Over the past week or two, Groundspeak (the owners of geocaching.com) have been sending short videos about challenges, a new game that will work somewhat like virtual geocaches.
A virtual cache is one that doesn’t require an actual container. It takes the geocacher to a spot where a container can’t be placed. Someone then has to do an activity or read and report something to get the smiley. Though some virtuals are grandfathered and remain, new virtuals were ended several years ago.
Since then, many in the caching community have called for the return of them.
Challenges is the answer. Somewhat.
Challenges are supposed to be launched today. The geocaching.com website is scheduled to go down at 2 p.m. Pacific time (5 p.m. Eastern) for the updates. (This was recently changed as it was originally 11 a.m. Pacific). There will also be mobile applications (iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile 7) that are supposed to be released at the same time. (It would appear that this has already been released for the iPhone).
With all that in mind, I’ve done a lot of research. I’ve read a lot of things, listened to the exclusive interview that the Podcacher Podcast had with Groundspeak bigwigs Jeremy Irish and Bryan Roth and watched the videos. I’ll attempt to break things down here for my geocaching readers.
What is a challenge?
A challenge is something that will bring a player somewhere and that person will have to do something to finish the challenge. As of now, there are two types of challenges — a photo challenge (sweet!) and an action challenge. Groundspeak is also working on a third challenge, the discovery challenge.
“You’re basically challenging someone to go somewhere and do something,” Irish told Sonny on the Podcacher midweek micro podcast. “So it’s very broad. Then the idea is the community can take that action or photo challenge … and rate it and give it some kind of value. Is it interesting or not interesting? We’re taking the responsibility from the reviewers and putting it on the community to say ‘what do you thing is interesting to do?'”
The photo challenge will require someone to take a photo at a location.
The action will require someone to do something specific, such as shake hands with a statue.
By bringing this aspect to the game of caching, it throws a lot of things cachers are used to out the door, such as the 520-foot rule. Challenges won’t be under the rules of geocaching because, well, it’s a challenge. So places that were formerly off limits, such as Disney World or a national park, is now open because all you are doing is bringing someone to a spot to complete a challenge.
Said Irish on the official Geocaching blog, Latitude 47:
What are the guidelines for issuing a challenge? Unlike caches, there aren’t any official guidelines. Instead, you can rate challenges with thumbs up or thumbs down, and there are reporting tools available in the case that a challenge is inappropriate or unavailable. We’ll be tweaking these tools and introducing new ones as the activity grows, to ensure that the community can collectively decide what is appropriate, and what isn’t. For example, there is no 520’ guideline and Challenges won’t be blocked from being issued at Disney World, or even a pub.
This is where things get interesting, however.
Reviewers won’t be approving or declining challenges. Users will submit them and they will be out there. The community will have the ability to vote thumbs up or down on what they think of the challenge. Even if you don’t complete the challenge, you can vote. That’s an interesting twist to things.
“We feel like by adding this tool set to geocaching.com website, we’re going to allow people to have more fun with location, being creative and sharing location-based experiences with one another and it should be a lot of fun to see what they come up with,” Roth told Podcacher.
Challenges, too, can be accepted without completing them first.
Basically, the community is now the enforcing part of this. There are ways, however, to get Groundspeak involved. If there is an inappropriate challenge for example, Groundspeak can step in and do what it has to do.
Finally, though people submit the challenges, nobody owns them. In other words, once a challenge is submitted, it becomes public domain of sorts. That way, users can’t go deleting logs of other people etc.
What’s this mean to me?
If you don’t do challenges, nothing.
You can go on playing the geocaching game as if these challenges never existed. They will have their own spot on the website (www.geocaching.com/challenges when it goes live) and will have a separate count for the “smileys.”
That’s something many people will wonder.
According to Irish and Roth on Podcacher, a user profile will show caches found, challenges completed and trackables logged. When people look at logs, it will show a cumulative finds total and will show the breakdown of the cache finds and challenges completed. (I was a little lost here, so it might not show the split unless one hovers over the total number. I’ll have to wait with everyone else until the page goes live to see how it works. But it sounds like it won’t count like a true “smiley,” which I think is a good thing).
“At the end of the day, we’re not changing anything related to geocaching,” Roth said. “You can still geocache in exactly the same way and if people don’t want to participate in challenges, it’s not going to effect your count at all. If they want to look at everybody else in the community and take their find count as a measure of street credibility, they’ll be able to break our specifically how much of it is challenges and how much of it is geocaching. We think that is a good compromise and gives everyone a little of what they want.”
For premium members of the geocaching.com website, this will be good for you as premium members will be the only ones who can submit challenges at first. All users can do challenges, but premium members will be the only ones allowed to submit challenges and only one every 24 hours.
Challenges will be submitted through the website, but eventually will be able to be submitted through the mobile apps. Challenges also won’t be in pocket queries, but Groundspeak is working on a downloadable GPX files (same idea as geocaches) that will be on the challenge site.
I personally like that these won’t count as “finds” because with no rules and guidelines, there’s a chance that this becomes an over-saturated situation. In fact, I’ll bet that it becomes over-saturated. Though I might have issues with guidelines sometimes, there’s a reason they are in the game. It’s to make sure things don’t go nuts.
Just look at Waymarking.
In that, you have things like McDonald’s being listed. Is that the way this is going to go? I could see people who want to prove a point posting a lot of silly things. There is the “thumbs up, thumbs down” voting process, but what does that do? Does a certain amount of votes archive a challenge? If not, all it means is that people don’t like something, but it still stays there.
That being said, if it doesn’t come up in normal geocaching searches, then no harm, no foul.
The thing about many of the older virtuals that are grandfathered and still out there is that they are cool. They take you to interesting spots or have you do something neat. Irish told the Podcacher Podcast that they weren’t getting rid of those virtuals. In fact, he said he figured some of those virtuals would also become challenges.
Is that where geocaching should be heading?
I won’t give my personal thumbs up or down until I know more. I am excited to check this out when it goes live and over the next week or so. The reality is that geocaching is growing. But with that growth comes a lot of bad, including with traditional containers. I have seen a lot of newer cachers placing poor caches and then stop playing the game or never go check things. People rush to do a lot of things and don’t always think or get permission to place a cache in certain spots.
At least with challenges, it’s more of photos or actions. That could be fun.
I look forward to trying them. And maybe creating a few (I already have a few ideas). But I’ll save my judgement until I’ve had a chance to see what Groundspeak is rolling out to us.
Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com.