c:geo gone, but not forgotten

If you have been following any of the hot topics on the Geocaching front lately you know that Carnero has stopped development on his c:geo Geocaching app for the Android mobile OS.  It seems Carnero takes exception to the perceived two-tier API solution Groundspeak is developing (one for paid partners, one for everyone else).  Besides his blog, the discussion is all over the Groundspeak forums here, here, and in the suggestion box (just search for “c:geo”).  I have not seen a wake like this since Itsnotaboutthenumbers (INATN) went down for the count.

The complaints are loud and seemingly detached from the complete picture so I do sympathize just a bit with Jeremy Irish (President of Groundspeak) who responded in the suggestion box thusly:

@Fotogravin I just read it, but don’t get it. We’re working hard on bringing a scalable API to 3rd party developers, including c:geo, who is one of our early beta partners. Nothing that I know of has changed at Groundspeak. We moved our Android and WP7 applications to the new API to make sure it works well enough to open to 3rd parties. As of last week we deployed our iOS verson to be reviewed by Apple, and if things go well we’ll start rolling out partner applications.

It is very frustrating to read posts like this when we’re making an effort to legitimize c:geo, and what we get in return is a hateful post. If you want to quit developing an application, take the high road.

Before I continue, let’s not oversell the seriousness here.  Geocaching is just finding little boxes of stuff hidden in not so random places. Groundspeak has the largest collection of data associated with those caches and has done a fair job of monetizing the organization, collection and distribution of that data.  They have a helpful rules structure and the whole affair works reasonably well.  As with any social media system or MMORPG (which is what this is, really), Groundspeak’s value derives from its scale.  They are the uncontested behemoth of Geocaching.  That, unfortunately, does not translate into success in the application development space and I believe Groundspeak has a few decisions to make about the business they think they are in.

First off, they need to understand why people (admittedly a small but vocal few) are upset.  Groundspeak runs Geocaching.com as a website stuck somewhere between 2004 and 2006.  Since its inception creative players have been devising software to manipulate the Geocache queries (Pocket Queries or PQs) to cache paperless, filter for specific kinds of caches and perform interesting transformations on the data that the Geocaching.com simply disallows.  These are necessary tools because the filtering engine for which I pay $30/year is, in a word: shit.  Creative coders have been working around the problem for years against the express desires of Groundspeak but at the same time enabling the user base to drive ever upward.  Every time a change to the website is propagated, the applications break.  Until recent years, none of this was a “big deal”.

Then the users started asking for an API.  I see as recently in the forums as 2008 the idea was rejected by none other than Jeremy himself.  An API would at least allow the developers, most working for free, to stabilize their apps and allow the game/sport to grow
even further.  Groundspeak forbade even the discussion of one specific application for Windows Mobile on its forums until 2010. In 2011, people have started noticing.  The API is still in beta after almost 11 years in business.

It might be helpful to remind ourselves just who creates and owns this data: the players.  Oh, sure, Groundspeak owns the database but I can remove my caches at any time (they
belong to me, after all).  All of the over 1 million Geocache records have been built, hidden, described and maintained by the players for free. All of the reviewers provide their time to assist with this data ingest for free (as far as I know) and the vast bulk of the expense of managing this game is borne by tens of thousands of individual Geocachers.  Fundamentally, Groundspeak manages a database and a website with some ancillary services that do not pertain directly to the game.  One would not know it, however.  Their largest expense is payroll, not compute and data storage.

Groundspeak is great at managing a playing framework, rules, evangelization, branding and general “rah-rah-go-team” stuff.  It is not terribly good at anything else.  Example: Proceed to the GS forums and perform a search for some common term or issue likely to get many pages of results.  Sort the list by number of replies.  This looks fine for starters
with thousands on top, singles on bottom.  Now go to the second page of results.  Uh…more thousands on top?  Oops…I guess the list only sorted for THIS PAGE.  These kinds of basic problems are the reason why other developers have stepped in.  Groundspeak’s own
applications for mobile caching are so poorly regarded it is an insult to be asked to pay for them when vastly superior software is available for free.

This is not some kind of turning point for Groundspeak but a nearly inaudible bowshot.  Groundspeak monetizes every aspect of the game including database access, travelbugs, coins, swag and even cache containers.  We like their tchotkes, not so much the software, and unless it improves by orders of magnitude very quickly the bowshot will begin echoing.  I think it is time Groundspeak took just a little stock in the user base on these matters.  They are not nimble or quick enough to evolve past this challenge without a black eye.

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