Garmin’s OpenCaching.com launches Virtual Caches

While the debate continues at Groundspeak over Virtuals, Waymarks and how or if they should bring back virtual caches, Garmin has gone ahead and launched the feature on their competing service, OpenCaching. From their blog post:

Since OpenCaching.com launched four months ago we’ve been listening to the community and using your feedback to build features you’ve requested.  Along with our continously improving peer review system for new geocaches; saved searches with email alerts for new caches; and email alerts when someone logs a visit to your cache; today we’re excited to bring virtual caches to the OpenCaching.com community!

What is virtual caching?  This type of caching is perfect for areas where physical caches are not allowed or unfeasible, but where a cool “search or do” activities can still be done.  These often have educational, outdoors, or human interest components that tap into geocachers’ natural instincts to explore and learn.

Starting today, geocachers can publish their virtual caches in accordance with our updated guidelines.  Keep in mind that in the US & UK, your submission can get you entered to winchirp geocaching beacon, but the contestends soon, so get your entries in before the end of April!

 

[ OpenCaching.com ]

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Developers: OpenCaching.com Testing API Write Access

Garmin’s OpenCaching.com site is nearing another milestone – the ability for third parts apps to edit (or delete!) geocaches and logs via the OpenCaching API.

If you’re just interested in geocaching, not writing apps, that’s pretty much all I need to say. The ability to edit logs on the fly is coming, and soon you will be able to log caches in the field without going to the web page.

If you’re a developer, this is where things get interesting. You will need to use OAuth for your app to gain access to the API. Garmin admits this is a tricky thing so they’ve set up a test server at test.opencaching.com.  This is a spot where you can test writing data to the site without worrying about creating bogus data – they reset the site once a week actually.

To get started, you should take a look at the API documentation on OAuth, and make sure you have a developer key.

Thanks cachemania for the tip

[ OpenCaching API Write Access Announcement ]

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Opencaching.com Adds Ability to Delete Logs

Opencaching.com Delete

As of February 1st, Opencaching.com has resolved one issue that has been producing a lot of complaints about the new service …. namely the ability for cache owners and/or visitors to delete logs.  Now you’ll see a little “Delete” button on the log list and it will make that disappear.

As posted by Trailtech on the Opencaching.com forums:

We just added the ability to delete logs. You can delete them form the cache page if you are the cache owner, or if it is your log.

The logs now show the ratings that the logger gave to the cache and have icons for the different types of logs.

The layout of the cache page has been updated to make it easier to find the most important information (for example the cache type icon is now much larger).

We will be adding the ability to edit logs soon.

Please let us know if you have any problems using these new features.

They still have some improvements to make regarding log editing, but you can at least delete the log and start over as a workaround for now.

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OpenCaching App for Android and iPhone

Cache Me iTunes

Back in December, Garmin launched that Opencaching.com listing service to compete with Geocaching.com. One of the big speculation items has been, would Garmin embrace non Garmin tech or would the site become just a marketing tool for Garmin products. Would they, for example, support smartphone users? Turns out, with that Opencaching API, Garmin doesn’t have to.

Enter “Cache Me”, by iTravel Tech. “Cache Me” is a free, third-party,  geocaching application for Android and iPhone owners that provides listing information for up to 100 nearby geocaches. It was developed in under a month, which is much, much quicker than Groundspeak’s applictions for Geocaching.com. Note this app will ONLY interact with Opencaching.com, in fact it’s the first geocaching app I’ve seen that doesn’t try to use any data or service from Geocaching.com at all. t

The app shows how an open API can allow third party developers to improve the customer experience for the listing site, and how smaller developers can roll something out the door quickly. Cache Me is a “live data” application, and results are returned in realtime from the site. Being a full API application, there’s no need to scrape the Opencaching.com website and the result is a much faster experience than some other third party caching tools (and there’s no fear of user account bans either).

Some of the nice features that Cache Me delivers:

When you start the application, it immediately performs a search for nearby caches – up to 100 of them in version 1.4. The search took about 2 seconds to complete on my iPhone 4. You are presented a list but one finger tap and you can view them on a map instead. Pan the map anywhere, pinch to zoom in and out, or change the map from street to satellite or have a hybrid. Pan somewhere else and tap refresh if you want to recenter your search on another part of the map (road trip anyone?).  Tap on a pin to see the cache description – the cache automatically becomes your target.

Cache Me - List of Caches Cache Me - Map of Caches Cache Me - Compass Screen - Note the 65m accuracy reflects that I was indoors when I did this

Once you select a cache, you will be presented with a summary screen. Here you can see who placed the cache, when (including the time!) and how it fares on the various Opencaching.com metrics – Awesomeness, Terrain, Size and Difficulty. Scroll the screen down and you will find the description text. At the bottom are options to view the hint, and up to 30 recent log entries.

Cache Me - Summary Screen Cache Me - Description Cache Me - Log Screen

The app does have some drawbacks, however.

Most noticable is the complete lack of tools for logging on site – there’s no log function within the app and I have not found an easy way to open that cache in the browser easily either.

The app does not feature any tools for handling puzzles or multi stage caches.

Still, the application was out the door 30 days after Opencaching.com launched. It’s under active development and more functionality is bound to be heading to the program. It will be interesting to see how this develops, and if it drives any innovation for the Groundspeak smartphone applications, or the Groundspeak API.

[ iTravel Tech ] [ Cache Me iTunes Link ] [ Cache Me Android ] [ Cache Me Facebook Page ]

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Opencaching.com and Reviewers

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.

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Opencaching has an API

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!

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Opencaching.com launches

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.

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Just what is Garmin up to?

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.

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New Geocache Listing Service – Opencaching.us

Opencaching, which has been around in Europe for some time is an alternative to Geocaching.com. The site has launched in the United States as of August 18, 2010. The site, opencaching.us is openly promoting their availability to USA geocachers. Not sure if they are lumping Canada into their USA site, or if they plan an opencaching.ca site in the future (right now that's domain parked).

Some of the differences on the Opencaching site include non-anonymous reviewers and the ability to post virtual caches. At the time this article was written, the site has 86 active cache listings (versus 1,167,584 on Geocaching.com). It will be interesting to see if the site grows, and how well it scales with no membership fees or other charges to use their service.

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