We’re talking with Jenn Seva (aka MissJenn) about GeoTours!
A full transcript is available here.
00:12 Chris Ronan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ. This is the podcast from the Geocaching HQ office in Seattle, Washington. I am Chris Ronan. My username is Rock Chalk, I am one of the staff members here at HQ. And we are very glad that you would download our podcast. I had the pleasure of meeting a number of folks that listen to the podcast at the GeoWoodstock Giga-Event in Cincinnati, Ohio late last month, and it was a real pleasure to meet a lot of you and to hear your questions and some suggestions that you had for the podcast. If you weren’t at GeoWoodstock, if you have suggestions that you would like to let us know about, you can do that very easily, firstname.lastname@example.org is the address. If you have a topic idea, if you have a question that you like to ask, please send that to us, we always love to receive those emails. Again, it’s email@example.com.
01:15 CR: So it’s that time of the year when people are often planning and going on vacations, so I thought it would be a great time to talk about GeoTours, which can be a great way to see new places. They’re something that I have always enjoyed a lot myself as a player especially because many GeoTours have a reward if you find a certain number of caches, oftentimes, it’s a geocoin. I’ve earned other types of reward but whatever it is, it’s always cool to have just a little extra incentive for going out there and finding a bunch of geocaches. Not that you need a reward for finding geocaches, geocaching is its own reward, I’m just saying it’s nice to have a little something extra and that’s what you often get from GeoTours.
02:05 CR: And so I have asked Jenn Seva to join us here on the podcast. MissJenn is her username, you may have met her over the years. She has worked at HQ for a long time, has a lot of great experiences as a player, as a volunteer reviewer, which she was many years ago before she came to work here at HQ. And now, she has been here for many years and has been heading up the GeoTours team for quite a while, and she has some great insights into GeoTours and how they work. And so that’s what we will be chatting about today. So without any further ado, here is me and MissJenn talking about GeoTours.
02:49 CR: Well, let’s just start with how you got into geocaching because you have a long history with geocaching long before you worked at Geocaching HQ.
02:57 Jenn Seva: I do. Whoa. So in 2001, I won a GPS unit at a Christmas raffle drawing in the club I was in at the time, it was a Jeep Club, and I had no idea what to use it for. [chuckle] I actually tried to trade it for a set of wrenches ’cause I could use that, and I didn’t know what a GPS would be for. And one person in the club told me about geocaching. Again, it’s 2001 and he’s like, “It’s kind of an underground movement.” And of course today, it’s not, but that’s how it started. A long time ago, my first attempt to find a geocache was the day after Christmas, I DNF’d and that hooked me ’cause of course, I had to correct that.
03:48 CR: Of course.
03:49 JS: Of course. Yeah. And it’s been a good long road since then.
03:54 CR: And besides playing, you were also a volunteer then eventually, and that that’s right?
04:00 JS: Yeah. So I was in Pennsylvania, I was getting super into the game, I was asked to be a community volunteer reviewer. I was very pleased about this of course, and so I was the reviewer named MissPlaced, and not too big of a mystery to connect the player name to the reviewer name, and then a few years later, I moved to Seattle and became an employee.
04:28 CR: So you’ve been here for many years and have done a number of things over that time.
04:33 JS: I have. I started with working with the community volunteers, something clearly I had experience with, and then I have since moved to the business development team, I’m the Senior Manager of the Travel and Tourism Team, and yeah, we work on GeoTours, and the team includes some other people. Some of the listeners of this show may know Jeff, gearguru. We also have Laura, lolosmitty and Meg, MegsKBrown.
05:03 CR: So the main topic of this conversation is GeoTours. For people that might not be familiar with them, what is a GeoTour? And what is it all about? And why should people be excited about them?
05:15 JS: Well, GeoTours are basically a combination of travel and tourism. It’s something that many geocachers already do and we created a set of tools on web and on mobile, so basically GeoTours are official collections of caches. They work really well because you can go to a city or a park, a region, a destination, and it’s a self-guided way to see the area. It’s a curated, frequently themed set of caches, and so your visit has been essentially prepared by people who are local, who know what sites to see in the area with geocaching. It’s a great way to plan a vacation.
06:00 CR: And how long have GeoTours been around?
06:03 JS: We launched the first GeoTours in June of 2012, so that was six years ago. And in that time frame we’ve had over 100 GeoTours. There are some that have retired because they were, for example, celebrating the centennial of something. So that was meant to be a one-year celebration. There are others that have been around for the entire time that GeoTours have existed. And of course, everyone in between, some are three years old, some are four. Sometimes people ask me what the GT codes mean. For example, if there is a GT78, that doesn’t mean it’s the 78th GeoTour, it’s a numerical system that is similar to GC codes. And so those of you who are listeners on this show, you know GC codes are not in numerical order like 001, 002. There’s an algorithm and so GT codes follow the similar algorithm. Right now, it’s just four digits, GT something, something. We look forward to many more GeoTours in the future and pretty soon we’ll have five-digit GT codes and six-digit GT codes, just like GC codes have increased over time. Yeah, we look forward to more.
07:29 CR: So how does a GeoTour come to be? Does your team go out and find them? Do organizations approach you?
07:37 JS: We usually get an inquiry from a park system or a tourism organization, sometimes a Chamber of Commerce, sometimes, and actually more and more recently, we get an inquiry from a geocacher and we attempt to connect that geocacher with, again, a tourism organization in the area or a park system in the area. ‘Cause really those are the kinds of hosts that have this interest in bringing people to their destination. And we just start the conversation from there. What are the goals of that organization? Is it about educating people about what’s in the park system? Is it about more of a travel and tourism goal? Staying in the area for a few days, a few nights? Different GeoTours have different goals and we try to make sure to strategize so that it’s great for that organization and for the geocacher.
08:37 CR: And from what I understand, you guys sometimes will try to put… If it is an organization that comes to you, you’ll try to put them in touch with local people. I think you talked about the reverse of that, about getting the local people in touch with an organization, but in order for that organization who might not understand the game as well to put them in touch with people in the community already playing the game, they know the local lay of the land, right? And it hopefully leads to a tour that can be great for both sides.
09:06 JS: Absolutely. The best GeoTours are the ones where there is a local helper who is not a veteran of the game, but definitely experienced in the game. So we do reach out regularly to the local cachers in the area. Sometimes I will know somebody already there. Sometimes we look at the hiders in the area and see who has really good favorite points or a really good track record in the game, and we approach them and ask if they’d be willing to help. And usually we get a yes answer, and that is really appreciated. That’s the expertise that the tourism organization needs to make it interesting for the geocacher. The hides are more creative. The hints are more appropriate. The locations are interesting. And so those of you who are listening on this show, that might be you one of these days. And hopefully, if I call and ask for help, you’d be willing to entertain the thought.
10:11 CR: One of the fun developments recently is the souvenirs for GeoTours. As somebody like myself who loves GeoTours and has done a lot of them, that was fun to see that come out. And I know you were excited about it.
10:25 JS: Yeah, super excited about it. So for those of you who don’t know, I think many of you already know that as of right now there is now a completion souvenir available if you find all of the caches in a GeoTour. This just started in May. We began in the first week of May with a test of the HQ GeoTour, the small one right here outside of Geocaching Headquarters in Seattle. And then on May 22nd, we released it to all of the GeoTours that are live around the world. So if again, if you found all of the geocaches in a tour, then you get the souvenir, the completion souvenir, and each one is unique to each GeoTour. We’re super excited about it.
11:13 CR: Yeah, and now I have a reason to maybe go back to places. I’m the kind of person that usually, I wanna get the reward if there is one, and maybe that isn’t to find all of the caches on the tour. I’ll find as many as I need to, and then I’d go off to the next place and now I’m like, “Gosh, I guess I need to go back to Columbus, Georgia and finish that one,” or “I need to go back to X, Y and Z other places.”
11:36 JS: Indeed.
11:37 CR: Yeah.
11:38 JS: There’s now a new incentive, so to speak. Many GeoTours have had reward coins, or in some cases, other rewards. I’ve known GeoTours to give away valuable prizes that are not geocoins, something like an overnight stay in a hotel, or a watch, or an ATV. As of now, we have the completion souvenir and the system for earning the physical rewards is gonna be different than the completion souvenir. Again, the souvenir you earn after finding every single one of the caches, but for the physical rewards each GeoTour host chooses their own criteria. Sometimes there’s a passport and a point system, and sometimes it’s find 75% of the caches or what have you, or this specific subset. We like to keep it flexible because geocaching is really different from one part of the world to another. And it’s a game, you gotta pay attention to the rules. I’ve received a few questions since we released this code in May. What about the GeoTours that are now retired? We would love to also offer completion souvenirs for those GeoTours. But first, we wanted to see how the rollout in May would happen, and it happened really smoothly. There were a couple of bumps but they were small ones, easy to fix. I’m happy to announce for the first time on this podcast that yes, indeed, we are going to award completion souvenirs for the older GeoTours that some of you may recall. So that’s coming soon in a few weeks.
13:20 CR: And I’ll have another reason to watch my profile page. [laughter]
13:25 JS: That’s right or you’re…
13:25 CR: I was excited to see when that first rollout happened, I was kinda, “Oh,” ’cause I couldn’t remember necessarily which ones I have finished and which ones I may have missed one or two and so, yeah, I’ll be watching again.
13:38 JS: Yeah. And you can watch your profile page on both web and on mobile because it’ll notify you in both places.
13:44 CR: You talked a little bit about geocoins and other stuff like that. Now, for me as a player, that was one of the things that got me into GeoTours in the first place well before I worked here, and that was something that when my wife and I go out caching, she’s not quite as much of a freak about caching as I am but she does like when there’s a reward. Do you guys work with tour hosts? Or how much input do you have on giving them advice on maybe what other GeoTours have done or what they might wanna do with rewarding people?
14:18 JS: Sure. Yeah. We definitely spend a lot of time on strategy. Again, based on the goals of the host organization. Some of that strategy is, it plays out in how many caches are hidden, some of the strategy plays out in what rewards are available and what must you do to get that reward. We always wanna keep in mind that this is a game that people are playing. So yes, it’s challenging, but it ought to be fun the whole way through. That’s the whole reason why we’re playing is to have some fun. And so we have various carats, so to speak, at various levels. And the strategy of getting people to stay in town longer is a common one. And the reality too is that these rewards do cost the host some money. And so it’s a balance between their budget and the strategy.
15:09 CR: So as you said before, there have been a lot of GeoTours since these things started around six years ago. Are there ones that come to mind for you personally that maybe you’ve been able to go out and do some of the… I know you can’t do all of them because they’re all over the world, but are there some that come to mind that stand out for you that you’ve been able to do personally?
15:26 JS: Absolutely. Some of my favorites include the Taking Flight GeoTour, that’s in Florida. I happened to go to GeoWoodstock when it was in Florida, and so I spent an extra amount of time to do the Taking Flight GeoTour. Regrettably, I didn’t finish it because some of them required a kayak and paddling for a good long time and there was like, I don’t know, a recent storm that had fallen a tree across the waterway so that was inaccessible and there are few others I didn’t catch. So I look forward to returning ’cause that GeoTour is still live. Another favorite more recently that I did is the one in Porvoo, Finland. And what a lovely town just outside of Helsinki. I was lucky enough to be there in July when the days are really, really long in that part of the world. So that was especially enjoyable as a tourist and as a geocacher. They’ve since added a virtual cache to that GeoTour, so there’s actually one more in the tour that I hadn’t found ’cause it wasn’t there when I was there last July.
16:35 CR: Another favorite one is the Cateran Trail in Scotland and this is a now retired GeoTour. I actually was there during my honeymoon and I convinced my husband to join me for a walk along the highlands and it was such a great day with local cachers in that area. Another one that I didn’t finish, but it was still such a rewarding trip. It was so much fun even though I won’t get the completion souvenir for that one. It’s okay. I still had a great time.
17:06 CR: One of the things that I think is great about GeoTours is how they can not just be a fun thing for geocachers and hopefully a positive thing for the partner who is sponsoring it but that it can introduce the game to people in the community who aren’t geocachers, so the Muggles out there. And I think one of the examples that brought that home for me was when I went to GeoWoodstock a few weeks ago and did the Donut Trail GeoTour, the Butler County Donut Trail.
17:33 JS: Right. Yes.
17:36 CR: And it was amazing how many non-cachers I came across, not just at the Donut places, but people that were all very aware of this geocaching thing and it was very cool to see them introduced to the game in such a positive way and I would imagine that that happens in a lot of other places too.
17:56 JS: Yeah. GeoTours are definitely a great way to introduce the game of geocaching to just a regular tourist to a city or to a park system. And it’s positive awareness. You have support from visitor centers or park rangers, and in the cases where there’s a physical passport, that makes it even easier for a newbie to better understand the concept. And of course, with the app, the Geocaching mobile app has a special section for GeoTours and it makes it really easy because when you use that section of the app you can focus just on the caches that are part of the GeoTour. As we all know, geocaching can be really distracting. There are so many caches out there. But for a new person, it might be easier for them to focus on, for example, just the Donut Trail GeoTour and ignore all the other ones, or just the Uncover Metro Park’s GeoTour around Columbus, Ohio and ignore the many hundreds of other caches in the area.
18:55 CR: You spoke about this briefly earlier, but let’s talk about it again. If somebody thinks, “Gosh, we’ve got these cool places in our town and we think this could be a GeoTour type of a situation.” If a cacher is thinking that, what should they do? Should they go straight to their local CBB? Should they email HQ? What’s the right way to go about it?
19:16 JS: There’s a couple of different right ways to go about it. It depends on how much you already know about GeoTours. If you’re totally new to it, which I would be surprised if you’re listening to this show and you had never heard of a GeoTour. I would start with going to geocaching.com/travel. It’s a bit of an introduction that is really targeted to a tourism professional. It’s not so much a page for geocachers. And so if you are a geocacher, it gives you an idea of the kinds of questions that are important to the Chamber of Commerce, or the park system, or again, the tourism organization. On that page also is a very short, and I think, really fun video explaining GeoTours from the point of view of three different GeoTour hosts. That’s very effective. If you’re gonna make a presentation to someone local and you’re hoping to convince them to host a GeoTour, that little, I think it’s two minutes and 45 seconds, that short video is really effective. I invite you to take a look.
20:23 CR: Another right answer, if you think your destination could use a GeoTour, is for you to approach the event organizers in your region, especially if they’re a mega event organizer. I’ve found that frequently those folks have already been in touch with the right people in the tourism industry. So a lot of your work may already be done if you go this direction. The other right way to do it is go ahead and email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And so that’s GeoTours with an S at the end, @geocaching.com. We’re happy to help you if you’re just unsure of how to move forward.
21:04 CR: So there you have it, Jenn Seva, aka Miss Jenn, and a lot of great information about GeoTours. If you would like to get started on becoming a GeoTours geek, like me, you can go to geocaching.com/geotours, and there is a list of GeoTours all over the world. I am personally, right now, planning a trip to Utah, here in the States, to take on the Utah GeoTour. So lots of great vacation ideas there on that GeoTours list. If you have an idea for an upcoming podcast subject, you can send us an email, email@example.com is our address. We would love to hear from you. Until then, from all of us at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.
Chris Ronan: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ, the podcast from Geocaching HQ in Seattle. I am Chris Ronan. My user name is Rock Chalk. I am one of the 75 or so people that works here at HQ in Seattle. And on this podcast we talk about what’s happening inside HQ and on this episode, the subject will be the Geocaching apps. I sat down with Ben Hewitt. Ben has been on the podcast before. He is a product manager here at HQ, and he works with the mobile team and they work on the Geocaching apps. There have been a number of improvements to the apps over the past couple of months, and I thought it would be informative and interesting to chat with Ben about what’s been going on in case maybe you have missed some of the improvements that they have made to the apps during the first part of the year. Ben and myself and a number of other Geocaching HQ staffers will be at the GeoWoodstock Giga Event in Cincinnati coming up here. If you are at the event and you happen to see one of us walking around, please do say hello. We are usually pretty easy to spot with our Geocaching HQ shirts on.
CR: And the last I checked, there were, gosh, maybe close to a dozen of us that were gonna be going out that way. So please do say hello. If you have any ideas for subjects for the podcast, please do let me know. You can let my co-workers know too, and I’m sure they’ll get the information to me. But if you see me, I would love to talk to you about that. Or if you’re not gonna be at that event, if you have a suggestion, you can email us firstname.lastname@example.org is the address. That is email@example.com. We’ve had some really good suggestions for the podcast that have come in over the last several weeks, and we will try to work through some of those in the weeks to come, but we would love to continue hearing your suggestions for what you would like to hear us talk about on the show. So without further ado, here is me and Ben Hewitt, talking about the Geocaching apps.
CR: Okay, how do I wanna start this?
Ben Hewitt: Yes, I am that good looking.
CR: I was gonna ask that actually.
BH: [chuckle] Yes. Well, most people tend to say that I’m better looking than you and that is, in fact, true.
CR: Is that truly true? Is that quantitative? Have you done a survey of some sort to… ‘Cause you seem to be like somebody who would research that, like do a survey at GeoWoodstock and show our images to people and say…
BH: Let’s just say I have strong qualitative and quantitative data to prove my case.
CR: Okay. Well, we can talk more about that later then. [chuckle] Okay, so it’s been a while since we’ve talked about the app on Inside Geocaching HQ, and so we have Ben Hewitt, who is the App Guy.
BH: Hey, everybody.
CR: Is that your title?
BH: That’s it.
CR: Is that one of them?
BH: On Slack.
CR: One of the nicer ones.
BH: You know our messaging tool that we use inside the building, I have labeled myself as Geo Dork. That’s my preferred title.
CR: That is more descriptive than App Guy.
BH: I’m trying to see if I can get it on business cards. Ben Hewitt.
CR: That’d be pretty cool.
BH: Geo Dork.
CR: So you’ve explained this before, but since you’re back on, let’s explain it again, how the mobile team works and your place on the mobile team. There are developers, there’s somebody who design stuff and there’s you that helps bring it all together. What is the structure like with that team?
BH: So we have a total of nine people who work on building the Geocaching apps. We have three Android developers, three iOS developers. We have a product designer who does all the visual design and leads a lot of the research on understanding how people are using the app and what we need to accomplish with the app.
CR: And yes, we are recording this next to an airport if anybody wants to…
CR: No, we’re not. That was a…
BH: I wish we were on an airplane.
CR: I imagine that was probably a seaplane, right?
BH: It was. It was.
CR: There are seaplanes that go by every so often. If you’ve never been to Geocaching HQ, we are right by Lake Union here in Seattle. And so occasionally you will see planes land on the lake, and that was what just buzzed through.
BH: It was.
CR: So, sorry to interrupt your… I actually thought that was more interesting than what you were talking about.
BH: Blah. Blah. Blah.
CR: Anyways, back to what you were saying, Ben.
BH: And back to our regularly scheduled programming. We also have a QA tester, and then me, I am the product manager for the Geocaching apps. And so my job is to kind of… There’s two hats, there’s the project management aspect, which is to bring all the players together and get everybody on the same page to build and ship features in the app. And then there’s the product hat, which is more about understanding from the business perspective and the player perspective and the community perspective what we should be building in the app and what the biggest problems are that are out there in the community that we would like to solve.
CR: And before we get into some of the updates that have happened over the last couple months, how does your team go about deciding what the problems are and how to prioritize the things that will be worked on?
BH: Like most things, we have more demand than supply, limited resources. So believe me, there’s a long, long list of things that we would love to work on. And like you said, the main challenge is in trying to figure out what to work on right now, what’s the highest value thing we can do at any given moment. The way we make those decisions is by looking at a lot of quantitative data. We have really robust data about how people use our app, and we look at it a lot to understand where people are succeeding, where they’re failing, and what type of people those are. Are they brand new players? Are they more experienced players? So we’re really trying to understand where in their caching career they are and look at what tasks they’re trying to do, and they’re succeeding or failing at.
BH: To complement that we do a lot of qualitative research, which is just going out and talking to geocachers and finding geocaches with them. Those are some of my favorite days at this job. Our product designer for the mobile team, JP, and I tend to go out and tag team those, and we’ll just schedule a full day of interviews with geocachers of all kinds of experience, some brand new, some who have found only a couple caches, and some who are very experienced geocachers. And we’ll go out and find geocachers with them, ask them a lot of questions, maybe put a prototype in front of them and just gather feedback about what’s working and what’s not for them.
CR: You’re a very experienced player and used the app for a long time before you worked on this team, how has your viewpoint of the app and of what should be in it, has that changed now that you’ve been in this role and you’ve had a chance to interview people on the whole spectrum of experience levels?
BH: Yes, is the short answer. The longer answer…
CR: You can stop there.
BH: Yes. The end. The challenge for me in this job is making sure that I am able to decouple my player hat and my product manager hat. If I thought they would pay me to lead a team to build an app that I want, it would look a lot like what it is now, but it would have a lot of other things too. As a player, there are plenty of things that I want like everybody does. And I love sharing those stories when I’m talking with other players at events, or when we’re out doing these interviews. And sometimes the geo dork in me geeks out on saying like, “Oh, yeah. I would love that too, wouldn’t it be cool if, wouldn’t it be cool if… ” And then to be really effective in this job, I have to, in some sense, harness that and use that to drive the passion for the job and the knowledge of the game to be effective. But in some other ways to set that aside and understand that we’re not building an app just for me, we’re not building an app just for you. Spoiler alert, I’m sorry. And obviously, we’re not building an app just for any one person or one type of person. We’re trying to build an app that is fun and effective for a huge swath of geocachers, and that’s a big challenge.
BH: So, over time I have come to have a lot more appreciation for the things that I don’t experience as an advanced player, as an experienced player. I’ve become a lot more in touch with what it’s like to be a brand new player in geocaching again. I think when you started, I know when I started about 10 years ago, a lot of people were just introduced by a friend and had a geocaching buddy that would show them the ropes and get them up to speed. And that’s still the case for a lot of people, but for a lot of people now that needs to be the app. And that’s something that we’re trying to uncover and get better at as we go.
CR: So let’s talk about some of the things that have been added in recent months. It’s been a busy couple of months and starting with one of the more recent changes, which was cache details and things became a lot more streamlined and I think a lot easier to… I’m one of those people that when something changes, I’m like, “Ugh, really? We’re gonna change again? Do we really need to do this? I had everything figured out.” And this was one that for me, and I know everybody’s different, but for me personally, when I started playing with it, I was like, “This is actually really intuitive,” and things seemed to be a lot easier for me to get to than they used to be. I know that’s what you were going for, but how did you guys get to that and how did you decide that this was an important thing?
BH: That project was a long time coming. The apps that we have now, like any app, they’ve developed over time and you add features and you add features and you slowly get into this mixed bag of parts that haven’t all necessarily been designed together. They have been added at different times and they look different ways, they behave different ways. And we had gotten ourselves into that state. We knew that, and we knew we had a lot of unnecessary code complexity behind the scenes, too, around that, that we were getting into this Frankenstein’s monster sense of a lot of different pieces put together there.
BH: And so both for the code behind the scenes and for the user experience, we knew we needed to make an improvement. And so honestly, we’ve been researching that. We had been researching that for more than a year. Our designer, JP, did a bunch of baseline testing at the beginning of 2016 and 2017, and we started to understand a lot of the problems where people weren’t finding what they needed to on that, on cache details. They couldn’t easily find the hint. They often couldn’t find other key information. So we knew we had something that we needed to do better. This is one of the core functions of the app, is to tell people that the most important information about geocaches.
BH: And so that really kicked off a long period of iterating through designs, testing those designs and usability, building prototypes to get those out in front of people, going out in the field and finding geocaches with a variety of people using those prototypes, and then just constantly iterating and repeating. So it’s music to my ears to hear anybody who says that it was not too painful of a transition for them because that’s exactly what we were aiming for, is to make something that felt more natural and easier to find the information in ways that would be more expected, both for advanced players and for people just showing up.
CR: And I think it was after that release, that there was a smaller release, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it was afterward then, the hint button is greyed out if there’s no hint and other things are grey if nobody put in a description.
CR: Which is great because there’s so many times when I’ll tap on that hint button, and the person didn’t put a hint I’m like, “Oh, there’s no hint here,” but now I just know, which is great.
BH: And that’s a good thing to call out because that’s indicative of the process that we use overall, is that we have the big main set of features that we’re trying to deliver in a larger release which in this case, was the 6.0 release which really overhauled all our cache details. And that idea of greying things out, and some of the other visual tweaks that we have made in the meantime, it was always out there as potential improvements for us. It could have even included in the first release there, but that’s an example of us wanting to wait and listen to feedback before we just plow ahead on assumptions there. And so those specific things about making it more obvious when there was no hints or no description, there are no photos, we heard feedback loud and clear from the community as soon as we released that first version. And so we tried to act quickly and iterate, and add some changes there to improve it even more, and that will be an ongoing process.
CR: Another thing that came out recently, the full size souvenirs in the app.
BH: Yeah. Souvenirs has been a slow roll feature set for us in this app. We know that particularly our really advanced players love souvenirs. I do. I think it’s been… I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve ever missed a promotional souvenir.
CR: I missed the CITO one this last one, and it hurt. It was painful.
BH: Ooh, shame.
CR: But I was traveling and they didn’t have anywhere I was going and it killed me not to get it.
BH: Yeah, no, I mean…
CR: I’d forgotten about it until you just brought it up and now I’m hurting again.
BH: Well, you should be ashamed.
BH: I’m ashamed for you. I did not miss the CITO souvenir…
CR: Of course, you didn’t.
BH: Because, why would you do that?
CR: I don’t know.
BH: I don’t know either. And for that reason, we know that players love those souvenirs and we love them too. And so we’ve been slowly adding functionality in the app around that. We added your earned list of souvenirs last summer before the Mary Hyde promotion, and we just recently released full souvenir details where you can tap on an individual souvenir in your list and see everything about it. And we’ve got more to come on souvenirs too that we’re looking to get out before the real busy season this summer.
BH: Spoiler alert.
CR: Spoil… Well, I guess you alerted, but you didn’t spoil.
CR: Alright. Well, I guess he’s not gonna give us any scoops. So, next on the list was geocache sizes. There was always that discrepancy between the app and the website, and it’s no longer a discrepancy.
BH: That is true. That is a fun one with a lot of history. And by fun, I mean interesting.
BH: People who have been around this game for a long time and have been around this app for a long time will know that it started its life as the Geocaching Intro App back when we still had… We were maintaining two apps per platform, two Android apps and two iOS apps. At the time, it was still the Geocaching Intro App and not our only app. It was geared almost solely towards newer players. And there was a belief at that time when it was developed that the sizes that were used in the app, the T-shirt sizes, small, extra small, medium, large would be more understandable to new players. It was built with the best of intentions. And the problem that it introduced of course, was that there was a discrepancy between how the app was using sizes and what we were doing on the website, which had been that way since the beginning.
BH: Over time what we discovered is that the bad, the bad being that that web versus app discrepancy persisted, and the good that we had hoped for in terms of people understanding those size names didn’t manifest in the way that we had wanted it to. That came through in a lot of user interviews where we just weren’t seeing people understand that like we hoped. So we finally, as we were redoing cache details, we took another look at it. We know again that we had heard plenty of feedback from the experienced community over time saying like, “Why are these things different in the web and the app?” And to be honest, they were right. So we got that back in line now and we’re gonna continue exploring ways to teach newer players what those cache sizes mean to them for their real world experience.
CR: Cool. There was the update to the trail maps both not just on the app, but on the website as well. And that was exciting for me, I think for you too. Those of us that use trail maps like to go out and do hiking and stuff to see that information updated and to see some styling updates as well. So we’ve got that on both the website and on the app.
BH: Yeah, I agree. I was really excited about that too. A couple of things were improvements there. We added topographic lines to that map style. We added hill shading to that map style, and now that is all based on OpenStreetMap data and we now have finally a framework in place where we can update our OSM data regularly where we weren’t in the past. So a big shout out to our IT team and specifically the other Ben, not me Ben, but the other Ben who’s been here much longer than me. He did the lion share of that work to get that all updated and get the new framework in place, which was a large and more challenging project than I think anybody expected, but we’re really excited to have those changes out and have a better system in place for updating that going forward.
CR: There have also been some updates that have been geared towards new players? What are some of those that have come out recently?
BH: If you’re an experienced player using our app, then there’s a lot of stuff that you’ll never see, that we only show to brand new players. As we, last year, were interviewing a lot of brand new players, a couple of problems that we discovered that they were really challenged by were around picking which cache to go find for their first cache. And so last fall, we released an update where if you are a brand new player, a zero find player using our app, there’s now a mechanism where it will suggest to you which cache we think you ought to go find. And that’s, we’re really just trying to help people avoid bad ones, caches that have a lot of DNFs, caches that are too tiny or too difficult. We want people to be successful on their first experience because we’ve seen that that really has a positive impact on their caching career going forward. Yeah, we’re trying to just get in front of that by saying like, “Hey, don’t get overwhelmed by the whole world of geocaching. It’s huge and you’re gonna love it, but right now start with this one which is nearby and is hopefully in good shape for you to go find.”
CR: You mentioned souvenirs earlier as being kind of alluding to something that might be coming. Is there anything else that comes to mind that you would like to allude to?
BH: Man, we have so many plans. Another core part of the app that we’ve been looking at for a long time and researching, and getting ready to finally make some changes, is navigation. And by navigation, I don’t mean within the app. I mean using the app to go from where you are now to go find a geocache. Again, that’s obviously one of the core pieces of functionality that this app, or any Geocaching app, delivers. And a lot of interviews that we’ve had over time have made it clear that the navigation tools we have are not working, especially for new players. People tend to get confused and not know exactly how to use the app to get from where they are to the geocache. So we spent a lot of time early this year testing prototypes with new players and advanced players, and we’ll be working on some changes based on that research on those prototypes in the coming months.
CR: Very cool. So, GeoWoodstock’s coming up?
CR: You’re going?
BH: You know it.
CR: You and Jayme, your wife, your fellow caching partner, your two kids who are… Do they find caches yet?
BH: [chuckle] They find caches.
CR: Are they quite there? Lucy is getting…
BH: Lucy’s getting there. Lucy’s almost three and this will be… I guess this is a Giga so I can’t say another Mega. Lucy has been to 10 Megas. This will be her 11th Mega/Giga so she’s a grizzled veteran. [chuckle]
BH: She has an account. One of our co-workers, Miss Jenn, made an account for her on the day she was born. And we’re lazy parents, and we haven’t yet logged any finds on her account or our son’s account yet either, but they have been on plenty geocaching adventures and we’re excited to take the whole family out to GeoWoodstock. We’re gonna make a family road trip of it, and we’re hoping to complete Quadruple Jasmer during this trip.
CR: And for people that don’t know what that is, it’s finding at least four caches in every month since geocaching started, and that’s as far as you can go.
BH: That’s it.
CR: That’s the max for the Jasmer.
BH: That is. And for those who don’t know, also my compatriot Chris here, is the only person in the HQ building who has completed Quadruple Jasmer so we’re just playing catch up to him.
CR: Maybe I need to go and find the cache that you need and steal it or something?
BH: There you go. I have not yet been able to answer this canonically, but it is my belief that there’s only around, I don’t know, somewhere between 20 and 30 players in the world who have completed Quadruple Jasmer.
CR: Yeah, it’s a fun one to do. Is it August 2000 that there’s only four?
CR: And what? Is that Utah, Georgia, Sweden, and Michigan? Right?
BH: Yup. So there’s only four caches from August 2000 left in the world. There’s one outside Stockholm, one south of Salt Lake City, one a little bit northeast of Atlanta, and one in northern Michigan, not the upper peninsula, but the northern part of the lower peninsula. We have three of those. The fourth one that we need to get is that one in Michigan.
CR: That’s great. And then you’re gonna be driving all over. Big road trip, right?
BH: Yeah. We’re starting in Chicago, making our way up to get that cache and a few other old ones down to the Giga, obviously as a tentpole of the journey and then we’re actually gonna fly home from your stomping grounds of Kansas City.
CR: That’s right, my hometown. You’re gonna see a lot of folks at the Giga, obviously. And when you go to events, people have suggestions and they wanna talk to you about they hear you work on the app, that’s obviously cool.
CR: I would imagine you get some great information.
BH: I just tell them to talk to you as my PR manager.
CR: Sure. Well, that’s one way to do it. [chuckle] Yeah, I’ll just tell ’em we’re gonna do it.
CR: I don’t care what the suggestion is. We’re doing it. I’ll make sure Ben takes care of it.
BH: There you go. No. In reality though, I love those conversations. I love because I’m a geo dork as I said before, I’ve been playing this game a long time. I love geeking out on that too, and it’s fun to just run through ideas about how the app could be better. So I’m always open to those conversations. I love having them. And then again, my main challenge is in like, “Okay, how am I gonna internalize this and how do we turn this into something that should be actually considered for work or something that’s just a fun idea?” And maybe it doesn’t belong in our app. That’s not an easy challenge. But what we tend to look for is a strong partnership of that qualitative feedback. People telling stories, people in interviews and really strong quantitative data that tells us the same story.
CR: Cool. Well, I appreciate the update. I hope you find that cache that you need in Michigan. I hope it’s still there when you go. [laughter]
BH: I shouldn’t have said this.
CR: I hope you don’t show up in there and you open it up and there’s just a sheet that says Rock Chalk was here.
BH: I also hope that… I was just kidding. We’re actually done with Quintuple Jasmer.
CR: Oh, cool.
BH: Yesterday. So, in your face.
CR: Alright. I guess I don’t have to go to Michigan after all, again. [laughter] I shouldn’t say have to, I don’t get to. That’s a beautiful, that’s… I really enjoyed that one.
BH: Oh, we’ve never been there.
CR: It’s a beautiful part of the country, the upper part of Michigan.
BH: The main reason that Jayme and I are interested in doing it is just for the same reason why we love geocaching in general, we’re just gonna make an excuse to go explore parts of the country that we’ve never seen. And like you, we’ve never been up there in that part of Michigan. So, what better reason than a really old geocache?
CR: So there you have it. That was me, Ben Hewitt talking about the Geocaching apps and some of the improvements that have been made over the past several weeks. Again, if you have an idea for the podcast, something you would like to hear us talk about, you can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org is the address. Or you can see us in person, a number of us, including myself at the GeoWoodstock Giga Event in Cincinnati. Please do say hello if you see us walking around there, or if you see a Geocaching HQ staffer at any big event, there will be a number of them over the next several weeks as we get into the thick of the busy geocaching season. So, thanks for tuning in to this episode from myself and from all of us here at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.
In this episode, we catch up with Cathy Hornback, Geocaching HQ’s resident expert on EarthCaching. She has some great tips for creating a solid EarthCache, and also shares some history about how this cache type was first created.
A full transcript is available here.