December 13, 2010

Geocaching Smackdown

Lots of buzz on the interwebz last week surrounding the launch of Garmin's new geocaching website, opencaching.com; not to be confused with opencaching.us (a completely separate geocaching listing service that just launched back in October). Accompanying Garmin's geocaching site launch was this blog post which explains what geocaching is, and then goes on to describe what you can do on their new site. Without mentioning Groundspeak or geocaching.com, the folks at Garmin cleverly highlight the two features that opencaching.com offers which geocaching.com does not - the ability to rate caches ("awesomeness scale"), and the fact that there is no premium membership fee - it's free, in other words.




A lot of people seem to think, at least based on what I saw on Twitter last week, that this new effort by Garmin could really cut into Groundspeak's market, or at least offer up some much-needed competition in the geocaching listing services world. Is this the beginning of the end for gecoaching.com? Read on as I discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of Garmin's new service.


The Good
(1) The User Interface
The site is very clean, intuitive and easy to use. The opening page calculates your current location and puts it right in the search box for you. You can accept it, or change it, and click on the big “Search” button to immediately generate a map (using Bing Maps) of all the caches surrounding that location. Two buttons at the bottom of the map allow you to either send the displayed caches directly to your GPS device or download them as a GPX file.





(2) Open Application Programming Interface (API)

This provides developers the ability to create clever applications using information from the cache listing database. I suspect it will only be a matter of time before some clever programmer creates a GSAK-type of program for oc.com. Geocaching.com has also announced plans to open up their API as well.

(3) The Price

Free. Enough said.

The Bad
(1) The Fate of OpenCaching.us.
A lot of people see this as a battle between gc.com and oc.com. I don’t. Not yet anyway. Instead, I see this as more of a detriment to opencaching.us; another open source cache listing service with no commercial ties (truly free). Which is really too bad, as that site also has a great user interface, and a wonderful, built-in cache search, filter, and download tool. Where were all of the open caching supporters, who have suddenly jumped on the Garmin bandwagon, three months ago when oc.us launched? There’s no way opencaching.us can compete with the Garmin PR juggernaut. Was Garmin’s choice for their webiste name merely just a coincidence?

(2) Limited Cache Types

Only Traditionals, Multis and Puzzles available here. Where are the EarthCaches and Event Caches?

(3) Trackables?

So far, no support for Travel Bugs or GeoCoins.

(4) Mobile Apps?

Will there be an iPhone or Android app.? I guess we'll have to wait for someone to delve into the API, because as of now, Garmin doesn't seem anxious to support mobile devices (other than their own, of course).

(5) It’s Still In Beta
This is both good and bad. Bad in the sense that there are still a lot of bugs, as a quick visit to the forums will reveal. And good in that there is acknowledged room, and plans, for improvement.

The Ugly
(1)No Reviewers

The nice thing about geocachinig.com is that there is an army of dedicated voulnuteers who must pre-approve any cache hide before it gets listed. That's not the case with oc.com, and I've already heard stories about caches literally being placed on top of each other.

(2)Maintaining Multiple Data Sets
To quote Liz Lemon, "It's a deal breaker, ladies". This is the same problem I had with some of the other cache listing services, such as Navicache, Terracaching, and sadly, opencaching.us.  I'm just too lazy to maintain my cache finds and hides on more than one listing service. It's too much work to keep everything up-to-date and synchronized (9 out of 10 DBA's would agree). 



I admit that it is nice how easy oc.com makes it to upload your hides and finds from "those other services", but even so, it's still extra work. In addition, every cacher on geocaching.com would have to be vigilant about keeping their data up-to-date on oc.com to make it worthwhile. Otherwise, you'll never have a true picture as to how many caches are really in any given area unless you check both services every time you go caching. 


And even for the caches that are listed on both services, the number of finds would never be accurate unless every person who found a given cache logged it on both sites. For example, a cache called, "My First "Regular" Cache", near San Ramon, California is listed on both sites. On geocaching.com it's listed as GC18QYA, and shows 49 people have found it. But on opencaching.com, it's listed as OX18QYA, and shows only 2 people have found it. 


And finally, many of us have invested way too much time and energy into maintaining our geocaching stats from geocaching.com, and we're not about to even try and duplicate that effort on another site.


The Bottom Line
New cachers may be drawn to opencaching.com initially, especially those buying their first Garmin GPS receivers, who may be “gently persuaded” to visit the site. But I can't see the  millions of cachers on geocaching.com switching to oc.com, or even spending the time required  to use both services. Competition is good, but duplication of effort is bad.

Full Disclosure: This may sound like I’m staunchly anti-Garmin and basically a grumpy old man who doesn’t like change. Nothing could be further from the truth (well, the anti-Garmin part isn't true, anyway). My first GPS receiver was a Garmin GPS 12 which I got before geocaching was even invented, and I absolutely adored; up until a bike accident put it out of commission. My next GPSr, after a lot of research (and saving up), was a Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx, which I now wonder how I ever lived without. If it ever breaks (or more likely, I break it), I will likely turn right around and buy another. If not a 60CSx, definitely another Garmin. If it weren’t for Garmin, I probably wouldn’t be geocaching.



Cache On!


11 comments:

Tony said...

Good review, that pretty much covers it - all the main points I heard last week in the Twitterverse.

This is definitely not good for opencaching.us. If you go onto the forums there you'll see a couple of points that didn't get mentioned here - 1) Logo for opencaching.com is extremely smilar to opencaching.us. 2) Opencaching.com stated that they "reached out" to the opencaching community. Well, not according to them, at least not in a favorable way (they wanted an opencaching.us dev to sign an NDA- not exactly "open" in any sense).

Like some I uploaded and listed my hides to oc.com to see how it all worked. Took a few tries but it eventually worked. However, I unlisted them after a healthy debate on twitter convinced me of the main point, it's just too confusing; and the lack of reviewers tells me that they cannot be serious as a geocaching site, and their main motivation is basically as a giant ad for Garmin. Lack of review is just way, way too dangerous and confusing for the game. It's tough enough wading through newb caches that HAVE been reviewed, but to have absolutely NO oversight? I've logged out of oc.com for good.

OC.us is a different story. After listening to my pals and their concerns I've archived our cross listed caches there (opencaching.us) and will continue to use the site, but only for the cache types that are unique to them. Then it will stand basically in the same category as waymarking and benchmarks, and the dbs will be distinct from geocaching.com's for hiding and hunting.

Thanks for the post! Been an interesting week, doncha think!

Tony
team_goobie

Mike said...

Actually I find that the Opencaching.com site is very difficult to use. No neat list as "GC.com" ( misnomer "gc.com" links to Godaddy.com - spell it out!)

For those of us with vision problems the low contrast brown on brown is a very bad choice and is hard to use.

OpenCaching.com has one size map (?) and assumes everyone uses a large display, while Geocaching.com lets the user select a size that fits 800x600 display -

And so far Opencaching.com does not answer about having a way to archive a listing, they just replied to my question about that with a non-anwser that didn't address my question. - bad support.

Geek-42 said...

My main problem with OCCOM is the lack of reviewers. When a cache gets hit by LEOs because of a threat it affects all Cachers. When a land manager gets upset because of a cache placement, it affects all Cachers. Not just GC.com but OC/GC/TC/NC/?C! All of US!

Do reviewers stop this from happening? No. But I bet without them it would happen more often.

flatoutfishn said...

Good Review - I think the main issue is No Reviewers - this will be the pit fall that could cause problems for Geocaching no matter what it is listed on. Caches placed where they should not, permission not received or placed places they should not like under a bridge and look like a threat.

A ton of work has been done to gain acceptance - this non conforming random caches could cause a lot more damage in the long run. If Geocaching gets a bad name it could ruin it for a lot of people.

Lets face it, the general masses are way to stupid to not have rules/guidelines and someone to watch over them to insure they do not screw it up!

Besides that I see noting wrong with multiple "responsible" listing services.

This seems to be an irresponsible move on Garmin's part! If it blows up in their face they stand to loose a big chunk of market.

Dave said...

First, let me state up front that I am an admin for OpenCaching.US and thank you for including us in your discussion.

As many who are involved in the global, nation-based OpenCaching community, Garmin's use of the name and their not quite fully truthful explanation of their relationship with the "real" OpenCaching community, has left a bad taste in my mouth. I've been a Garmin user since I started caching in 2006, but will likely upgrade to a Delorme PN-60, when I'm ready to swap out my 60CSx.

Aside from that, if Garmin had launched their site a year ago, I think I'd have had many of the same concerns with it. Even prior to the launch of OCUS, I've been an active proponent of the "alternative" caching sites - particularly TerraCaching and Navicache (to a lesser degree), but don't see much at Garmin's site to get me involved.

The primary problem with Garmin's OpenCaching.com (OCCOM), in my view, is what is making it appear so successful in the short term. I actually think the ease of uploading currently listed caches (primarily from Groundspeak), will be a negative in the long run.

Sure, everyone is excited now, but when some percentage decide they're just not interested in using the site after all since most of the caches are on Geocaching.com, anyway, and there is no way to filter searches for exclusive caches or links on the crosslisted cache pages to quickly double check their current status on another site. They'll basically orphan the listings on OCCOM. Garmin will then have much the same problem Navicache does, with way too many orphaned, crosslisted caches.

At OpenCaching.US, we allow crosslintings, but clearly state we muchly prefer exlusive caches. We even have an "OCUS ONLY" attribute that allows people to modify their searches to include / exclude them. Also, if a cache is crosslisted, we have a place for the CO to fill in info that will give a direct link to any other listings of the cache. And we offer links on every cache page for the nearest caches at Geocaching.com, TerraCaching.com, Navicache.com, and GPSGames.org.

Finally, changes are being considered in how the various real OpenCaching sites interact. See www.opencaching.eu for a map of the real OpenCaching sites.

Denise Vajdak said...

I don't know why more people haven't jumped on the opencaching.US site. It has MUCH more to offer - VIRTUALS, Locationless (Moving caches), guest book caches, mp3 caches. There are multiple file types for download to fit many brands of GPS's. There IS a review process, but it's VERY quick as compared to a 3 day wait on GC.com. The OCUS logo is a little more grown up. OCUS allows cross-posting, but encourages unique ones.

Mike said...

Just a couple more comments.

"(3) The Price
Free. Enough said."

That applies to Geocaching.Com too. If you don't want/need Pocket Queries - which Opencaching.com doesn't have either. And of course there are a fewer caches available. But not many. And the cost on GeoCaching.Com, not much in my opinion, considering the database size needed for 1,256,129 active geocaches, (who knows how many) archived caches and un-counted cachers and all the archived log data. Storage and servers doesn't come for free.

With Opencaching.com we are paying for it in the price of our GPSr.

"...compared to a 3 day wait on GC.com."

That's not a Geocaching.Com problem, it's a problem with your reviewer, and possibly with caches (s)he that are submitted. Remember Reviewers have day jobs too. I've almost always had an answer from a Reviewer for my caches within 12 hours.

John A. Robb said...

The next big opportunity in geocaching is interoperability.

Opencaching is just the first in a long line of sites that have "taken on" Groundspeak. Some have not done so well others are flourishing. The sites in Germany and Australia do quite well by their users locally.

Why make geocachers pick a site? If I was Groundspeak I'd be building integration using the Garmin API. Garmin wants to be open then Groundspeak should be more open. How cool would it be if the new stats tab on geocaching.com also included your un-duplicated finds from opencaching (or any other site)? That's completely doable. To the hard core users stats of various kinds are very important. If Groundspeak did that they would keep more users "at home" after they "visited" opencaching.

And if nothing else Groundspeak will be forever looking over their shoulder to make sure build the best geocaching site they can. That can only be good for you and me.

[My google login is not what is typically associated with geocaching profile. you'll find that on my cachemania blog]

Roderick Parks said...

Interesting view, but it definitely appears to come from someone who has not fully embraced caching in its wider, non-Groundspeak sense.

OpenCaching.com is not the first listing service without pre-publishing review and I've not seen a problem in over 3 years. OpenCaching.org.uk uses post-publishing review, the "Facebook" method if you like, and frankly, that happens often enough on Groundspeak when a cache that looks OK to be published then has problems reported by seekers.

As for managing stats and listings: GSAK does it all: I load my GPSr with a mix of caches from all sites and off I go, no problem at all. My GSAK generated stats combine Geocaches, Navicaches, Terracaches, Opencaches, Waymarks and Benchmarks and Garmincaching can fit straight in there too. The stats are mostly of interest to me in any case. I held an event to celebrate my 1000th find and many who attended could not figure out why I did so with under 900 finds on Geocaching.com

I don't receive the general praise and back-slapping that goes on when people hit milestones on Geocaching.com because my friends realise that's nowhere near the whole story, but I don't crave that attention anyway. What I crave is great caches to find and in my experience, the standard of caches on the alternate listing sites is significantly higher than on Geocaching.com. Thus, though they comprise only about 2% of caches in UK, they amount to over 10% of my finds.

What I'm struggling is to see where Garmin can add unique value to enhance my caching experience. By allowing bulk import from Groundspeak, the prospect of better quality caches appears to be fading. I'm going to have to wait and see.

Dave said...

Roderick, I think we are kindred spirits. While I do note my milestones on individual sites, I'm most interested in my combined numbers (Groundspeak, TerraCaching, OpenCachingUS, Navicache).

Also, while I'm not crazy about Garmin's choice of names, my main issue is that I don't see any added value. There might even be some unique Garmin caches in my area, but it's just too much work for me to identify them, so i don't bother.

Mr Surename Here said...

a pity there is so few users!