Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Geo-Caching/Checking In... Toe-May-Toe/Toe-Mah-Toe

Years ago I met a girl in England who, like me, had come from Canada to live abroad to soothe the dreaded wanderlust bug. She told me about geocaching, an activity she was excited to continue pursuing now that she was on a different continent. She described this activity as a global scavenger hunt/swap meet, where participants used GPS navigation to find "caches", containers containing a logbook and trinkets left by other geocachers. A geocacher would, upon finding the cache, log their own info in the logbook and could then leave behind their own trinket in exchange for someone else's.

My acquaintance explained to me that this activity had grown out of "letterboxing" (another pastime I had never heard of) which involved postcards and rubber stamps. As fascinating as it all sounded (who doesn't love the idea of a global treasure hunt?) it wasn't something I was going to invest a lot of time or energy in. It was, however, I thought, very nice that, besides the cost of travel, it was an inexpensive hobby and it really made a traveller take a close look at their surroundings.

I added the Gowalla app because it came from the creators of my first Facebook game addiction, Packrat. Essentially, it was a digital geocaching game where I could check-in with my iPhone and win "items" that I could collect or drop at locations. I still believe the platform was more fun than Foursquare but it never caught on like Foursquare did. 

According to Wiki, Gowalla closed down earlier this year. I got my t-shirt while in San Diego for Comic-Con 2010. Gowalla represented at the Tweet House party on board the USS Midway where I spent the evening rubbing elbows with a neat cross-section of geek-tastic celebrities. I was all about the swag that week and a free t-shirt from a social media platform wherein I held over 200 badges was a sweet score.

The issue with digital geocaching versus the old-school hobby was that it's a little narcissistic to believe that every check-in is worthy of noting when it's so easy. Foursquare is more about other people knowing where you ARE than where you've been. And there is no challenge to checking in to your local Starbucks 80 times compared to actually looking for a cache that someone else has taken the time to create and GPS map. Ultimately, Foursquare and Yelp! and other check-in platforms are designed to be marketing tools for businesses to use to get their name and reputation out there. It's a fun way to find a place to eat or to see what other people find "fun" in the area. Not much of a treasure hunt though. 

I actually haven't played Packrat in a long time now and it wasn't until I opened my Gowalla app this morning that I realized that checking in with it is no longer an option. What the app is good for now, though, is seeing what were popular check-in locations in the city. The developers left a lot of the information up as "city guides" and the cute artistry that drew me to the platform initially is still there. It's a little startling to realize that I've outlived a social media platform. Woah.