0:00:14 Chris Ronan: Hello everybody. Welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ, the podcast from Geocaching HQ in Seattle. I am Chris Ronan, one of the lackeys who works at HQ, and my username is Rock Chalk, and I’m your host for the podcast. And I’m very excited about this show. I think you’ll enjoy this one. I hope you enjoy all of our shows. But this one in particular, I think has a lot of great information. We will hear some old, fun nostalgic stories, but then also hear about a couple of new, very exciting projects that are happening here, around the office. Maybe stuff that you haven’t heard about just yet. So, I think there’s gonna be a lot of stuff on this episode, that will be very interesting for you. Before we get to all of that, I have a favor to ask.
0:01:03 CR: I hope that if you haven’t done so already, that you will consider going over to the Geocaching Blog that is at blog.geocaching.com, and look for the blog post titled “Let’s Talk More About Cache Quality”. Within that blog post, there is a link to a survey. It is a survey about cache quality. This is the next phase in a project that started earlier this year. You might remember that we asked for community feedback on the subject of cache quality, basically asking you what makes up a high quality geocache? What makes a low quality geocache? And what do you think the community and or Geocaching HQ can do to encourage and improve cache quality? We had hundreds of responses to those questions, and we took all of that feedback, took some time to study it, and then came up with the survey, where we are asking for more pointed feedback from you on some of the ideas that the community put forth in that first phase.
0:02:07 CR: So, for example, on the question of, “What can Geocaching HQ do to encourage cache quality? ,” there were dozens and dozens of ideas. We took the ones that were mentioned the most often, and that seemed to have the most support from people in those original forum threads. And then are putting them into the survey and then asking you to essentially say, which ones you think will be most helpful to improving cache quality, which will in turn help us to prioritize possible projects. So, if we’re going to implement some of these ideas, we would like to do so knowing that a good percentage of the community feels like they will be helpful. So again, you may have already done it, but if you haven’t, please go over to the Geocaching blog, blog.geocaching.com, and fill out that survey. It’s really, really helpful for us. We’ve had thousands of responses already, and we’re looking forward to going through the results and then coming back sometime early in 2019, and giving you an update, and hopefully giving you some ideas of where we’re gonna go with the rest of this project. So again, blog.geocaching.com. Look for the blog post in English, German and French. The survey is available in those languages as well. It will be really helpful for us, as we kick off with potentially some new projects in the new year.
0:03:39 CR: Okay, on with the rest of the show. Have some fun stuff to talk about here today. We’re gonna be hearing from Bryan Roth and Nate Irish. Bryan, as you probably know, is one of the co-founders of Geocaching HQ and of the website. And then, Nate Irish has been here for 15 years, one of the longest serving lackeys here at Geocaching HQ. The last name is probably familiar to you. His brother Jeremy is, along with Bryan, one of the co-founders. Nate has been involved in some of the, just huge projects that have happened here over the last several years, but sadly for us, he has decided to move on to a new opportunity, and we’re gonna miss him, but I couldn’t let him walk out the door before pulling him back into the podcast one more time. He was actually the very first guest on our podcast when we started this thing. Had to pull him back in here to tell some stories from the early days of Geocaching HQ. And so, he and Bryan had some really fun stuff to talk about, not just about the old days, but also about a new project that you may have heard something about.
0:04:46 CR: So, we’ll give you more of the low-down on that. We will get to that in just a few minutes, but before we do that, we have a conversation with Brendan Walsh, who was one of the guys on the product team here at Geocaching HQ, and he is overseeing the new map/search project, which is a big deal around here and something that, if you haven’t heard much about it yet, you will certainly hear more about it in the new year. And something that, if you use the website, which I think a lot of you that are listening to this probably do, it is something that will certainly catch your eye. So, without any further ado, here is me and Brendan talking about the new map/search project.
0:05:32 CR: Okay, we’ve got Brendan Walsh here with us, here on the podcast. And Brendan, you are relatively new to Geocaching HQ, even though you’ve been here for several months now, you’re still relatively new, and you’ve been working on this big project that we’re gonna talk about here today. But before we get into all that exciting stuff, what brought you to HQ, and what kind of stuff do you do here on a day-to-day basis?
0:05:55 Brendan Walsh: Hey Chris. Well, yeah, I started in May 2018. So, I’m relatively new. I’m a Senior Product Manager. I work on the web side of things. Specifically, right now, I’m working on the maps/search project that’s been going on for a little bit. I stepped into that role, and now I’m leading the product effort with that team. Very excited to be here. In previous positions I’ve had, I’ve been a Product Manager, I’ve been a Program Manager, I’ve been a Developer, I’ve been a Systems Administrator. So, I’ve done a little bit of everything in the technology stack, and I really, really love product. It gives me an opportunity to take business goals and translate those into software that provides value and delight to our customers, in this case, all those wonderful Geocachers out there. So, it’s a very exciting position and one where I really feel like I get to have an influence and hopefully continue to deliver like I said, joy and delight to our customers.
0:07:03 CR: When you came here to Geocaching HQ, you stepped into this project that has been going on for a while now, as you referenced the maps project. For people that aren’t familiar with it, because it is still relatively… It’s been rolled out to a relatively small number of people so far, but for people that aren’t familiar with it what’s the overview, what is the maps project?
0:07:27 BW: Good question. The maps project as you noted, is a big project. I think it’s been going on since about 2017. I’m the third Product Manager on the, pardon me, on the project. And really it evolved, or the inception of the project, came from a need to do two things. One, to deliver more value to the Geocachers in the world. So, looking at some of our data, for example, we realized that in the last year, so when this data was pulled, it was approximately 2017. So, in 2016, just 3% of all searches were actually mapped. So, that was an indication to us that we could improve, and we could optimize the experience. So, we undertook a bunch of rituals if you will, to suss out what was really needed. What do the customer want? And we balanced that also with our own internal needs. Writing software, building software, is an iterative process and over time, new technologies come into play, new systems, new services that we can leverage. And we felt it was also time to improve the underlying or the underpinnings of the map and search project or service, if you will.
0:08:47 BW: So we really are looking at two stakeholders, which is a term product managers use, who’s your audience? So it’s really the customer and we’re also… It is the customer, but we’re shipping it in two ways, so to speak. One is through features that they can really interact with, and the other one is through a whole under the covers, so to speak, improvement on the services to create or to provide a performant and snappy map and search experience for our customers. So, there’s, as you mentioned, there’s a lot going on in terms of the priority of features. We would go attack and go build and where we’re really relying on the experienced cachers out there in the wild, to tell us through forum posts and such, what speaks to them.
0:09:34 CR: For a user out there who’s saying to themselves, and I am admittedly a person like this, who… “I like my stuff. Don’t change my stuff. I know what I want, and I don’t want it to ever change and I’m fine.” That’s… I’m one of those people, and there’s some people like me out there and so we’re like, “There’s nothing… I’m fine with the map, I’m fine with the search. Everything is good.” But as I’ve, obviously, I’m privy to this because I work here, but also from what you just said, that you can’t just have the same thing there forever. Eventually, technology changes, web browsers change…
0:10:07 BW: Right.
0:10:08 CR: Hardware changes, whatever. And not only for that reason, you have performance reasons. But then also, if you keep everything the same, the underpinnings, you can’t add new stuff right, you can’t make… You can’t add new features, you can’t make it better.
0:10:23 BW: Yeah, there’s exciting stuff happening, really, in the mapping space, larger than just Geocaching, and we’d like to lean into that as well. So, to get to a place with parity, meaning our new map experience has all the features and functionality of our current, or what we’re calling internally our old map, when we reach that, then we feel like we could maybe take a small breath and then look at, “Okay, what’s the next thing that we could add to this map service that is net new feature that may be a Google or another mapping service out there is already using,” for instance. And we can look at what’s happening in the industry and try to mimic some of that functionality that’s been adopted and bring it into our world as well. But first things first, we wanna get it to a stable place where we can continue to add features. Yeah.
0:11:16 CR: So, let’s talk about how you’ve been doing that. This, you mentioned iterative and some people might not know what iterative means. So, maybe we’ll talk about that. But then also just that this has been what we’ve called a progressive roll out, and it started with just a couple thousand people and you can maybe talk about how many it’s up to now. But what are the benefits of that and how have you been soliciting feedback and then acting on that feedback?
0:11:39 BW: Good question. So, what we’re doing with the help of the engineering team that’s actually building this new map and search service, is we’re doing this, as Chris noted, a slow roll out. So, we are opting-in users randomly to the new map experience. And some of you, who might be out there listening, have been opted-in to this new map experience and our hope and our intent is that you play around with it, and you do the things you normally do. If you’re gonna go out for a weekend of caching, you might build a list, and you might map that list. And we’d like to hear from you how that experience was. We’d like to hear about how the filtering and the sorting is working, for example, compared to the current map. As we roll out, and we’re doing two-week deployments, give or take, we will let you know in the forum what to expect in terms of new features, and we expect to hear from customers in that same space about what they like and what they don’t like, and that’s incredibly helpful for us. I will say there’s quite a bit of feedback, and I’m doing my best to theme it all in the sense that I can’t probably address every single bit of feedback, but when I start getting strong signals. For instance, I will give you a good example. We were going down the path of a combined list and map without having that initial search results list, that our customers were so, so beholden to and loved so much, and didn’t want to go away.
0:13:12 BW: After spending a few months with the team and kinda diving into the forums and feeling like I had a good understanding of our priority of what we were going to build. This signal got to be pretty strong, and I suggested to the team that we examine our goal here, and what was, sort of pros and cons of separating this list versus serving the customer and providing really what they asked for. So, the end result of that is we’re experimenting right now internally how we can do that and how we can preserve that initial, “Do you want a list” or “Do you want a map?” And if you want a list, there’s a moment after you curate that list, sort it to your desire, perhaps select specific caches in that list, then you may wanna go map that list. I think we made an assumption that you wanted to go right from search to map, and by doing a slow roll out, we can correct course when needed, and continue to serve the customer the right way.
0:14:11 CR: Yeah, and if people haven’t gone into our forums, the Geocaching forums, there is a thread in the Release Notes, where Brendan occasionally will give updates to changes that’ve been made and new updates, and then people can give feedback there. And are there other ways that people can…
0:14:30 BW: If you do experience the new map and you decide, “Hey, thanks, Brendan. It’s just not for me yet. It’s just missing this, this and this, and when you have that or when you change this, I’ll be on board,” you can opt-out of the experience. At that moment, we’re gonna ask you why, and if you could provide some feedback, some honest feedback as to what it’s missing, and what you would like to see at that moment, that would be great. So we’re collecting all that, we’re using a service that we’ve sort of plugged into our website to collect that for us, and I can view that through a dashboard and take some appropriate action on it, again, theming it all. So, I can have some… As opposed to like a million different features and requests, I can organize, collate, so we can actually go and attack this stuff with priority.
0:15:23 CR: And you can switch back and forth, right?
0:15:24 BW: You can switch back and forth. That’s right, Chris. Yeah. So, when I put out another update in, say, in two weeks, the team is working on X and Y features, and they’re complete, and we wanna get your feedback, you, if you’d opted-out, you may wanna come back in and check out that new stuff. And it might delight you, and you might wanna stay. And we’re thankful for that. If it’s still not up to your needs and up to par for you, you can always go back and forth. And oftentimes, myself, the engineers, the testers on the team do just that, so we can kind of see the… Compare the experiences as we’re building them. So, it’s pretty quick and easy.
0:16:05 CR: And not to freak people out, but there is some day, somewhere down the road, and there’s obviously a lot of work your team is going to continue to be doing that the idea is that some day, this will be the map and search experience. And so, I think… Again, using myself as an example, I’m one of those people that isn’t necessarily an early adopter to this stuff. I tend to hold on to dear life to that thing that I’ve gotten used to, but it benefits me, I think, to dip my toe in the water, because some day, this is hopefully going to be the experience.
0:16:41 BW: That’s exactly true. Our end in mind here is to deliver such a great map and search experience that you won’t wanna use the old one. We think we’ll get there at some point, and yes, we will retire the old map and search. The date is TBD at this point, it’s gonna look at… We’ll be looking at a lot of factors in terms of adoption, in terms of feedback and NPS score, etcetera, etcetera, to determine when we’re right there, and we feel like we have a majority of acceptance from the community, an overwhelming majority, and then we would shut down the old map.
0:17:14 CR: So, what are you excited about right now with… You said your team has got some changes, that there’s some new stuff that you’ll be rolling out here in the next couple weeks. What are some of the things that are kind of top of the list right now?
0:17:26 BW: Yeah, that’s really great. So we have… I think we’re closing out what we’re calling our Feature Sort Parity Paradigm. So, we’ve been chipping away at that in each, we use the term sprint in terms of how we define a set of time when we’re working on features. So, we’re getting close to reaching parity on that, meaning all the filters and sort you have on your current map, old map, you’ll have in the new map as well. Excited about that, because that’s a huge milestone for us. The next two things are, and excuse the shorthand for these features, everyone out there, are we’re calling it Search World. The ability to search for instance, all of Chris’s hides if you will, in one view and if that view requires the whole world to show it, in other words, say Chris somehow got okay to hide something in Australia, and he’s also got something hidden up in the Northwest here in Seattle, you would really need the whole map, the whole world to show that in one view. And we wanna deliver that. That’s something we don’t have on the new map right now, and there are a lot of use cases that require that. So, we’re kind of going through all those cases. And then I alluded to this one, which is the idea that right now, if you were to use our new map and you were to search for say, Germany, you would immediately be taken from that home screen to our new map experience where you would see a thousand caches in Germany, and you get a nice view of Germany.
0:18:55 CR: What we’re doing with this decoupling the list in the map, is the ability to search for Germany, get a list right on that home page, if you will, like you’re used to now. Do your curation. “No, I don’t want that cache. I want these other 900 or this one or I wanna sort by distance or terrain, then map that cache, map that list, excuse me. That’s what we’re working on right now. And then after that, we are kinda gonna go through a little bit of a polish phase, and at that point we feel like we have a release candidate, where we would do the traditional release rituals, PR, blog posts, marketing. Really talk it up and put it out there for the customers to enjoy.
0:19:41 CR: And if people have not been opted-in, if they aren’t part of the group that has been quote-on-quote forcibly opted-in, is there a way for people to get to be able to see the new map and search?
0:19:53 BW: It’ll happen for those people, is we’ll just start opting-in, more and more folks. Right now, or as of last week, we had opted-in 55,000 people. We were at that number. So, that means it was available to 55,000 people, not that all of them were checking it out, or going to our site, but the next time they did go to try to map something they would be getting the new map experience.
0:20:17 CR: And when we talk 55,000 accounts, that’s a pretty small number of the total number of accounts that are out there, right? We’re still talking a relatively small percentage.
0:20:27 CR: Correct. We’re talking a real small percentage, sort of, in contrast to the larger available Geocaching universe of users out there. We’re kinda been playing it safe, so to speak, where we’re rolling out. 55,000 might sound like a lot. It’s really not right now, but it’s enough to get some passionate feedback from the community about how things are going. So, to anyone who has given feedback already and I really appreciate it. It’s not going unnoticed, and we’re taking it into account when we decide what’s the next thing we wanna go work on.
0:21:00 CR: And if you haven’t seen it yet, you will see it eventually. It’s coming down the pike.
0:21:03 BW: That’s right, yeah. We’re looking forward to getting this out in the early months of 2019, is what I would say right now. And then, as you mentioned earlier, iterate on it a little bit, too. We like to think we have a warranty period and beyond, so it’s not the end, we’re not gonna just ship and forget. We are gonna be with you for the journey and continue to add features and optimize as we go.
0:21:33 CR: That was Brendan Walsh with a lot of interesting details about the map/search project. Look for more of that coming in 2019, a very exciting project happening here at HQ. And speaking of exciting projects, they are always happening here at HQ. And one that you may have heard about in recent days is a new app that we have released called Adventure Lab. It was a soft launch, as it’s called. We haven’t done any big publicity yet about it, because it’s still in the early phases, but we have Bryan Roth and Nate Irish who have been very involved in that project.
0:22:09 CR: They are going to talk about that, but also tell some stories about the early days of Geocaching HQ. And the reason for sharing those stories now is because sadly for us, Nate is going to be departing for a new opportunity and leaving HQ after 15 years. He is one of the longest serving lackeys here, at Geocaching HQ. If you’ve been around the game for any amount of time, there’s a pretty good chance that maybe you’ve met Nate at an event, and if you haven’t, you have certainly been impacted by his work because he has been heading up the product team here at HQ for several years, has worked on a lot of exciting stuff, interesting things over the years here at Headquarters, and we’re really gonna be sorry to see him go. He’s a super great guy, and we all love him. But before he left, had to hear some of the old stories with him, and Bryan. So here is me and Bryan Roth, one of the co-founders of Geocaching HQ and Nate Irish talking about Adventure Lab and other fun stuff from over the years. Here we go.
0:23:14 CR: Okay, Bryan, and Nate this idea for talking with you guys came up with Nate’s departure from HQ coming up. He’s been sharing memories in our internal company communications channel, just the old memories of 15 years of being here at HQ. You’ve had some really fun stories that you’ve been sharing, and I thought gosh it should be great to get you guys together and talk about some of that stuff. What do you remember from when you first got here? What are your initial memories, Nate, from here at HQ.
0:23:45 Nate Irish: Oh, my initial memories, wow. Well, when I started, I was living in Colorado at the time, actually. And Jeremy, my brother asked me if I wouldn’t mind jumping in the email queue and answering some emails. And I said, “Sure,” not knowing that there were about 600 emails in that queue, going back about six months. Because about that time I guess it was 2003, Geocaching was starting to take off, and it was getting a lot of usage and so there were starting to be a lot of really active participants, and so he was having a hard time keeping up with that growth. So, nevertheless, I would roll out of bed in the morning in Colorado in my pajamas and load up the email support software and just start cranking away on those emails.
0:24:31 CR: You were remote working before it became fashionable.
0:24:33 NI: Yeah, before it was cool, right? Yeah and so, that was part of my day, and the rest of the time I was going to school nearby, and driving a taxi cab.
0:24:45 Bryan Roth: That’s right, Nate was the hottest taxi driver in Boulder.
0:24:47 NI: Oh, stop.
0:24:48 BR: He can tell you that story. Come on Nate. Let’s hear it. [chuckle]
0:24:52 NI: Boulder is a college town, and I was a young guy and I would pick up a lot of young college students. And I will humbly admit that, that is something that was told to me one time. But moving on, I did that for about six months, answering the emails and then Jeremy said, “If you come out to Seattle, there are a lot more jobs that can be done.” And it was very much a start-up. We still have that start-up feel today. But at that time it was a true start-up, and we were all just doing what needed to get done. And for me… I guess everybody else at the company, Bryan, you were the legal, Jeremy was the software developer, Elias took care of IT, hardware. Heidi was there at the time, she handled the volunteers. Everybody had a very specific role, but not me. [chuckle] I was the everything else guy, and I actually loved that about it. So, pretty quickly the support queue work turned into packing and shipping trackables. And so, I’d sit there in a conference room printing out stamps.com labels.
0:25:56 BR: It was really just travel bugs at the time.
0:25:58 NI: Yeah, it was just travel bugs. I say trackables now. And I’m trained to after years and years of geocoins being in the mix, but at that time it was just the tags. And then I would drive those in my little Saturn, four door, to the Post Office and ship those every couple of days. And then the Jeep promotion came along, and so I was a big part of disseminating those out to Geocachers and spending, gosh, I spent hours and hours threading. Do you remember this? We all did it.
0:26:29 BR: Oh, yeah. I remember Heidi and I, we used to… And Jeremy used to do it as well. We would get a box of 10,000 to 20,000, travel books, and we would have all the metal tags in just these big bags of metal tags, and then we’d have sheets of sticker print-outs that had the numbers and the activation codes, and then we had these little yellow envelopes. And what we would have to do is, first take these big massive travel bugs and order them. So, we’d put them into piles of the 1,000s, the 2,000s, the 3,000s. Then we’d take a pile of the 1,000, we’d break it down into 1100s, 1200s. And then we’d break it down into 10s, and then we would go in and with the stickers we would take 1001, and we would put that in a bag and put a sticker on it and seal it, and we’d do 1002. And we would basically do this sitting in front of the television…
0:27:27 NI: This assembly line.
0:27:28 BR: For hours.
0:27:28 NI: Yeah, I binge watched Sex and the City, one year. I was talking about the Jeep TVs. ‘Cause we had to thread the silver ball chains through the axle of each one of those little… And so, first we had unbox all the Jeeps, and they were individually wrapped. So, they had to come out of their wrapping.
0:27:46 BR: The little yellow ones?
0:27:48 NI: The yellow ones were the first. And then thread that chain through the axle, because it was the only thing on the Jeep that would actually keep the tag from falling off. And then, connect to that ball chain into a loop to hold the… And that would just kill after 2000-3000 of those, your fingers would just be raw.
0:28:09 BR: I remember the physical motion of doing that.
0:28:12 NI: Yeah. [chuckle] But nevertheless, that’s a nice memory for me. Especially, I really enjoyed binge watching Sex and the City, and that was a good excuse to just sit at work, in the conference with a massive projector watching this television show. And so, and then I got into the forums. Jeremy invited me in as a moderator, and he would call me ‘the kindler, gentler Irish. He had a great demeanor from my perspective, no nonsense in the forums. Anybody who was around at that time will know what I’m talking about. But he asked me to make that my focus, and so I did that. And then also, merchandise distributors for a long time. Many of your audience knows Annie Love. Ann maintains the distributor program now. But that was my role in the beginning and I got to meet a lot of different distributors, both in person, mostly on the internet, and help them set up their shops, so that they could sell Geocaching merchandise and make sure they’re getting their appropriate discount and that kind of stuff. I always loved maintaining those relationships, I love talking to people and wherever I end up after this, I wanna make sure that that’s a big part of my life. Let’s see what else, what else did I do? I feel like I’ve had… I was called a QA tester, but I’m not technically trained. I’m not a programmer.
0:29:35 CR: You were talking about the trackables earlier and I want you to tell the story about about the stamper.
0:29:40 NI: Oh, gosh. Yeah, this massive beast of a stamper. Okay, so… And Bryan can correct me, ’cause I think I had some of the details wrong, but I will give my perspective on the stamper fiasco. We were selling a lot of travel bugs at the time, and it was a big part of what made the business successful in the early days. And of course we were looking as any business to cut costs on these travel bugs, and so the founders had found this piece of industrial equipment. It was like a stamping robot that weighed half a ton probably, and they bought it. And so they asked me to go out to Bellevue to pick it up. It happened to coincide with our dev lead… What’s Sean’s title now?
0:30:28 BR: Sean is the Director of Web and API development.
0:30:32 NI: It was his first day and he had a Honda Element, I think. So, it was the only vehicle that was big enough amongst us to actually pick this thing up. So, we went out and picked it up. It was on a pallet. We almost broke our backs, getting it into his Honda Element and he was so pleased,’cause it was a new car for him, and he was like, “Yeah, the utility… ” Sean’s a real gadget guy. And then all the way there and all the way back is about a 20-minute drive each direction. I gave him the complete download on everybody in the office. Like, “Here’s Bryan. Here’s his quirks, here’s how you talk to him.”
0:31:03 BR: My quirks? What?
0:31:04 CR: He has no quirks. Yeah.
0:31:05 BR: I’ve got plenty. It’s true. [laughter]
0:31:07 NI: You’re all quirk. You’re like, just quirk.
0:31:10 BR: Yeah.
0:31:10 NI: Frankenstein Quirk. And so, we got it back to the office, and somehow we got it up to the second floor that the office was on and plugged it in and started playing with it. And you had a program it with the codes that you were gonna use and just for testing purposes, we started programming it with all kinds of silly names. We used a lot of internet slang like ‘pwned,’ P-W-N-E-D.
0:31:36 BR: Lead.
0:31:36 NI: L-E… Yeah, anyway, a bunch of… And some more mature than others… And the stamper, what it would do is, it had this robot arm and it would grab a trackable from a stack and then it would “ghhhhh” and then put it in position, and then the stamper would come down, “gung gung gung gung gung gung.” And then the arm would go “ghhhhh” and put it in another stack, and the whole thing is shaking at this point.
0:32:03 BR: The whole office is shaking.
0:32:04 NI: The whole office. We decided, instantly that there was no way that we could get any work done with this thing going. And so, someone unnamed… We hadn’t even checked, and said, “Who was gonna do it,” would be running this thing after hours. And in the end, I don’t think that we ever ran it again after that.
0:32:21 BR: We ran it just a few times, and then we contacted the person who sold it to us, and we said, “Look, we can’t use this. It’s not gonna work for our office. We’d love to send it back. Can you re-sell it and just give us some of the money back?” And the guy was like, “Absolutely. No problem.” So, we shipped it back and we never heard another thing from him.
0:32:42 NI: Well, I guess, in business, especially when you’re starting a business, some decisions you make, just don’t pan out.
0:32:48 BR: But we have a sign on the wall here at HQ that says, “Let’s make better mistakes, tomorrow.” And I dare say that was one of our earlier mistakes. We will not be buying another stamping machine going forward.
0:33:01 CR: Better mistakes.
0:33:02 BR: I’ve learned that one.
0:33:05 NI: Yeah. So, we went back to outsourcing our travel bug creation at that point. I had the merchandise program, the forum moderation. Whenever there was a promotion, I would get involved in that. I got to travel a lot in the early days, and in the later days too. But it was really interesting. I got to go to some of the first GeoWoodstocks, some of which I was able to actually bring Jeep travel bugs from that promotion and hand them out. And that was one of the more fun moments because the community got so excited and I’ve always loved going to events.
0:33:45 NI: I met my wife here actually, also she was the former Director of Marketing, and she never liked it because she doesn’t like to be the center of attention. And to be honest, I don’t really like to be the center of attention either, but what I do like when you go to events as a lackey is that everybody is happy to see you and there are very few moments in your life where you can walk into a room and people are just glad that you’re there. And that was such a cool feeling… And I hope that in the way that I interacted with Geocachers at events showed that gratitude I had to them for just being so friendly, and I loved having all those instant friends. I still to this day obviously enjoy meeting Geocachers, but yeah, the back then, going to the GeoWoodstock I got jiggers something fierce on my legs at the Florida one, what was that like four… GeoWoodstock four, out caching in the weeds. If you’re in Florida, make sure you wear long socks. Not one of my more fond memories. I don’t know what else can I say about that time?
0:34:51 CR: Well, let’s talk about the community a little bit because I think that you guys have a unique perspective on the Geocaching community, which is such an awesome community and it’s something that you really don’t know until you really see it until you’re in it, either as a player or as someone who works here at HQ and gets to go to these events. It’s a pretty remarkably unique community. And maybe you guys can talk a little bit about the growth of it and just how… I think there’s always been a certain spirit within the Geocaching community regardless of how big it’s grown. In the beginning it was that way and it’s still that way today.
0:35:29 NI: Yeah, Geocaching is a fundamentally wholesome activity. It’s good for you, it’s about sharing your gifts with other people. Nobody gets paid to place a geocache and their reward comes in form of the comments and experiences, that people find the geocache have. Everything about Geocaching the game sort of speaks to creating an open, loving, friendly community.
0:36:00 BR: Welcoming.
0:36:00 NI: Welcoming.
0:36:00 BR: I mean really it’s this global group of people who have a passion for outdoor recreation, technology, creating and sharing experiences and adventures with one another. And I think it defies boundaries and it defies borders. And I know I’ve said this before, but at a time where there’s so many things in the world that divide us, go to a Geocaching event and no matter who you are or where you’re from, you’re welcomed with open arms, people wanna share this hobby with you, they wanna take you out, show you how to play, share what it is that they appreciate and that they enjoy almost in hopes that because their lives have been enriched through this game, they feel like it’s an opportunity to enrich the lives of the people that they’re meeting, through this game, and so it becomes this self-perpetuating goodness. And that just radiates, I think it’s the best part about the entire game.
0:37:00 NI: There are so many things in the world that divide us and everything else, about me and you could be different, except for this one thing. And we would be able to create that connection of this love of Geocaching and being out in the world. I think that shows up a little bit in one of my favorite stories and I know it’s a favorite of yours too, it was about the gather and his daughter, his teenage daughter this… I don’t remember if it was her or him that wrote in…
0:37:22 BR: He wrote to us.
0:37:23 NI: He wrote to us and said, “My daughter is a teenager. And this is not an uncommon problem, that parents have with a teenage daughter. [chuckle]
0:37:32 BR: This is a single dad.
0:37:32 NI: He was single.
0:37:33 BR: Single dad.
0:37:34 NI: And looking for a way to connect with his daughter, and they just didn’t see eye to eye, they didn’t have that really close connection…
0:37:40 BR: They weren’t speaking really. He said, “My daughter and I have very little in common and like a father trying to raise a teenage daughter. We’re struggling.
0:37:51 NI: Yeah.
0:37:53 BR: And this game has changed it. Now we’re outside and we’re playing together and we’re having conversations.” And it was a legitimate thank you note that he wrote to us, as a company, and I remember we read it in front of the entire company at the all-company monthly meeting and it was really powerful. Just to know that the work that we’re doing and the work that the community is doing and the community volunteers all add up to have a positive impact on this dad and this daughter and to know that this was just one example of so many that are happening all over the world at the same time, it was a good revelation. That had to be seven, eight years ago…
0:38:35 NI: It was a long time ago.
0:38:36 BR: That right, it stuck with you, it stuck with me.
0:38:38 NI: It sticks with me because I see that interaction between those two people repeated so many times and the participants are different, the roles are different between those relationships, but the core of that interaction is the same and it’s just about sharing a love for something wholesome and healthy and family-friendly and good for you, good for your soul, good for your constitution. We all have our vices in the world. And let’s be clear, Geocaching… Some people have made it a vice.
0:39:15 NI: There are extreme uses of participation in Geocaching that I will not judge. But on the whole it’s… Of the things that we do and take part in in our lives, this has to be right up there at the top of the list for goodness. So, yeah, I really enjoy… I’ve always enjoyed our community. There are times where it’s somehow… It’s hard to please such an engaged community sometimes. And I’ve struggled with that from time to time because we work hard on something, we put it out into the world and maybe we didn’t get it quite right. And sometimes with the passion of community, the feedback that comes back is, they don’t pull punches. And that can be hard to hear sometimes. But I also, I understand it. Because this is… We just got done talking about what a big part of people’s lives Geocaching is. And if you go and change something like that, you have to expect to hear about it.
0:40:13 BR: And it’s difficult also because sometimes with the best of intentions, we put a lot of work into something and we put it out there and we will hear from people, “Wow, this is absolutely perfect. Thank you so much for all the effort you’ve put in to give us this thing.” And directly adjacent to that in the forum topic is, somebody saying, “How dare you? You’ve ruined this. My game is now destroyed as a result of this thing that you added to the website.”
0:40:41 NI: I quit.
0:40:41 BR: “I quit. I’m never coming back, geocide.
0:40:45 NI: Yeah, geociding.
0:40:46 BR: Is a term that had came up in the forums years ago and I think still exists today. But, yeah, you’re right. There’s so many passionate people and despite best intentions, there’s no way to please everybody. And it’s interesting because in the early days, I’m sure you experienced this also, I took the feedback personally.
0:41:05 NI: Yeah.
0:41:06 BR: Of course you wanna hear the positive things and it’s always nice and it kinda makes you smile. I’m almost more dismissive of that. Like, “Okay, cool, we’re doing the right thing. Great, let’s keep doing the right thing.” But when you hear somebody who’s like, “You’re bad, you did something wrong, you’ve harmed me,” in some way. It cuts right through you. You’re like, “No, that’s not what we’re about, we’re trying to do better than this. How did we miss the mark with respect to this individual customer?” And over time I think what we’ve all come to realize is, “Hey, we’re doing our best. We really are trying to create a better game, a stronger community, support the players, give them what they need to have a positive impact on their lives. And despite all of those efforts and best of intentions, there’s just no way to get it 100% right.”
0:42:00 NI: Yeah. Sometimes we get it wrong.
0:42:01 BR: Sometimes we get it wrong.
0:42:03 NI: I understand also that not everybody in the community knows us and knows what this company is about. And for a lot of people, their experience with businesses and companies are like giant, multi-national corporations that are faceless and nameless and in many cases, heartless.
0:42:26 BR: Evilcorp.com.
0:42:26 NI: Yeah. So, it’s expected that at least some people will sort of lump us in with that category. And I feel like that’s why doing things like this podcast are really good. To give people a glimpse into who we are as people. Because you don’t deliver… If you’re thinking about a person on the other end, I think that almost nobody delivers really harsh criticism. You choose your words a little bit more carefully. But if I think it’s just like, evilcorp.com, then I’m gonna lay into them. [chuckle] ‘Cause probably my feedback’s not gonna go anywhere anyways. So I’m just gonna have that… What do you call it? Catharsis or whatever that comes when…
0:43:10 CR: Yeah, there’s just no filter.
0:43:11 NI: Yeah, yeah. Why would you?
0:43:14 CR: It’s funny you would say that. As you were talking about that, I’m thinking of The Community Pulse Survey that we do quarterly. And there’s an opportunity for people to give open-ended comments in that survey. And, inevitably, someone will write… There’s a lot of great very insightful comments in there, but sometimes you’ll get somebody that says, “I know no one’s gonna read this so I don’t even know why I’m saying this, but I’ll say it anyway.” And we don’t record anyone’s identifying information or e-mail addresses or any of that stuff so we can’t respond to them. But I want so badly to reach out to them and say, “There were hundreds of responses, I read every single one of them.” Because that’s the kind of company that we are, we read everything. And it is very different, at least I assume it’s very different from evil corp or whatever example we wanna use.
0:44:00 NI: Well, I think, maybe in those cases all the responses get read too, but who’s reading them? Is the message being delivered to the upper echelons of that corporation? And, here, I can say for sure that it is. Bryan is looking in forums, he’s looking at Facebook groups.
0:44:19 BR: I’m translating Facebook group dialogue just to understand what people are saying, positive and negative. Because it helps to inform the decisions we make. I wanna know. And, of course, I’m looking for us to try and do positive things so that we see positivity resonating within the community, but it’s also important to see the negativity and to see where we might’ve missed something or where there’s an opportunity to make a correction or just do better next time. But, yeah, fundamentally we care. And that’s something that since the day you started, Nate, that was one of the great things. It’s like, you came in and you demonstrated with all of your actions that you really cared. And when I look around at the approximately 80 plus people that we have working here now, that’s a fundamental thread that goes through this company. And in a way, as we talked about earlier, it goes through the community, it goes through the community volunteers, the people who place caches. Like, “Why do people do this? Because they care.” And so that’s one of the things that I think makes this whole thing really special and we’re just fortunate to be involved. What a treat this has been.
0:45:33 NI: It has been special for me in my life. Before I came to Geocaching I had about 15 different jobs. [chuckle] Literally, my wife keeps a list on her phone because she thinks its hilarious. On the notepad in her iPhone, she has all the jobs that I… ’cause when we first started dating, occasionally I would just be like, “Oh yeah, and then when I was working as a barista or at a record store, and she would like, “You worked at a record store?” [chuckle] And I worked at the CIA for a while as an intern in high school…
0:46:06 BR: You can tell us about that, but then you’d have to kill us.
0:46:08 NI: Then I’d have to kill you, exactly. [chuckle] I was very important. No it was like shuffling boxes around the CIA.
0:46:12 CR: Did they have a stamper machine at the CIA?
0:46:17 NI: They did not, no they had some much more advanced technology that I can’t talk about. And so, I had a ton of jobs, and then all of a sudden when I was about 26, I started at this company, and I feel like I was a kid then, and I’ve grown up here. I met my wife here, I had my kids while I was here, I went from being kind of a crazy, immature, irresponsible kid, to the domestic…
0:46:45 BR: Crazy, immature irresponsible adult.
0:46:46 NI: No I drive a minivan.
0:46:49 BR: You do? [chuckle] Yes you do.
0:46:51 NI: And I would tell anybody about the minivan who wants to know. I love my minivan.
0:46:54 BR: It’s a pretty awesome minivan.
0:46:55 NI: Thank you.
0:46:56 BR: You’re welcome.
0:46:57 NI: For saying that.
0:46:58 BR: Alright, my pleasure.
0:47:00 NI: So yeah, it’s bittersweet. Moving on to bigger and presumably but hard to become better than what I have here. This is such a big part of my identity being first of all, a geocacher, which I was before I started. You know my brother, he introduced me to Geocaching about a year and a half before I started working here, and I became kind of a fiend. If you look back through my logs, you’ll see a bunch in Colorado, where I’d just… There was a series where I’d go out by myself into the wilderness in Colorado, with my dad’s yellow eTrex ’cause I didn’t my own at that time, and go probably into some very inadvisable places and routes because bushwhacking was definitely a thing and I saw a bear at one point, a baby bear and never saw mama bear, definitely did a 180.
0:47:53 BR: That’s scary.
0:47:54 NI: Yeah, I knew what it meant, so I DNF’d that one, but yeah. So, Geocacher first, But then, as just part of my life Geocaching HQ crown speak, it’s who I am and it’s a little bit scary to move on honestly, and not have that be a defining characteristic of me. I think for many people, their job is not a defining characteristic, maybe the type of work that they do, but not the specific place. But this place means so much to me and I have so much gratitude to Bryan and the other founders for giving me that opportunity, ’cause I really don’t know where I’d be. Maybe still the hottest cab driver in Boulder.
0:48:37 BR: Certainly. You certainly would be. Well, it’s been 15 years, and you’ve made so many contributions to the game, the company, the community both in terms of your input and your effort that it’s interesting, you’re part of the fabric of this company and of the community and it will be different when you’re not here. It’s strange to think about because you were a full-time employee at ground speed before I was a full-time employee, I was still, I had a day job, I was working one day…
0:49:11 NI: One day a week.
0:49:12 BR: One day a week in the office, switching off desks with my wife, which was…
0:49:16 NI: Hot desking…
0:49:18 BR: Seriously swapping desks, she would work from home on Fridays, and I would work in the office.
0:49:23 NI: That’s so funny.
0:49:23 BR: And it was my favorite day of the week of course, because we were doing something that was just really cool.
0:49:29 NI: And they were demolishing the building across the street, so we got to see big chunks of a huge building fall down on occasion.
0:49:35 BR: That’s right.
0:49:35 NI: They had the wrecking ball. This was now where all the Amazon offices are, but it was a much sort of lower rent area at the time and it was like, a manufacturing building or something from the ’60s across the street and they had the big iron, I presume it was an iron wrecking ball just hitting this building and the whole office would shake each time it hit. Boom, boom, and then, whoever was by the window, I think it was usually Coco would be like, “It’s coming down.” And everybody [laughter] would get up and rush to the window so that they could see this big chunk of wall fall down.
0:50:11 BR: And even though they had sealed the windows on the office, we would still come in and there was a layer of dust on everything.
0:50:17 NI: Cement dust… It just crept in.
0:50:17 BR: Cement dust, right. Yeah, it was kind of crazy.
0:50:22 CR: So Nate you talked about the stuff you started doing, the customer service stuff from the forums, and whatever and now over the last several years you’ve been heading up the product team and I’m curious, when you think back on over 15 years, what are some of the projects that come to mind? I mean you’ve seen a lot of changes.
0:50:41 NI: Some of the projects… I don’t know I think it’s less about the projects and more about how the process has changed and the things that we’re paying more attention to. In the early days, how we decided what to work on was very much based on just what we wanted as Geocachers because everybody in the company went out and found geocaches, went to events… We were the consumers of our own product. And so when you think about something like Pocket queries with the… We have this GPS, this yellow eTrex with this crappy little rocker joystick to input the coordinates, it would take forever. And so we had this thought, “Well, it comes with a data cable, how do we just pipe those caches right into the GPS?” And so, that’s how Pocket queries was born.
0:51:27 NI: Great feature, a terrible name. Named by a developer, you can tell. Or the maps, in the beginning there were no maps for geocaches and so we had the thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just put a pin on a map and see where in the world these things are, so that we could plan our outings better.” And so we build that and of course everybody likes it. That’s an easy one, after a while, after several years, those easy things to do, sort of done. And at that point, we have to start looking at talking to the community, reaching outside the walls of the office to see what are the problems that people have, what are the pain points, what are the unmet needs?
0:52:08 BR: And it wasn’t just the communication that was coming to us at events where cachers would say, “Hey, can you please do this or can you do this?” It was us having to be proactive and going out and doing surveys and doing user testing and saying like, “Hey, we wanna know, how does this sound to you? What are the issues with this feature? How can we make it better?
0:52:30 NI: And not just with really highly engaged Geocachers ’cause it’s always easy to find the Geocachers willing to talk to us. And I love that about this community, but we also wanna talk to the Geo-curious or the people who have never heard about Geocaching and run things by them and see, how approachable is this to you? Because for Geocaching to survive as a game, we need to open the doors and bring in new Geocachers. Mint them in the right way. So yeah, reaching out, talking to the community. Also just getting better at looking into the data. It was a long time before we had instrumentation in place, in the product, so that we could see data trends, the quantitative data. So once you’re able to do that, and then you start to see certain things pop out as issues. And what I’ve learned in my education as a Product Manager is that the data will tell you that there is a problem, but not what that problem is. And if you wanna find out what that problem is, you have to go talk to somebody, you have to go talk to a user, you have to watch them do that thing. And that’s when really interesting kind of insights start to pop out and that helps us focus our resources on the things that are gonna bring the highest value to the community and to us as a business.
0:53:50 CR: When I look at a lot of the things that have happened over the course of the years here at the company and in the early years, it was just the website and just had to get those caches onto the GPS and things have changed so much that now the app, the phones, obviously changed everything, and multiple platforms and everything has to play well together. I just, when I think about it from a product standpoint that a lot of great opportunities there, but also very challenging, isn’t it? Just compared to just the atmosphere has changed so much over the course of 15 years.
0:54:28 NI: Yes it was really simple when it was just the website and a GPS unit. But once the smartphone came onboard, we couldn’t just ignore it, obviously, because now this is just such an accessible device to people. You don’t have to be a hiker, anymore. Boater or hunter to have a reason to take part in Geocaching. So yeah, it has increased the complexity of the product and we’ve had to be careful to balance and to really make sure that it continues to serve all the different ways to play. Because of the complexity, I think that it’s caused us to be very conservative about the changes that we make to Geocaching. And that’s become challenging in some cases when we wanna experiment with more innovative technology, innovative game play, which is where Adventure Lab comes in.
0:55:23 NI: Adventure Lab. We can talk a little bit about that. Just launched, soft-launched earlier this week. We wanna take it slow because it’s new technology that we’ve not supported before, we wanna make sure that it could actually handle the load. By the time this comes out I think more people will have heard about it. That had its roots in Wherigo, right? Back in the day, Wherigo was intended to be a platform for a creator, storytellers to create these open-ended or linear, multi-media experiences out in the real world that weren’t necessarily tied to a physical object and we had a lot of high hopes for that, but at the time…
0:56:06 BR: It pre-dated smartphones. We were on pocket PCs and thankfully, the folks at Garmin were willing to partner with us and get Wherigo supported on the Colorado and the Oregon. But at the end of the day, the technology was so complex that to actually create an experience, you really needed to know Lua code.
0:56:25 NI: You needed a computer science degree really.
0:56:28 BR: Yeah, you really did. And so it made it really hard for people to create the experiences and many people actually put the effort in and there are…
0:56:37 NI: And still do.
0:56:38 BR: And still do, absolutely. There are thousands of experiences out there and at least a couple more every month. But it was something that wasn’t accessible to everybody that really wanted to create. And so over time we’ve been asked, “Are you gonna turn off Wherigo? Why won’t you support it?” And we basically said, “Look, it was so unwieldy that we’re gonna focus on Geocaching for now and at some point we’d love to get beyond it. And about five years ago we launched the Lab cache concept where we said, “Okay, this is a way that we can have a more easy-to-use builder tool.” Allow people to create experiences that other people can share and play on the smartphones that they already had in their pockets using a web browser. So it was… A lot of the theme was about how do we make something that was so complicated, much, much easier. And we did it, we gave it to Mega-Events, we experimented with things like the Arboretum at Harvard University through the Turk Gaming Group.
0:57:45 BR: We’ve done stuff at the Museum of Flight, we have the Queen Anne Adventure and we’ve allowed the Antietam Battlefield to create adventures. And so all these things were really big experiments to see, here’s this new easy-to-use toolset, what will the community do with it? And we’ve seen… I think if I had to identify the most important thing that we’ve seen is we’ve seen promise. We’ve seen that there is an opportunity and there is a group of really creative people out there who want a toolset that’s easy to use so that they can create interactive, multi-media, location-based experiences, whether linear or non-linear, that they can share with their local community or visitors or others. And so we’ve talked about this for many years and, really, in the last year we’ve had Nate and the team that Nate has supported as a Product Manager go out and build this Adventure Lab Player. And at first glance, it is essentially a lab cache playing app. It’s on iOS and Android, it released two days ago.
0:58:55 BR: It looks like the community response so far is limited because we haven’t really announced it, so soft launch. But we’re getting some really positive feedback and some people are excited about it. And the goal right now is to test it. We’re putting it in the hands of different members of the community through some programs that we’ll talk about, maybe not today, but we’ll do some announcements around. We’re putting it in the hands of the community, of people who might be inclined to build fun things. And we’re gonna say, “Here you go, here’s a credit for the builder. Go build something, we’re gonna help you put it in the hands of players and let’s see what they think. Let’s see how it’s resonating, how it’s functioning and if this works, we’ve got some ideas for how to make it a more robust platform.”
0:59:43 NI: Yeah, it’s an experiment. And we’re trying to be really intentional about not over-building it in the beginning so that we can see what are the needs of the storytellers, what are the needs of the people playing it, Lab caches, and now trying to transition to calling it Adventure Lab and Adventures, is kind of born out of the Wherigo platform. But it’s obviously not as robust. Wherigo was really flexible, but totally unapproachable for the average person. And so we’re sort of shifting focus to making sure that this is an accessible platform and then we can build out its functionality from there. But there’s some problems. Well, I call them problems. As a Product Manager, I like to speak in problems and solutions, but there are some challenges with Geocaching that this is intended to help alleviate. One of which is, it’s difficult to have a virtual experience and impossible in some cases or limited, very limited. We don’t allow temporary experiences. 90 days, I believe, is the guideline for…
1:00:51 BR: Three months, yeah.
1:00:52 NI: For an active geocache.
1:00:55 BR: For core Geocaching experiences, right.
1:00:55 NI: Yeah. You also cannot have a private experience.
1:00:58 BR: We’ve talked about this once before on this podcast. But if I’m a teacher and I’m working at a school and I wanna get the students out of their chairs and experiencing an interactive math learning lesson or a history lesson on school grounds, wow, that would be really cool to do. But I can’t do it with core Geocaching because we can’t have random geocachers from the community showing up on school grounds. So how do we… How does this tool address the private experience concept? One of the things that we’re doing with Adventure Labs, is we’re allowing builders to create a private experience that won’t appear in the directory. So they won’t have the problem of random people showing up and we can sort of limit the audience for certain experiences. At this point right now what we’re really focused on is the public experiences. How do we populate the directory with a variety of experiences so that we can gauge the players reaction, see what do they like, what don’t they like, how can we do a better job of supporting, as Nate said, the builders and the players.
1:02:08 NI: I don’t have to convince anybody about how great Geocaching is, obviously. I believe it and I know everybody listening does, but there are limitations to Geocaching when it comes to taking advantage of some of the new smartphone technology that’s out there. And there’s a desire for an expansion of what it means to geocache. And I feel like Adventure Lab is the first step to realizing that vision of expanding the game of Geocaching and I’m very happy to have been here at the tailend of my tenure with Geocaching to see that first step out into the world. But that is only the beginning.
1:02:45 CR: Well, I could go on forever but we have to wrap up. But I just kind of echoing something that Bryan said earlier, Nate, I think that you’ve met thousands of people over the years, you’ve interacted with thousands of people in the community, and I think I can say for on behalf of them, that you are a part of the fabric of not just this company, but the game and I know people are gonna miss your voice here, and hopefully we’ll still see you out there at some point because I know, Geocaching won’t stop being being a part of your life and of your family’s life.
1:03:22 NI: No, it won’t stop. And I will be watching with interest from the sidelines. But I’m so grateful, and I feel that appreciation. And thank you for saying that, Chris and thanks to everybody out there in Geocaching land, and in particular, all the wonderful people that have met me at one point or another.
1:03:44 NI: Well that was fun, I hope you enjoyed that. Bryan Roth and Nate Irish talking about the Adventure Lab project and some of the fun stories from days gone by here at Geocaching HQ, and we’re sure gonna miss Nate, appreciate him stopping by to talk on the podcast one more time, and also thanks to Brendan Walsh for chatting about the map/search project that his teams are working on. If you have something you would like to hear us talk about here on Inside Geocaching HQ, you can drop us a line via email, podcast@Geocaching.com is the address, that is podcast@Geocaching.com. Also, I mentioned it earlier, if you haven’t already, I hope that you will think about filling out a survey that we have out there about cache quality. You can find more about that on the Geocaching blog, at blog.geocaching.com and as we head into the new year, keep your eye out for the souvenirs for finding a cache or attending an event on the last day of 2018, and the first day of 2019. So a couple of souvenirs to wrap up this year, and then get a great start to next year. From all of us here at HQ, I hope you have a very safe holiday season, a very Happy New Year. I certainly hope Geocaching is a big part of it. And until we talk to you next time, happy caching.