Opencaching Review – Part 2

This is part 2 of a series of posts planned as a review of the Opencaching website. Readers are encouraged to contribute their thoughts. After over a year to develop the site, this is an attempt to see how they have progressed, including benefits and faults. If you want to see a previous post, you can start here.

Today, we are going to take a look at navigating through the Opencaching site.  So if you want to follow along, log into your Opencaching account and explore with me.  To start with, let’s look again at the main screen.  This time, I’m going to highlight a few sections.

I have divided the main screen into four sections.  These are the spots where YOU can click on something.  Some we will look at a bit more closely than others.  What are these four sections?

  1. Site Features – This menu bar is where you will find your more in depth options.
  2. Quick Start – For those who want to hop on the site and start right away.
  3. Site Info- Some info about the site itself
  4. You – The options specific to your account.

Each has a purpose, so let’s start by looking at the Site Features.  Here are the main features to explore:

Some of these are pretty self explanatory, but we’ll look at them none the less.  “Home” would be the link that takes you back to the main screen you are already on.  You’ll notice the little brown bar above the word “Home”.  That tells you that of the various pages you can be on, you are currently on the homepage.

Map, as would be expected, will take you to the map screen.  That will be a page that you will find yourself at a lot as it is currently the main way that you search for caches.  We’ll devote a later post to looking at the map.

Geocaching guide is a useful resource.  Now some of you might be thinking “But I already know enough about geocaching so why visit that page?”  That would be a good thought, yet there is more than just a guide to the concept of geocaching through that link.  Some of the site features have more information there.

I’ve cropped this a little bit, but here you can see a list of the topics currently in the Geocaching guide.  There are a lot of items specific to Opencaching.  One that might catch the attention of some geocachers would be “Hiding Virtual Caches”.

While here, you might want to check out some of the topics in the “Opencaching” portion of the guide.  The “Verified Finds” info looks to be interesting, providing a different way for geocachers to prevent armchair caching.  This is one of the features that have been added since the site debuted.  Definitely check out the rating system, which provides a different take on rating Difficulty and Terrain, alongside Cache Size and what Garmin calls “Awesomeness”.  Its quite possible that the “Awesomeness” rating might have spurred Groundspeak to finally listen to all the users asking for some way to rate their favorite caches, implementing the “Favorites” feature.

I’ll point out to those who are following along on their own that the little brown bar that was previously above “Home” should now be above “Geocaching Guide”.  That also highlights one other thing.  Of the four sections of the main page that I pointed out earlier, both 1 and 4 are always present no matter where you are on the site.  Sections 2 and 3 are also always present, though in a reduced form on some pages.  You can do a search for caches from any page, and some pages drop the links for smartphone apps and twitter feeds.  Back to the “Site features” bar.

The “Hide a geocache” link takes you to the cache submission form.  We will look at the process of hiding a geocache in a future post.  The “More Stuff” menu drops down to show several additional features such as forums and peer review, alongside the ability to see new site features, learn about local rules, import caches from another site, and one interesting feature…caches by region.  I say this is interesting because of something you can do within this feature.  Let’s click on it.

You’ll first find a list of countries and numbers.  The numbers reflect the number of listings in that country.  The US (at the time of this writing) has 11022 caches on Opencaching.  I’ll click on United States, then will find my home state of Missouri, which currently has 321 caches.  Clicking on Missouri takes me to what is presumably a list of every cache by name.  The list includes the type, town, and rating of each.  But what is interesting is what is at the top of the list. You’ll notice that I can view the map of all of these caches, but more interestingly, I have the option to download all 321 Missouri opencaches.  Now wait a sec?  Downloading 321 caches isn’t such a big deal. You can easily download 1000 in one GC.com Pocket Query.  Okay.  Good point.  Click back to the state list and try California.  California has 1190 caches.  That same download link is there, allowing you to download the entire state of California.  WHOA!  1190 caches, the entire state of California, in one click.  One download.  That is pretty cool.  The only question will be if that always remains an option.  If the Opencaching site starts seeing an influx of cachers, and the number of caches starts pushing 5,000 or 10,000 a state, will that feature still exist?  If it does, that is one thing that database lovers will drool over.

Okay, so that wraps up the first section.  From this point on, the remaining three sections of the main site will go a bit quicker.  Let’s move on to section two, the quick start section.

In the form you see here, this section is only available on the main page.  Yet, if you look carefully, two of the three are available in thesite features bar we just finished discussing.  The Beginner’s Guide is the “Geocaching Guide” we already mentioned.  At the bottom of the screenshot to the left is the “Import your existing caches” button.  This is also found under the “More Stuff” menu option.  The video it mentions is also found in both the “Import” page and the guide.

That only leaves the search bar.  Here is one spot that could benefit from a bit more attention.  For a beginning user, it makes an easy way to search.  Type in either a “city, state” or a “zip code” and it will take you to the Map screen centered on what you typed in.  This is useful if you know what city you want to search within, or if you want to see what caches are closest to home.  One other nice thing is that no matter what screen you are on, ANYWHERE within the site, this same search bar can be found immediately under your name in the upper right corner of the screen.

So why did I say it could use some more attention?  In it’s current form, you cannot search by coordinates or OC code (the coding system used for opencaches; much like GC code for Geocaching.com).   I know that sometimes I need to look up a particular cache.  With how this is set up, I have to first search for the town it is in, then look through the list to find it.  Let’s say I am going to be near a particular point and I know the coordinates for that location, a location in the middle of nowhere.  I have to search for the nearest town then try to locate the spot I want using the map.    As you can see, this search could be improved a bit.

Let’s move on from Section Two and visit Section Three.

Here we see some basic options, some of which are pretty standard items to find at the bottom of any website like contact the site and terms of use.  Garmin provides the ability to quickly translate the site into a variety of different languages.  If you are a smartphone user, you’ll notice that there is an App for both Android devices and the iPhone.  We’ll examine the app in the future.  Twitter users can also quickly follow the Opencaching Twitter feed by clicking on the link “Follow us on Twitter”.  API is not something most users will likely visit.  Yet if you are a developer and want to try and write software to work with the Opencaching site, they provide quite a bit of information about their API.  Another interesting note is that Groundspeak announced they would finally open up their API after Garmin announced that Opencaching would allow API development straight from the start.  Maybe a matter of coincidental timing, but another feature GC.com users had been asking for that seemed to keep escaping the site updates until Opencaching came along.

Lastly, we will quickly revisit Section four, the User options.  The GPSr icon is the menu option for your GPS receiver.  When your receiver is plugged into the computer, you can connect to the site to upload finds or search for caches on your GPSr.  Clicking on the menu for your name allows you to view your profile, update your settings, or log out.  We took a look at those options in the last post.

That’s it.  Your four main sections of the homepage.  Yeah, we didn’t go very in depth to some of the features, but that’s because we will be visiting them in the future.  So let’s do a quick Pro’s and Con’s.

Pro’s: On the plus side, the navigation is intuitive, with options that make it clear what will be found behind the curtain.  No flames or green holographic faces.  Another nice thing is that almost every single feature can be navigated to from any page.   Only the Twitter, API, and smartphone links occasionally disappear, and seemingly only on the Map and API screens.   They aren’t heavy use options, so not a big deal that they are missing on those pages.

Con’s: I’ve mentioned how I feel the search options are lacking.  That is one minus to the site.  Also expect some wait times, particularly when loading cacher profiles.  It is especially notable there.  But beyond those items, I’m hard pressed to other flaws in the basic site navigation in and of itself.  And the loading times is less site navigation and more how the site queries the server.

I’ll say the word again. Intuitive.  That was what I got out of the site navigation as it is right now.  As Opencaching adds more features, they hopefully keep that in mind as good site navigation is important to keeping users on your site.

By now, you probably noticed a few things I mentioned revisiting.  Let’s look at them:

  • Hiding a Cache
  • The Map
  • Smartphone Apps (I might have to find a guest writer who has used the iPhone app since I have an Android phone…anyone interested?)
  • Peer Review
  • Forums
  • Importing caches

I’ll leave with that and wish everyone a happy weekend.  I should be back with the next part on Monday.  I was thinking that I’ll go through either the maps or finding and logging an opencache.  Remember that you can help these posts.  Do you have something you want me to explore?  A question to answer?  Or have you been using the site and want to share your thoughts about a particular post? Leave a comment and contribute to the review.

TripCyclone

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