours are very flexible to vacation times unlimited, but a lot people don’t realize that the pay is not that great at all because it’s a volunteer role. I put myself in a position when someone says what it’s like to be a reviewer, or could I ever be reviewer, say, absolutely. If you love the game and you’ve got a great knowledge of the community and the guidelines, that’s fantastic, but it’s really almost a customer service role and that you are trying to make the experience better everybody. And for some folks that itself can be intimidating, and for others, it just seems to be right up their street, and I’m here right now with a group of folks who definitely understand what it’s about. It’s a pleasure.
23:56 CR: That was Tom, aka Marko Ramius, aka GeoawareEU1 from California. Hans Christian, aka Hexa Nomos from Norway, Andrea aka Giulia_Tofana from Italy, and Roy also known as Cache-Shadow from Ontario, Canada. More reviewer talks are on the way. Stay tuned for those. If you have an idea for the podcast or any feedback on the podcast, we would love to hear from you, send a message to podcast at geocaching.com. In the mean time from myself and all the lackeys at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.