The Art Inventory

Technology & the Outdoors Met, And A Community Was Born

by Kirby Lindsay, posted 15 August 2011


Don't expect to see the 3,000 people that turned out for the 2010 Groundspeak Block Party, according to Jeremy Irish Photo (c) Matt Hagen provided with permission of Groundspeak Inc.

On Saturday, August 20th, from 11a – 3p, Fremont-based Groundspeak will host an annual Geocaching Block Party, that will feature a mix of entertainments – from the traditional to the techno-based, and geared to all ages.

Not conversant in ‘geocaching,’ or Groundspeak?  Okay.  The party offers an opportunity for members of the geocaching community to gather, but also serves as a fun, free, and friendly welcome for everyone interested in discovering just what is out there!

Find:  The Fun

Awareness is growing, according to Jeremy Irish,  “it used to be 1 out of 10,” people hadn’t heard of geocaching.  Now new geocachers (people who geocache) enter the hunt daily.  World-wide, over 5 million people seek out 1,441,043 geocaches (as of Aug. 5, 2011) hidden around the world.

Jeremy Irish (center) distributes tags in the lobby of Groundspeak to visiting geocachers. Photo by K. Lindsay, August 2011

“Our mission,” at Groundspeak, “is to get people to easily find their first cache,” Irish explained.  “Once people find their first cache, they find out how fun it is,” and while many may never become fanatic explorers, they will find ways to go searching with their kids, and/or on vacations – perhaps even a trip to Seattle (and Fremont) to find the world-wide geocache headquarters at Groundspeak.

Find:  The Combination

Irish came in early on the very dirty, entirely untrodden floor of geocaching, drawn by, “technology that took me outside,” he explained, “it usually keeps you inside.”  In 2000, after GPS technology became publically available, Irish went on his first geocaching expedition.  “I’ve always been interested in combining my interest in technology and my interest in the outdoors,” he explained.  Yet, his struggled on his first hike due to improper preparation and a lack of information on the terrain he would encounter.

A successful geocacher assembles her tags into the face of Signal The Frog, in July 2010. Photo (c) Matt Hagen provided with permission of Groundspeak Inc.

“I wanted to create a website [] that would help others be better prepared,” he said.  He did so, “for fun, as a hobby.”  When the hobby quickly showed its potential, his co-workers Elias Alvord and Bryan Roth helped him out by providing skills, “I was missing.”  To fund further development of the their new business, Groundspeak, they offered premium memberships at $30 a year or $3 a month – and in the first month raised $20,000 in subscriptions.

Groundspeak now offers quarterly or annual memberships (although some charter members still pay $3 a month,) and provides a database of caches around the world.  Members can log their finds, and approximately 6 million caches are found each month.  “Geocaching is not going away,” Irish insisted.

Around the world the interest in geocaching continues to grow, particularly in Western Europe.  “Culturally it’s something that fits,” Irish explained, for Europe, and particularly Germany.  Geocache gatherings in Germany even have bands, like Dosenfischer, that play geocaching songs including one about ‘muggles’ (people that don’t geocache.)  “I’m surprised to see it still,” Irish admitted, about the community among geocachers, “I thought it would be a solitary activity.”

Find:  The Challenges

At the Geocaching Block Party 2011, get the puzzle tags, Groundspeak tag and map of Fremont for taking the five 'challenges'. Photo by K. Lindsay

Instead, people thrive on sharing their achievements, obstacles and excitement about this hobby, on-line and at gatherings like the Geocaching Block Party.

With this celebration taking place at geocaching headquarters, the Groundspeak team will unveil a new kind of cache – called ‘challenges.’  “The physical containers [of caches] can cause problems,” Irish admitted, as containers disappear, get damaged or upset ‘muggles’ who occasionally find them and assume it’s a bomb.  Silly muggle.

Also, at Groundspeak, “we’re still encouraging creativity, and incorporating the idea if it works,” Irish admitted, ideas often based on input from active geocachers.

‘Challenges’ require geocachers go to a particular site – say the Lenin Statue.  A virtual challenge require just going, a photo challenge requires the geocacher to snap a picture (say holding Lenin’s finger,) and a discovery challenge requires finding an answer – say the name of the artist or the man who brought Lenin to Fremont.  Coming soon, Irish promised, will be action challenges that require participants to accomplish a task.

Jeremy Irish points out the five challenges designed for unveiling at the 2011 Geocaching Block Party in Fremont. Photo by K. Lindsay

At the Block Party on August 20th, five challenges will take place around Fremont – and those who complete the challenges will earn a puzzle piece tag.  The pieces form a circular emblem souvenir with the Challenge logo on one side, and the names of the five Fremont locations (not Lenin) on the other.

Find:  The Community

In addition to sending people out into the ‘hood to look ‘round, the Block Party will also feature vendor booths filled with new product information, activities and samples.  Signal The Frog (the Groundspeak mascot,) will also be on-hand, along with games like the Zucchini 500, Pin-The-Antenna-On-The-Frog, interactive bingo, face-in-the-hole photo opportunities, and a dunk tank.  For those anxious to meet the man behind Groundspeak, look in the dunk tank.  “I don’t actually give him a choice,” admitted Jen Sonstelie, Groundspeak Marketing Manager, about Irish taking a shift.

To find the Block Party, this year, go to Solstice Plaza – alongside the soon-to-be new headquarters of Groundspeak, at 837 N 34th.  The company had nearly burst its seams, Irish admitted, in their current location (near Red Door) but their neighbor, Serials Solutions, also needed to expand and leased their space.  After evaluating a variety of locations, the Groundspeak team decided that they preferred the surroundings in Fremont.

So, come cheer Groundspeak’s imminent move, investigate geocaching (GPS devices will be available for loan for those who don’t already ‘have an app for that,’) and celebrate, with the community!

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©2011 Kirby Lindsay.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.


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