10 August 2008

Geocaching Background Article

Social experiment turns into growing phenomenon


Bryan Roth, left, Jeremy Irish and Elias Alvord, the creators of www.geocaching.com,
display one of the geocaching containers at the Seattle headquarters.

For the past seven years, Jeremy Irish, Bryan Roth and Elias Alvord, the founders of Groundspeak Inc., have watched geocaching grow from "75 caches to more than 490,000 worldwide," said Roth. "The amount of activity taking place around the world is staggering, in a truly incredible way."

Located in Seattle, Groundspeak Inc. is the company that runs www.geocaching.com. Worldwide headquarters for the geocaching movement, it's part of a triad of pilgrimage points that include the Project Ape Cache, a huge rocket box left at Snoqualmie Pass by the producers of the 2001 movie "Planet of the Apes," and the first-ever geocache, placed by Dave Ulmereast of Portland.

Posted to a news group, that first cache was found two days later by Mike Teague, who started his own page documenting the locations.

At the same time, Jeremy Irish heard about it. He brought his Global Positioning System (GPS) unit, found a cache, and since he was a Web developer, decided to build the Web site, a database to make it easier for people to enter in caches.

He talked to Teague, who passed on the baton, and the site launched in September 2000, with 75 caches that Irish had to hand-enter. "I was reviewing caches myself for the first year, year and a half," Irish said.

For the past seven years, Groundspeak has developed and supported "location-based entertainment." It has a staff of 23 and more than 100 volunteers around the world.

A large touch-screen computer at the entryway to the office tracks people logging in their experience finding a cache. "We're getting about 1.4 million logs a month," said Roth. "Every 30 seconds, we pull the newest one and show it."

Irish calls it "a social experiment turned into a small phenomenon."

The initial idea of placing a container in the woods for somebody to find and write in their own experience, has been amazing. It now connects a legion of people who, after connecting online, actually connect offline as well.

"That was the biggest surprise," said Irish. "People actually wanting to get together and talk about their experiences, and these organizations that have been created around geocaching."

Roth calls it "a great community of people. There are geocachers everywhere, and they're taking enjoyment from this game."

It's also popular in other countries: Germany is geocaching's highest growth area, and has doubled its amount of caches since 2000.

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