EDIT: 01-09-2011 Due to all of the user feedback on challenges, Groundspeak removed the “challenges completed” count from the find count, so parts of this article that mentioned it have now been scrubbed out!
Last night Groundspeak implemented their replacement for virtuals – Geocaching Challenges. A while ago there was a user feedback suggestion to bring virtuals back, and I did indeed add a vote to it. However, after doing so I started thinking… Would it really be such a great idea? Back when virtuals existed the overall cache quality was higher and there were far fewer Geocachers. There are some brilliant virtuals that are still alive today, but there are also some really pointless ones. The reason I questioned my vote was that I wasn’t sure how new virtual quality would be measured so that the poor ones wouldn’t get through. How worthy a location is of a virtual would surely be very subjective. Reviewers have enough to do reviewing physical caches to be bombarded with virtuals as well. Groundspeak obviously thought about these things when they created their “Geocaching Challenges”, but what exactly are they, and did they think hard enough? The brilliant Podcacher podcast had an interview with Jeremy and Bryan from Groundspeak about this before the implementation which is worth a listen. Here’s a look at Challenges now that they have been implemented…
Completing a Challenge
After the update we now have the ‘Challenges’ link under our Quick View, and when you hover over ‘Your Profile’ and ‘Play’ on the main menu. Creating Challenges is a ‘Premium Members only’ feature, but completing them is open to anyone. In your profile, your finds are now broken up into Finds, Hides, and Challenges
and although your “Found” number in the top right-hand side of the Geocaching page and in the logs for caches shows the total number of Found/Completed which includes challenges, when someone clicks on your public profile they will get the breakdown.
As soon as the update was complete I jumped onto the ‘Find Challenges‘ area to see what it was all about.
Currently there are two types of challenges – “Action Challenges” and “Photo Challenges”. They are pretty self explanatory: Go to a place and do something (Photo is optional), or go to a place and take a photo of yourself there. There may also be some more different types coming in the not too distant future.
There is also the idea of locationless (called “Worldwide”) challenges, and the regular challenges which must be completed at a particular location. The worldwide challenges can ONLY be created by Groundspeak. However, this hasn’t stopped many users creating a regular challenge that can be completed at any location! Before I realised how it worked we completed 3 regular challenges that could actually be done at any location, e.g. one was a photo challenge called “Hug your dog” that you could do from anywhere. These challenges are now archived and you can’t even view them. However sadly if someone is quick enough then it would be possible to quickly accept and complete a bogus challenge before it were archived. If you complete a challenge that is later archived, your number of completed challenges doesn’t decrease.
The first Official worldwide challenge was “Kiss a frog“. Quite simply: ‘This can be a real frog, a fake frog, or even someone named “Frog.” Use your imagination!’. We completed this by posting a photo of me kissing a plastic frog we keep in the car as our Geocaching mascot!!!
To get around adding to the reviewer’s queues, Challenges are peer-reviewed. This means it is up to us to rate whether a challenge is good or bad by adding a thumbs up or down. It is also up to us to Flag a challenge. This means marking it as Prohibited, Offensive, Spam or Unplayable. Unfortunately this doesn’t really stop terrible challenges being created. It could have 1000 thumbs down and just 1 thumbs up, but still stay on the site as long as it doesn’t break any rules.
To find a challenge, you can use the usual “Hide and seek” menu. It will only bring up real caches and only show these on the map, however you can click “Search for challenges around this location”. To participate in a challenge, you first need to “Accept” it, and then you “Mark Complete”. Add a few words, and a photo and you’re done!
Creating a Challenge
I thought I’d create my own challenge to get an idea of how it all works. In Saffron Walden there is the “Turf Maze”, a mile long turf labyrinth. I have hidden a multicache for it, however this doesn’t require cachers to actually complete the maze. Therefore I created the challenge “Get to the middle of the Saffron Walden Turf Maze”
Creating a challenge is as simple as adding some coords, adding a name, adding a description, and adding a photo if you wish to. You then can save and preview it, and then publish it. You can create one challenge a day, although you can save some for later. Here’s where it gets interesting though…
You are the “Creator” or the challenge. For 24 hours after it’s been published OR until someone accepts the challenge you are also the “Owner” and you can edit the challenge. After that, however, the challenge belongs to the community. It would therefore be easy to complete your own challenge. You can, afterall, log your own waymarks. You cannot edit or change your listing. You can however ‘Archive’ it. I don’t really like this idea. There are a few changes I would like to make to my challenge as I would like to add a little more information about the maze, and mention that it’d be nice to see a photo. I hope that any cachers visiting would also do my ‘Surf and Turf’ multi anyway, which has a description full of information. Challenge descriptions are only limited to 2000 characters and you can’t customize them with HTML in the way that you can with cache listings. I hope that this will change in the future.
There is also no proximity guideline for Challenges. Not only could I publish “Get to the Middle of the Saffron Walden Turf Maze” I could publish “Take a photo of yourself in the middle of the Turf Maze”, “Take a photo of yourself with the Turf Maze sign”, “Take a photo of yourself on Saffron Walden Common” (Where the maze is situated”), etc. You get the idea.
There’s an app for that…
Groundspeak have also released a free app called “Challenges”. I downloaded it last night for my iPhone. I couldn’t find it in the Android market, but I believe it will be coming there, along with the Blackberry store. Unlike virtuals, you can’t download a GPX file of challenges so the app is very useful if you are searching for them out in the wild. From your phone you can also complete the challenge and upload a photo providing you took it on your phone.
This is clearly going to be a well discussed topic, so this is just my opinion…
I really like the idea of “Challenges”, but in the same way I like the idea of Waymarking, Trigpointing, Benchmarking, Gowalla, Four Square, oh yeah and Geocaching. What I’m trying to say is that it’s a neat idea, but in my mind it is not “Geocaching” and to call them “Geocaching Challenges” doesn’t sit right. Straight from the horse’s mouth: “Geocaching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online.” If Geocaching is about locating “hidden containers” then where are the containers for these “Geocaching challenges”? I think Groundspeak might like to update their definition of the game if they are going to start using this particular wording and including it on the “Geocaching” site! Sure we have virtuals, earthcaches, webcams, etc. which don’t have containers, but to bring in this brand new concept that has nothing to do with the origins of the sport and tag it as Geocaching is just plain cheeky! I think I do however understand why they have been placed on the Geocaching site rather than a separate Groundspeak one: On a separate site, Challenges would become less popular, just like Waymarking. Photos that you add to Challenges don’t show up in your Gallery, you can’t click on your friend’s Challenges to see the ones that they have logged, and they don’t display on the Geocaching map with the other caches (although this is probably a good thing!). If these are “Geocaching Challenges” shouldn’t they integrate with other Geocaching features?
I also find the way that challenges count towards our find count quite confusing. Fair enough the site breaks it down in places, but what will be my 5000th milestone? Say I’ve completed 10 challenges by that time. So is it right to call my 5000th milestone 4990 caches + 10 challenges, or will my actual milestone be at 5010 overall finds with only 5000 being real caches. I suppose it’s the way you want to look at it.Due to all of the user feedback on challenges, Groundspeak updated the logs and all “found” counts to not include challenges. A good move, which makes challenges appeal to me a lot more now.
There’s also the idea of “cheating”. With virtuals it’s harder to cheat. You have to email the owner with your answers and/or post your photo. If the owner isn’t happy they will delete your log. There’s no owner with a challenge, so no-one can delete your log. Who’s to say that the photo you posted of you completing the challenge of “Kissing a frog” wasn’t taken 5 years ago? There’s nothing to say you can’t complete it and use an old photo, or have completed it in the past. There’s nothing for Action challenges to say you actually completed it at all. I doubt many people will walk the mile to the centre of the turf maze for my challenge. I have no proof that they actually did it. I’m not sure I care either although I do care if they log my cache without signing the logbook. There is the idea of course that “You are only cheating yourself” in the same way that you could easily get away with not signing cache logbooks, but still logging them online as only a handful of people check their physical logs. I would perhaps compare this type of Geocache cheating to the idea of illegally downloading music/films. You may happily illegally download something because it doesn’t exist as a physical object, but you wouldn’t go into a music shop, stick a CD/DVD in your bag and then run off. Geocaching is mostly physical and you wouldn’t log a Geocache find online without signing the logbook, but you may log a challenge without completing it as it’s virtual. There’s no physical trace so no-one can prove you didn’t do it (And if they could, they couldn’t delete it anyway as they don’t own it!)
Another point is that no matter how rubbish a challenge is, it doesn’t get removed. A million people could mark it with thumbs down, but unless it’s breaking any rules it will still stay alive.
Freebie members can log challenges, but not create. I imagine Groundspeak have done this just to give premium members more for their money. I know some have complained in the past that they don’t get many extras for their money. Adding all these extra features for premium members gives existing members more bang for their buck, and also encourages freebie members to join. More money for Groundspeak!
I’d like to see Groundspeak concentrating on what they’re good at: Providing a cache listing site. I am entirely grateful to them for implementing “Favourites” as they have worked well at helping me find stand-out caches to do. Not so impressed with Souveneirs (Remember them? ;)) Can’t say I’m very impressed with them adding Challenges to Geocaching. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea, but as a separate Groundspeak site like Waymarking. I may be biased, but I’d love to see them putting more resources into Wherigo rather than coming up with unnecessary Geocaching add-ons. Although I suspect it will never happen, especially as Garmin have stopped supporting Wherigo. 😦
So, tell me… It’s early days, but what do you think about all this Challenge malarky? What’s next? “Geocaching Places” where you can check-in at a location? 😉