History and Future of Geocaching

Here at MapDash, we’re beyond interested in geocaching. I mean, our geo-mobile app is definitely an updated take on the age-old activity. In fact, we like to think of ourselves as the next step in geocaching (more on that later though).

But where did geocaching come from? What were its origins and how did it evolve into the incredibly popular activity that it is now? What might it be like in the near future? We look at all of these questions and more below.

The Past

Modern-day geocaching evolved from a similar game called letterboxing. Like geocaching (and MapDash), the 150 year-old game (it can be traced back to 1854 England) combines aspects of orienteering, scavenger hunts, and puzzles into an activity based on exploration.

Small, weatherproof boxes were hidden in public places such as parks and contained a small notebook and a rubber stamp. When a letterboxer – a player of the game – found a box, they used the rubber stamp to mark their own personal notebook and used their own personal rubber stamp to mark the notebook in the box. It was sort of like saying “hey, I found this before you” for when other letterboxers discovered the box. Clues, hints, and riddles for the location of the boxes were spread in various ways, with a strong emphasis on word of mouth.

The Present

Letterboxing remained popular until fairly recently when a new kid called geocaching showed up and took control of the block. It was the year 2000, shortly after selective ability was removed from GPS, and Dave Ulmer placed the first cache in the small town of Beavercreek, Oregon. He then posted the cache-location’s coordinates (45°17.460′N 122°24.800′W) on an online message board. The cache that he left was successfully located only a few days later. Geocaching had been born.

Since its birth, geocaching has become incredibly popular. Caches are placed in nearly 200 countries including locations on all seven continents (yes, Antarctica included). There is even a cache located on the International Space Station though most of us will probably never be able to find that one!

Most geo-caches today still hark back to the early days of letterboxing. A container is hidden away with a notebook and pen inside. When a geo-cacher finds it, they write the date and their code name inside. The only thing that has really changed is that the coordinates for the cache are placed online and that players now use GPS units to find them.

There are also a wide variety of geocaching games being played today. For instance, there are caches with multiple stages, caches hidden under water or up trees, and of course events where the first person to find a specific cache is the winner.

The Future

The future of geocaching is currently held in the hands of geo-mobile apps like MapDash. There are already a lot of players in the space including one of the big boys – Google. But having Google to compete with will only serve to make geo-mobile games more popular. In fact, since Google has released Ingress only two weeks ago, the added awareness has already resulted in a sharp spike in downloads for several other geo-mobile games. Our post on the Google Ingress Effect is evidence of that.

The big key here – for MapDash and other geo-mobile games – is to keep the experience interesting and compelling for users. To draw people away from standard geocaching and into the new and exciting world of geo-mobile gaming, app makers need to put  a new twist on the activity while also remaining loyal to their geocaching roots.

At MapDash that is exactly what we’re determined to do: MapDash is multiplayer and social – so you can play against and interact with your friends (or frenemies!) while playing; the gameplay is a lot more interactive – you solve tricky riddles to find hidden locations, earn rewards, and spend them on hints for your next location or task, all-the-while keeping an eye on the leaderboard; and it exercises your creativity – you can design your own game on our Game-Design server, thinking up devilishly tricky challenges for your friends to try to solve.

MapDash has taken geocaching to an entirely new level.  Give it a try!

Contact Us

Have a comment or question? Feel free to give us a shout!