Opencaching Review – Part 3

This is part 3 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.

So we’ve created an account and explored what you can access from the main page.  I know I want to go find a cache but before I do that, I need to figure out WHICH cache to go find.  To do that, I will have to use the maps.  Now I could begin by typing in my home location, but I’m just going to go straight to the maps and go from there.  So if you are following along, go ahead and click on the maps link.  You’ll see a view kind of like this:

What you see on the map will depend on your home location.  For me, I’ve also zoomed out a bit to show all of the Kansas City area.  Notice the clump of caches around Olathe in the lower left?  That would be near the Garmin Headquarters.  How about we take a look at the three map parts of this screen.

  1. The Map View
  2. The Map List
  3. The Map Filter

We’ll look at the map view first because what the other two parts display is tied to the view itself.  For those of you who like Google Maps, just like me you will be disappointed.  Garmin uses Bing instead of Google Maps.  Yet, am I disappointed because of quality or familiarity.  Not being familiar with Bing, I would say the latter option.  As with a lot of options, this may come down to personal preference for many.  In reading reviews, they both have very solid pros and cons.  With GC.com’s recent switch away from Google, and the subsequent Greasemonkey scripts that people can use to keep using Google, I’m sure that some Opencaching user will (if it hasn’t already been done) make such a script for OC.com. Now let’s look at the map itself:

As you can see, the map controls are actually kept above the top of the map instead of ON the map.  A minor point, but if a cache happens to be in the right spot, it can be hidden by those very controls on other maps.

Within the map controls you will see the standard pan and zoom buttons.  A third option is to the right of the zoom controls.  This option may say one of three things: Road, Automatic, and Bird’s Eye.  Road is the standard road map, like you see above.  Bird’s Eye would be your satellite view.  Yet it includes an additional feature.  You can turn on and off the ability to have the map tilt to a 45-degree angle at certain points.  Google does offer this, but I’ve heard Bing did it first.  The third option, Automatic, means that you zoom in, the map will adjust between Road and Bird’s Eye depending on which one might be more useful at a given zoom level.  It appears that this mostly switchs to Bird’s Eye at the three or four highest zoom levels.  On the far right side of this menu bar is the ability to view the map at full screen.

There is one more feature to note.  Any time you are in Bird’s Eye mode, you will see two curved arrows appear on either side of the panning control.  This allows you to rotate the map.  This seemingly innocuous feature, when combined with the 45-degree tilt, can be useful for cachers.    Let’s say I want to go after a cache in a park.  There are a lot of trails available to take and I want to have a better idea of what the surroundings look like before I go out.  I can use this feature to see the area from a few different angles before I go out to the park, possibly eliminating some trial and error with finding the right parking and trails.  Is it a major addition to the game?  Probably not.  But it can have it’s benefits for some.

**UPDATE** It appears Google has this feature too, but the controls aren’t as obvious.

How about deciphering the map itself?  Look at the map and find Greenwood in the lower right.  Notice that the cache nearest the Greenwood label is green rather than brown?  That will indicate a cache I have found already.  When I first looked at the site, I wanted to see how logging worked so I logged a find on a cache that was crosslisted from the Geocaching.com site.  Can you see the other cache I logged?

Here, let me put my cursor over it so you can see it:

This is the view you will see if you hover over a cache on the map.  Notice basic details are provided.  Name, OX code, the owner’s name, coordinates, type of cache, and ratings.  We’ll come back to the ratings in a bit.  Next, let’s actually click on the cache itself (the icon on the map, not in the popup) to see how the popup will change.

This time, we see a bit different view.  All of the information from before is visible, but with a few additions.  One big addition is the ability to read the description straight from the map.  Doing this allows you to quickly read about the cache before you go to the cache page.

But now notice the buttons.  From this popup, you can not only choose to log the cache if you have already found it, but also download the listing right into your GPSr or offline database.  Those of you want to make a quick find for say, a 365 challenge, can find something on the map, download it straight to your GPSr, and hit the road without ever visiting the cache page.  Nice.

Okay, so we’ve looked at the map but we still have two other features to examine.  So we’ll go to the cache list.  Here is the list itself:

The list, by default, will show you a list of caches based on their distance from the center of the map.  The list will show you the type of cache, it’s ratings, and name.  You have the ability to save the list as a “Favorite Search”, which can later be accessed by highlighting your account name in the upper right corner of the site.  The last part of the list is the download link, which gives you the ability to download the entire list as either a GPX file or directly to your GPS.

So can the list do anything else?  How do you know which name goes with which icon?  You said the default list view. Does that mean I can rearrange the list?  All good questions.

First, yes you can do more with the list.  That is where we’ll address arranging the list…the third question.  Right at the top of the list is an arrow next to “Distance – Map Center”.  If you click on the arrow, you’ll get a list of different ways to arrange the list.  Besides arranging them by name, both A-Z and Z-A, you can arrange in either ascending or descending order based on each of the four ratings Opencaching uses.

For the other question, knowing where on the map each item on the list is located, you can either hover or click on a name.  Hovering shows the basic popup, while click shows the detailed popup, just like when you click on a map icon.

That leaves one other feature to discuss…the map filter.  Here is what you see by default:

Within the filter are five icons: Traditional, Multi, Puzzle, Virtual, and My Finds.  On the right side is the ratings target.  When you hover over the filter bar, it will expand to show this:

You can see the On – Off switchs for each of the types and your finds.  Flip the switch and it will turn off the respective type.   Here is where we get our first look at the filter target itself.  I like the way this is displayed.  As seen in this image, the four ratings are Difficulty, Terrain, Awesomeness, and Size.  Each has a color that is represented on the target itself.  One thing I like about this setup is the ability to set your own range.  Do you want caches with a higher terrain?  Then adjust the left circle to reset the terrain ratings as such:

This adds a different way to filter the map view.  Each scroll bar can be adjusted so the user isn’t limited to just one rating.  Yet, there is an additional aspect to this filter.  As the user, you are not limited to ratings in half step increments.  The increments are actually one-tenth of a step.  This further delineates the rating system.

At this point one might ask, “Why break it down into tenths?”  I know I wondered that at first too.  I came to find out why.  When logging a cache (a future post), each user has the ability to contribute to the rating.  This results in a rating that is averaged across all finders and the owner.  How many times have you found a cache only to think “That was definitely not a terrain of 3.”  By allowing users to submit their ratings, it helps to portray a more accurate sense of the true difficulty and terrain.

The Awesomeness is helpful, but can be subject to bias if a user doesn’t develop their own method of determining this rating.  Size can be rather standardized, particularly amongst more experienced cachers.  The “Geocaching Guide” further explains what each rating represents at different levels.

Okay, so that examines the map page itself.  Before we end, let’s look at some summary thoughts.

Pro’s: The map layout is simple, and the controls don’t cover up the map.  The filtering system is well done, with the nice addition of filtering based on ratings.  Bing maps provides all the main necessities for planning your caching trips, including the ability to rotate your map.  When you click on a cache, you have the ability to log it and download it from the map.  Plus, you can arrange and filter your map how you’d like and then download everything visible in one GPX file.

Con’s: For some, not having Google Maps is a con.  While you can view the map in full screen, if you want to edit the filters, you have to leave full screen.  There appears to be a bug on the maps too.  It somehow is altering the list to show the same cache over and over again in the list, but not on the map.  A reloading of the page seems to correct it.  I’ve reported the bug.  I would add that it seems sluggish, but I’m using an older computer so it isn’t a fair assessment.  If there is someone reading this with a newer computer, how does the speed of the map seem to you?

Overall, the map is simple, has some nice features, and does it’s job.  Now some of you might be thinking, “Yeah Trip, but some of those features ARE on the Geocaching maps.”  Yes, some are.  Features like downloading the visible map or logging and downloading from the popup.  Yet the downloading from the visible map was added June 2011…after Opencaching already had the feature available.  I don’t remember when the popup options arrived.  There are some nice features Geocaching.com has that Opencaching has used.  So you will find features available on both.

At the moment, I am looking at one of two topics for the next post.  I am debating importing my Geocaching finds as I have a few questions regarding that feature.  I also am wondering, if I import my finds, does it auto log any cross listed caches I have already found?  Will it add everything I’ve found into the Opencaching database?  The other topic I want to explore is actually finding a cache and logging it.   Does anyone have a preference for which one I do next?

TripCyclone

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