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.
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.
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?