Hi, please

The Treasure Hunt Begins!

Q: Does Geocaching Facilitate Physical Social Interaction?

Ahoy, me hearty! After sailing all seven seas of the World Wide Web, I have brought you a booty of information on modern day pirate treasure hunting, or “geocaching” as thar landlubbers call it!

Firstly, it’s important to keep in mind that this activity is much more than a simple treasure hunt, as hobbyists quickly discover upon becoming involved with geocaching (called “caching” by the gentlemen o’fortune). There’s a rich history to how the activity started and its successful growth through the years. An abbreviated version, though, will do for now: it started in 2000 with just 1 cache being placed right outside of Portland, Oregon; today, it’s a worldwide activity with 983,726 active caches and counting.

For a great explanation of Geocaching (and a brief discussion of my question at hand, at the end), check out this video where the founder of geocaching.com is interviewed: (if it takes too long to load, here’s the direct link)

Please enable Javascript and Flash to view this Blip.tv video.

Geocaching never would have become as popular as it is today, though, without the Internet (and the handheld GPS). Its online social community is integral to the way the game operates; like other more traditional social media websites, such as Facebook and Myspace, it has been able to connect people from all around the world through the ease of a mouse click. This Internet-based social community might be only part of the reason geocaching is successful, though, much unlike the more traditional social media websites. By its very nature, geocaching seems to also promote a sense of physical socialization, which many other social media websites fail to do.

The beauty of caching is that it takes the player outdoors, adamantly following clues, puzzles, comments, and the obscure ever-shifting arrow on a handheld GPS device. The cacher hopes that this information will ultimately lead him to the end prize: a hidden container with a log book (where people log their caching name as proof that they found the cache) and possibly “treasure” (ranging from little trinkets, such as a key chain, to $100 store gift certificates and even $60 in cash).

Though caching research begins individually on www.geocaching.com, a new social dynamic is opened once the outside search begins; others may participate by helping solve puzzles and clues, helping locate the cache, or simply to tag along for the trek. The average cacher seldom hunts for caches alone, often having a spouse or friend come for the journey. Thus, what may normally only be a virtual bonding experience also becomes one of physical bonding. In a research study on geocaching, it was found that participants regard it, as a way to spend time with partners, family and friends.” One interviewee from this study discussed how geocaching helps get their children away from the computer:

“…but if you are trying to get them out of their darkened bedroom where they have got World of Warcraft to play on – so in order to entice them out it was just another thing – …not just to go for a blind walk but to actually go and find a geocache.”

Geocaching thus becomes a bimodal medium of communication, creating opportunities for members to communicate in a richer and more diverse fashion than that of traditional social media.

Avast! For me next excursion, I be contemplating between 3 different adventures in order to search for me burried treasure and answer me question. They be:

  1. Delving deeper into the motivations behind why people geocache and what they get out of it, in terms of the physical act of geocaching
  2. The geocaching community in the physical realm, i.e. meetings that are held
  3. Exploring what social media websites with both this virtual and physical means of communication could mean for the future

I hope to cover at least 2 of these topics, but feel as if the blog post might become too lengthy. What would you like to hear about?

Until next time! Yo, ho, ho!


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4 Comments

  1. Alexandra Cale 11:53, Feb 8th, 10

    I vote #2, Leslie. I’d be really interested to see how the online and physical spaces intermingle. This whole idea is pretty foreign to me. How do people discover geocaching and then decide they’re going to actually participate? I also liked your quote from the parent trying to get their child away from the computer. Also, who places the treasure and where does it come from? Does some excited player just decide to donate $60 to the cause?

  2. HoniehLayla 18:02, Feb 8th, 10

    I think this is a very good idea. I find the fact that it gets the user AWAY from their computer enticing by involving them not only mentally, but physically moving them to different locations to find a “prize.” As it states in the video it is an “evolution” of the ordinary style of a scavenger hunt. This could be a good challenge that we can create for the class once it’s completed. Who ever finds the prize first gets an A! Just kidding. I would like to find out more about how popular this social activity is and how it actually be used in the marketing world as far as product advertising is concerned. This idea also reminds me of what Ellen DeGenerous did on her show once by posting on her twitter for certain fans of hers to meet at a bus stop in halloween costumes in order to receive free tickets.

  3. nadine 23:33, Feb 8th, 10

    I vote for option No. 1! Where are caches in New York? How do you find them? What are the puzzles that must be solved? It would be great if you could share your personal treasure hunt with us!

  4. Leslie 10:15, Feb 9th, 10

    Hey! Thanks for your comments! I’m going to work on getting a post up that more fully explains geocaching, beyond just the question I’m trying to answer. But, in the meantime, here’s a brief explanation to your questions:

    @Alex: I think people mainly discover geocaching through friends and word of mouth. I also think they discover it through reading articles online and in magazines with an outdoors and technological focus. I know that the activity is pretty big out West where people do a lot of hiking. As far as actually going out to participate, many times, I think it’s through a friend or family member that’s already heavily involved in the activity. I’ve only geocached a handful of times, but every time I do, it’s because I’m tagging along with my friend who is quite the geocaching advocate.

    As far as placing the “treasure,” this is done by everyone in the community. When you find a cache and you see a piece of treasure in it that you want to keep, you are expected to replace it with something else. But, by no means does what you replace it with have to be of equal or “better” value- it can be whatever you want.

    As far as who hides the caches, this can also be done by any geocacher. Although, it tends to be done by more “advanced” geocachers, vs beginners and first timers. This is because hiding a cache also involves taking care of it if it’s stolen/lost/thrown out/damaged in any way. It’s up to the “owner” to keep the cache in working order. As a result, people tend to only “hide” as many as they can physically handle. When it comes to placing these more expensive “treasures” such as the $60, this is usually done as a “prize” for the 1st person to find the cache (called FTF- first to find). There is an entire competitive nature surrounding this idea of FTF, which would also be an interesting topic to tackle. And yes, a player literally does just decide to “donate” the prize- as a “Good Samaritan” cause.

    @Honieh There have been a few instances where geocaching has been used in the marketing world, but not too many. There is definitely a lot of creative opportunity to do so, though! My favorite one is a marketing stunt done to promote the film Planet of the Apes in 2001. Read about it here: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,169005,00.html & here’s a post of someone actually finding the cache: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDxEvHbH9xM

    @Nadine: Caches in NYC are literally everywhere- you probably pass them every day you’re walking around the city. You find them by logging onto http://www.geocaching.com, where there’s a map of all of the caches around an area. The puzzles are of all different ranges, depending on the person who hid the cache. Maybe I’ll use the program Snapz Shot that you used in your post to show the class how the website works!

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