TAG :: Toronto Area Geocachers

Dec 09 2010

There’s an interesting thread that popped up in the Groundspeak forums today. We’ve known since the November site update that cache ratings are on their way. Now, we have a date – Dec 31.

In the feedback system, a quote was made by Jeremy Irish, that indicates we’ll be seeing a form of a rating system by the end of the year

We will complete our first attempt at a rating system by the end of the month. In lieu of a generic (and IMO unhelpful) 1-5 star rating system we have decided to let people rate a percentage of their finds as their favorites.

This favorite count will then be displayed on the cache listing. The beta feature will initially be introduced to Premium Members but will eventually opened up to all users.

We will also be exploring other ways to identify the best caches to encourage quality. Quality of the game is one of the major themes for 2011.

Now, this could be seen as a rushed response to Garmin’s 1-5 “awesomeness” rating system. It will be far simpler, being the Groundspeak equivalent of a “Like” button. You can favourite a certain percentage of your finds, and the number of “Favourites” will be visible on the cache page. No word about being able to filter on this yet.

One thing we do know from the November release notes is that this was planned before the Opencaching site came out of the woodwork. At the end of the day, it’s the geocaching community that will win out.

Dec 09 2010

I’ve been following some interesting posts on Itsnotaboutthenumbers about Opencaching.com and it’s lack of reviewers. The blog owner posted two caches with the same co-ordinates to demonstrate that a site without reviewers would be an oversaturation nightmare. The caches were popped back to “Draft” status by someone, or perhaps the site has a “bot” that checks caches and distance.

The Opencaching.com site has guidelines, but without the reviewers in place like Groundspeak has, how are these guidelines going to be enforced? A distance based one is easy enough, just run a script that checks cache distances and “unapproves” the newest one. That’s easy. The guidelines call for a minimum of 0.1 mile between caches (gee, the Geocaching site offers this information in metric too…..)

Now, we have caches in places like Ontario Parks – who have banned the activity. Let’s say Garmin has all the shapefiles for the Parks and can run a similar script. Same with railways and highway bridges.

Quick, without reviewers, how to you remove a cache that is buried in a cemetery? In a sensitive ecosystem? Without permission?

How do you notify the powers that be that the cache is inappropriate? There is no “Should be archived” log type on Opencaching.com. There’s no reviewer address to email. There is a “check box” that the “Cache needs attention from it’s owner”.

With no obvious method to restrict a cache that just plain old should not exist, one can present the position that regardless of Opencaching’s “Awesome” rating system, Groundspeak’s value add may simply boil down to better quality hides at the end of the day – lamp posts and all.

Dec 08 2010

Well, here’s an interesting little tidbit.  The day before Opencaching.com launched, Groundspeak announced they’re taking the entire site – the whole kit and kaboole – offline next Tuesday night for a major infrastructure upgrade. That’s everything from Geocaching.com, to the smartphone apps, to Waymarking. If it’s a Groundspeak site, it’ll be offline.

Elias posted in This Thread :

As Groundspeak and Geocaching.com have grown, the demands on our production network infrastructure have increased significantly. As a result, on Tuesday December 14, 2010 at 8:00 PM PST (GMT -8), we will be performing a number of major upgrades to our production network. These upgrades include a new network design as well as new hardware to help increase the performance, scalability, and security of the network.

We’re estimating that the downtime may take up to 6 hours, and during that time, all Groundspeak sites and services including Geocaching.com, the Groundspeak Forums, Pocket Queries, Geocaching Mobile Applications, and other 3rd party applications that access our API will be inaccessible.

While we’re giving ourselves a 6 hour window to cover anything unexpected that might come up, we’ll be doing everything possible to minimize the downtime and are confident that we’ll have the site back up much sooner.

When combined with the Opencaching.com launch timing, one starts to wonder just what Groundspeak will be making happen at the Lillypad? Are we just looking at scaling the servers to handle over 1 million active geocache listings, or are we seeing some of the chess pieces for the Garmin vs Groundspeak front being moved into place?

Garmin has already launched a few salvos with the site, the easy import from Groundspeak via GPX tools and that 5,000 cache at a time API access which could load up an Oregon 550 with one click.  Perhaps in the background Groundspeak is gearing up for the massive hit an official Geocaching.com API would place on their servers.

The release notes on Wednesday morning should be an interesting read

Dec 07 2010

Opencaching.com comes with something interesting. An Application Programming Interface.  This means that third party developers can make applications that work with cache data on that site. The possibilities range from the obvious – smartphone clients will most likely appear for the site very quickly – to the more creative. You could potentially have websites tracking challenges like a Fizzy matrix without the need for a local GSAK install.

Groundspeak has countered (via Moun10bike) that they have been planning an API since before they heard about. Opencaching, and hope to launch it in early 2011.

I know from my visits to the Groundspeak forums, this is a sore point for the caching community. We have terms like “the application which must not be named” when discussing third party caching applications that utilize the Groundspeak data. Now Garmin’s offering is compelling as they are embracing third party developers rather than sabre rattling toward those developers who fill a niche before(/instead of) Groundspeak does.  For example, there is a very real possibility that an application like GCzII will support Garmin’s offering while use of that same app potentially risks getting your user account banned for a Terms of Use violation at Geocaching.com.

2011 is shaping up to be an interesting year for geocachers!

Dec 07 2010

Garmin has launched Opencaching.com, the competitive listing site to Groundspeak’s geocaching.com.  The site promises to work with any GPS or site that uses GPX files. Already there is a mixed reaction from the geocaching community. While some are resistant to the site, it does provide one of the more polished and compelling alternatives to Groundspeak.

What struck me right off the bat was how easy they have made it to search and filter. Punch in a place name like “Toronto, Ontario” and you’re presented with a Google Map like interface and there’s a button on the screen to grab all the caches on the map. This is much easier to communicate to a beginner than the search options at Geocaching.com are.  What I particularly like is that you can bookmark a search result and email the link to other cachers, just like Google Maps.

For seasoned geocachers, there is a procedure to automatically pull over all your finds and all your hides in one quick step. Existing geocaches change from GCXXXX to OMXXXX so there won’t be any confusion with the listing on the Groundspeak site.

Over the next few days I’ll be investigating the site, and sharing any gems I find along the way.

Dec 07 2010

Well, it goes to show that web servers can tell when you are up to something.  As such, the moment I signed up for a better hosting package, the old one fell down on it’s knees. What this means is for the next little while, until I can drive over there and retrieve the old website data, is that the archived stories up to this point and the TAG Forums are offline.

I’ll have them back as soon as possible and I’ve taken steps to ensure the site will be far more robust by moving it to Bluehost.

Dec 06 2010

We’ve been watching for a few weeks now as Garmin has been tossing stones into the GPS pond, and making some ripples.

First we had the Garmin Chirp device launch, which seemed to catch Groundspeak off guard. The beacon device launched without any support on Geocaching.com and in fact caches which required these devices were initially being declined before an attribute was rushed into existence. Apparently, Garmin only gave Groundspeak a couple days notice that the devices were coming into existence. This was a far cry from the partnership that produced the Wherigo engine.

Now, Garmin seems to have found an even bigger stone to toss out into the waters of uncertainty.  Take the case of a domain name – opencaching.com

This domain name came into existence in 2003, as an alternative geocache listing site – similar to sites like Navicaching and Terracaching. This site carried on quietly until 2008, when it ceased it’s operations.

Opencaching.com – 2003

Opencaching.com – November 2010

Some time after this, Garmin picked up the domain and quietly started making plans for it. We’ve been getting teased for a few weeks when a new logo appeared on the site.

One week, there was a logo that looked like an X with a circle around it, similar to the “open” geocaching logo and a slogan “As free and open as the great outdoors…”.

Now this would be interesting itself, if there wasn’t already someone using the name Opencaching. While Opencaching.us is off to a modest start here, the German site is quite active – and none too happy about Garmin using the name. So, the next update that appeared as a German slogan in place of the English one:

Bald auch unter einem Baumstumpf in deiner Nähe:
Kostenlos, offen, in deiner Sprache!

and Google translated this as

Soon, under a tree stump near you:
Free, open, in your language!

Was this an olive branch to the German community at opencaching.de ?

Opencaching.com – Dec 6 2010

We shall see. The current image on the site is a logo with four colours and concentric circles, with “How Awesome is your cache?”. This would seem to indicate that a listing site with a rating system is in the works.

An alternative listing site, particularly a Garmin one will impact geocaching activities in the Toronto area. For example:

  • Land managers have made agreements with Groundspeak and Geocaching.com. How will these land managers react to having another large player in the geocache listing business?
  • What about cache proximity? Groundspeak maintains a minimum 162M distance between the physical aspects of geocaches – finals, and stages of multi-caches. Will we have two caches at that waterfall?
  • Will Garmin be any more successful than other competitors, like the (now defunct) Terracaching site?
  • Will Garmin use it’s hardware sales dominance in places like Canada to drive traffic away from Groundspeak’s sites?
  • Will Garmin introduce Garmin specific hardware requirements for caches on it’s site?
  • Will geocachers be able to use the Garmin site if they don’t have Garmin hardware (ie Magellan GPS).
  • What happens to the GPX file format if Garmin starts making up extensions or tweaking standards? Does GSAK break?

Whatever Garmin is up to, the geocaching world is paying attention.  If you want to follow along, I’d highly recommend you follow Cachemania, as this blog has been keeping right on top of things as they unravel. Of course, I’ll be updating the TAG site here as I learn about Garmin’s plans.

Dec 06 2010

Some of you may have noticed we’ve been changing things up a little bit on the site.

  • We switched to WordPress from Drupal, and enabled a mobile theme for iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry devices.  This switch was mainly made for the mobile support.
  • We’ve launched a Facebook page if you’d like to see our content there.
  • We’ve integrated Twitter with our WordPress page.
  • A while back we added Tapatalk support for the forums which makes it much easier to use them from a mobile device.

We’re still doing some of the lifting and there will be more tweaking of the site. I wanted to link the forum and site logins, but it looks like the plugins are having some challenges so that will wait a while.  Next up, we’re looking at more connections to social networking for comments on the TAG site for example.

Dec 03 2010

Groundspeak’s Official Geocaching App got an update this morning to handle a peculiar bug introduced when geocachers updated to iOS 4.2.1.

When I upgraded my iPhone 4 to iOS 4.2.1, I experienced this issue myself. You’d search for a cache, and when you selected “Navigate to Geocache” it would initially route to N/S0.0 E/W0.0, which is off the coast of Africa. There was a workaround, where you pick the cache again on the map and “Set as Target”. Apparently, Apple quietly changed something in the location APIs and this was not something Groundspeak could have anticipated.

Geocachers in Toronto found themselves 9,100km from the closest geocache.

This has been fixed in the 4.2.1 update from Groundspeak. Also, 4.2 added Retina display support for iPhone 4 owners, and allowed the map screen to track you as you approach the geocache.

iPhone App 4.2 Release Notes (on Groundspeak’s site)

Dec 01 2010

The Logbook from the GTA Geofriends 2008 (now TAG) Christmas Meetup

It’s that time of the year again, time when we’re all trying to get the latest geocaching devices added to our stockings or placed under the Christmas tree.

But Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Rideau Rangers’ annual get together in Mississauga.  This is the third year now. This kicks off our regular TAG Pub series, which will start off as a seasonal get together (this replaces the GTA Geofriends series).

The pub style event cache is being held on December 14, at the Kelsey’s on Erin Mills Parkway (at Millcreek). The pub always fills so make sure you post a will-attend before you show up.

We’re looking forward to seeing you!

Event Cache Listing:
TAG Dec 2010 – O Come All Ye Faithful! by Rideau Rangers (1/1)

N43° 35.444  W79° 44.479

December 14, 2010 6:00 PM