Geocaching: The Social Media Treasure Hunt

We’ve talked a lot about location services in social media, but mostly as it pertains to marketing and commerce.  I’d like to introduce you (if you’re not already familiar) to a location-based social media service that’s a little more pure, a little more just-for-fun: it’s called Geocaching.  Geocaching is basically a worldwide treasure hunt that utilized GPS enabled devices (a smart phone works nicely) and an online interface to communicate to other users and share experiences.  The way it works is that caches–any kind of watertight box really–are hidden in rural areas, urban areas, just about anywhere, and their GPS position is logged into the site.  Then other people can search for nearby caches and leave small items with distinct serial numbers.  When you come across one of these items, you take it with you and log it, so that others will know of its new location.

The fun is that you can do this anywhere, and the search gets you out to new places you otherwise may never have gone.  Another fun aspect of it is just being in the know.  With over 1 million geocaches out there, you’ve definitely walked right by them never knowing they were there.  And geocachers are instructed to keep their search for the cache on the down low, staying out of sight of “muggles” (non-geocachers) who might mess up the cache if they found it, not knowing what it was.


My fiancé and I started Geocaching on a trip to Philadelphia, where we found a cache in the city, and on a nature reserve.  Since then, we’ve been caching in Boston, Florida, Spain and even in the Swiss Alps.  You can assign your item a mission or destination, and each cacher will take it as far as they can go, or you can just set it free to roam far and wide.  The Geocoin we left in the Alps has travelled well in the past year plus; we’ve tracked it in Germany, Hungary, and the Greek islands among other places.

Our Geocoin has been moved over 150 times in a year! Germans love this stuff.


I’d never really thought of Geocaching as social media before this class, mostly because I associate it with getting outside and being active (not pillars of traditional social media).  But of course it is, and it’s really pretty cool how it uses the online platform to connect people through real world activity.  Not only do people communicate through cache logs, but there is an entire online community that discusses particular caches, trades stories of particularly hard to find caches, or just chat in general.  This is the kind of social media that serves as a rebuttal to critics who would say that social media detracts from real life activity.  Instead of replacing real life experiences, Geocaching makes them possible in a way that they never have been before.

Other examples of this are services like RunKeeper that use GPS to track your runs, bike rides, etc. so that you can share them in the online community, compete with others, or track progress over time.  Nike has a version that allows people to post encouraging comments on Facebook that the runner will hear through their headphones while they’re running.

I'm a good friend.

This trend has every reason to continue as it’s a real advantage of social media in the real world, and since location based services are really in their infancy, it will be exciting to see what the next generation of tech entrepreneurs thinks up for this technology.  What do you think the next step is?  Given the power of GPS in your pocket, how would you like to see social media integrated into your real life activities?



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9 responses to “Geocaching: The Social Media Treasure Hunt

  1. Ryan,

    THIS IS SO COOL! I am so glad you made me aware of this! This is perfect for me and my family to do on our summer vacations. THANK YOU!

    I can’t believe things like this exist. I obviously need to go buy a smart phone right now! Lol.

    This reminds me of the AED app that Amanda posted about on her crowdsourcing blog post. Like you said, I wouldn’t even think of these kinds of apps as social media at first, but the community aspect of Geocaching must be huge. I hope there are some located around Boston! Such an amazing way to get people off the couch and out exploring!

    – SImone

  2. megfrazier

    I had heard about this larger than life scavenger hunts before, but had never put much thought into them. For some reason, I assumed that they were only out in the country – now that I know that they are often found in cities, I want to start looking for them. The part that most interests me is the logs. It makes me think back to Where’s George ( If you don’t remember yourself, people would write the website on the top of a dollar bill, log the serial number on the website and you could track to see who else logged it in when the dollar came your way. There was so much manual labor involved in that process and yet, people did it.

    I just think being able to see an item hop around the city/state/globe is such a fun idea. The application really does a wonderful job bridging the gap of technologically based social media and good old fashion outdoorsy fund.

  3. I remember someone telling me about Geocaching a few years ago, but I never got a chance to try it out. I think Geocaching is a great idea, and I am glad you were able to elaborate on it and your experience Geocaching! I think you brought up a great point about how Geocaching connects people with real world activities. Geocaching is not only breaking the notion that social media is keeping people away from real world activities, but it is also encouraging non-outdoorsy people to leave the computer and go Geocaching. Geocaching’s design allows for people of all ages and personalities to go Geocaching because of its user-friendliness.

    I think social media platforms like Geocaching have the potential to expand and become popular as long as people find the program useful and entertaining. The draw of Geocaching is being able to create another person’s experience by hiding your own caches and finding new ones. I think that programs that allows for active participation and self-fulfillment will have the most success.

  4. This is something I have always been meaning to try, but have yet to get around to it. I think geocaching is a fantastic and fun use of social media. I’ve also seen where people will leave waterproof cameras and ask people to take pictures of themselves and then will develop them. So, the question I have is 1) Is there a way that certain companies might leverage this as a brand awareness platform – in ways that don’t ruin the experience and 2) are there risks or drawbacks to this? I’m sure I can imagine some crazy scenario, but it seems to be just a fun hobby that people have spontaneously developed. I’d love to see a history of where geocaching originated.

  5. Reading your post about geocaching really excites me about the possibilities of social media. When I think about social media I think about how it gets people behind computers and not out in the real world.

    There is a group of entrepreneurs at BC called MoGlo who created a pokemon game that uses the world map and your location for catching pokemon-esque creatures which changes according to your location and battling which has to do with whom you are in proximity to. I actually advised them not to continue with the idea because they were basically requiring that people leave their living rooms or current location in order to play the game (something I wouldn’t want to do). Reading this though makes me think that there is the possibility of encouraging people to go outside to accomplish goals. I’ll share this with them in case they didn’t know.

    However, its crazy to hear that there a a million of these boxes out there and no one I know has ever heard of Geocaching. What this means to me is that there is likely a very small group of highly dedicated geocachers and not necessarily a large number of them. I wonder then if this could truly become a larger phenomenon and serve as a model for encouraging people to action in the real world.

  6. Great post! This reminds of something I’d see every once in a while when using dollar bills. People would sharpie on the dollar bill something like “used in Florida on whatever date” and then other people could see this too. Geocaching it seems takes this idea to a whole other incredible level and allows you to see where your item has been. It also lets you tell people about it, so you don’t run into it by chance like the dollar situation. I think it’s great that the people who use this try to keep it exclusively among users and avoid random people so that the concept won’t be easily ruined. This seems like something that I definitely would like to try in the near future. Thanks!

  7. Thanks, Ryan! I have a friend who is really into Geocaching and she took me on a hunt for one once. It’s really an interesting concept, and I had no idea how many of them were out there. I’d like to look into it. Is there an app that you use to keep track of them all? It is definitely social, and reminds me a lot of “Where’s George?” Games like this have a ton of potential because people get to interact with others in in ways a little “outside the social media box.” I’m curious to see what the future holds for games like this.

  8. As an avid hiker and owner of a GPS capable smartphone, I am excited to check out geocaching.

    To follow up on one of Prof. Kane’s comment about ways organizations can leverage this to enhance their brand, this post reminded me about the “I Love it Here” campaign that New Hampshire ran a year or two back. If unfamiliar, the following blog post provides some useful background information:

    I can see how states could take “I Love it Here” one step further and benefit from a geocaching campaign to increase tourism to targeted areas (maybe w/ locally coordinated promotional efforts). Every year I use some vacation time to explore new areas of the country (frequently logging 1K+ miles on a rental car in a few days), and I’d love it if there were some ‘breadcrumbs’ I could follow to lead to some cool destinations (without having to spend hours researching in advance where to go once I get to my destination).

    I can see this taking off in the future as word spreads and GPS becomes ubiquitous. Very cool topic and great post!

  9. This is really cool. I’ve seen caches hiking when I was younger and I was always so pumped when I stumbled upon one. Usually they were in highly trafficked trails, so they obviously weren’t as legitimate as the ones mentioned in your blog or in the video clip. What I want to know is, how did people do this before social media? My experiences with these caches happened around 12-15 years ago when social media wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. It’s easy to see the reason why there are over $1mm caches all around the word today: Social Media. Communication travels faster and to more people, and GPS technology definitely helps. Interesting post…I wonder how may are in Boston!

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