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The Eureka Moment: Challenges

Jeremy Irish: CEO and Co-Founder of Groundspeak

By Jeremy Irish,

To me, the core geocaching experience is the “eureka moment” when finding a cache.

The word, Eureka, comes from the ancient Greek εὕρηκα heúrēka, meaning “I have found it.” I love this word. It represents that elated feeling of discovery when you move a few leaves to discover that container in the woods, or reaching under a park bench to extract a magnetic key holder. It is a sense of accomplishment and marks the end of a successful journey.

Finding a geocache is fun and rewarding, but I’ve always been frustrated of the limitations of a geocache. As a physical object, some places are inappropriate for placing a cache. They can’t be hidden close to each other to reduce confusion, many locations have to be regulated by land managers, and some locations just can’t support a hidden container. But there are lots of cool and interesting eureka moments in the world. So how can we get people there without a cache?

We tried this before. Our early attempt was to support virtual caches, which weren’t geocaches at all but unique locations on the world for people to discover. The best of those virtuals still exist today as grandfathered listings, but there was a time when virtuals were hard to qualify. The biggest reason was that we were applying the guidelines of geocaches to virtuals, which required a reviewer to publish them. No one could determine what the subjective threshold for what was a virtual was and wasn’t, so the constant angst resulted in the retiring of virtuals. For years we have focused on the core game of geocaching, but have always wanted to find a way to bring virtuals back.

Click on the image for a preview video of "Geocaching Challenges"

Spring forward to 2010 when we added the feedback section of our web site. It became quickly apparent that the community wanted virtuals back as much as we did. However, knowing the history of virtuals, we couldn’t just flip a switch and have the same process again. So we sat in a room and tried to distill the idea of virtuals into one sentence. The result was “go somewhere and do something.” This evolved into Geocaching Challenges.

Find a location of interest and challenge someone to take a photo or complete some kind of task unique to that location. Make it fun! Take a picture of yourself holding up the Tower of Pisa. Pull statue Lenin’s finger in Fremont (Seattle). We’re looking for the community to define the best challenges in the world.

We also know in the early days that there won’t be many Challenges, so we’ll be issuing Worldwide challenges daily. For those old timers, these challenges will be like the old Locationless caches. For example, we’ll challenge you to take a picture of yourself on a boat, kissing a frog, or dressed like a pirate. We’ll be using our feedback site as a way for the community to suggest Worldwide Challenges.

What are the guidelines for issuing a challenge? Unlike caches, there aren’t any official guidelines. Instead, you can rate challenges with thumbs up or thumbs down, and there are reporting tools available in the case that a challenge is inappropriate or unavailable. We’ll be tweaking these tools and introducing new ones as the activity grows, to ensure that the community can collectively decide what is appropriate, and what isn’t. For example, there is no 520’ guideline and Challenges won’t be blocked from being issued at Disney World, or even a pub.

There will be some restrictions at the start. To reduce the growth during the early days, only Premium Members can submit challenges. Premium Members will be limited to creating a Challenge once every 24 hours. Our hope is that we’ll be able to open this up further once we tweak our system to address the feedback we get from the community.

We’re also releasing a whole new set of mobile applications for Challenges, on the iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7. We expect that this new activity will be primarily accessed through these free applications, though we’ll continue to support GPS devices.

I’m very excited about Challenges, and look forward to seeing what the community can do with the new concept. I also look forward to constructive feedback on how to improve the activity and make it a part of the core geocaching experience.

 

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Celebrating 10 Years in Germany

Mega-Event Cache Das Ulmer Fort GC20002

In an area next to Ulm University, a short drive away from Stuttgart, Germany, is a 130 year old abandoned fort occupied by a few sheep, some goats and a donkey named Paul.

Paul the Donkey

It was here on June 19th that local geocachers hosted Das Ulmer FORT – the Mega Event in Germany for 2010 (GC20002).

Six months ago the local geocaching community started preparations for the event. The fort had been neglected for 30 years, so an army of volunteers had to dig out the, err, deposits left by the local residents. The electricity had to be rewired, sharp protrusions had to be cut down and sanded, repairs had to be made, rooms had to be swept out, and trash had to be removed. This was necessary to make the location capable of holding over 300 campers who resided in the walls of the fort for the weekend.

Elias, Bryan and I, the three founders of Geocaching.com, had the privilege of attending the event this year.

The founders of Geocaching.com posing with geocaching attendees. Jeremy Irish (second from left), Bryan Roth (second from right) and Elias Alvord (far right)
Bryan Roth and Elias Alvord with the Queen of Fort Ulm

In the course of four hours we were able to mingle with the local geocachers, visit the various rooms and corridors in the Fort, meet the lovely Queen of Fort Ulm and celebrate a successful day with the organizers by eating a delicious Signal cake.

Signal was not harmed and
Signal was not harmed and was, in fact, also in attendance

It’s not often that we can visit geocachers in Europe, so we used this opportunity to listen to feedback about the web site. High on the list was having better ways to rate and search for geocaches by their ratings, which has been a common theme in the US. As geocaches increase in numbers it gets harder and harder to find the best ones.

Although geocachers in the world have far more similarities than differences, there were also some notable observations in how Germans play the game.

Signal waves to a fan

1. Many German geocachers enjoy finding terrain level 5 caches, or what are locally called “T5” caches. Many of these caches are located in trees, requiring special climbing gear. The event even had FORTgeschrittene, a T5 event for finding these extreme geocaches. In addition to a ropes course, you could dive into a freezing pool to find a cache. Fortunately you could enter a portable sauna to warm up afterward. Sadly I didn’t pack a bathing suit.

Bryan Roth (almost) diving into pool to retrieve a geocache.

2. According to the “Flashlight Pope” at the event, there are quite a few caches that require a black light. This is so you can see writing that takes you to the next location. As a gift he gave each of us a black light to use on our next geocaching adventure.

3. Multi-Caches are far more popular in Germany (and in Europe) than in the United States. Many more geocachers seem to be willing to spend days on one puzzle cache there. There may be a lot of multi-cache fans in the U.S. but the ratios of multis in Germany to U.S. caches are significantly higher.

Aside from the event we were able to locate unique geocaches in Germany, such as a cache in the center of Berlin with over 3,000 finds (GCTA4W), and a cache in the spire of the world’s tallest church (GCJ7E0), located in the city of Ulm.

If the locals plan on having a FORTsetzung (sequel) next year you don’t want to miss it. Thanks to everyone who planned one of the best geocaching events that we have ever attended. I hope to see you again next year!

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Geocaching.com Finds a Blog

It’s hard to believe that it was almost ten years ago since we started Geocaching.com as a hobby web site. During this time we have heard some amazing stories. I’ve had many incredible personal experiences and have met some amazing people.

We’ve always lamented the lack of time to tell the stories of geocachers, geocaches and geocaching experiences. This is why I’m so excited about the launch of this blog and Groundspeak’s Lost & Found.

Eric tests hempl shampoo
Eric Divines the Property of Shampoo

Eric Schudiske has joined on as one of Groundspeak’s newest Lackeys to manage Groundspeak’s Lost & Found and will be the main writer for the Geocaching.com blog. A journalist by trade, Eric brings years of professional journalism experience both online and as a former reporter for the KING 5 News, the Seattle Washington N.B.C. affiliate. Already he and our videographer Reid Kuennen have gathered some amazing videos to share with you.

We’re reaching out to the community to find the best stories of geocaching. At first, we’re telling stories we already know about, but we’re hoping that this will inspire other geocachers to come forward and tell us their own stories.

Eric will be managing our @GoGeocaching Twitter feed, Flickr account and Facebook fan page as well as cultivating the many geocaching stories for this blog and for Lost & Found. I’ll occasionally chime in as well as other Lackeys at Groundspeak when we have something to share.

Now go out and create some new adventures! We’ll be waiting for your stories when you get back.