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Intercaches: The Future Of Geocaching?

Where Tim Thomas is going, he hopes other geocachers will soon follow.

The American (GC handle: ChileHead) is the mastermind behind a new, hi-tech software application that allows players to create an interactive geocache similar to a Wherigo.

Tim Thomas

The biggest difference, Thomas says, is that his intercaches “can be developed, edited and played on a mobile phone browser with no software required to download”.

Using his free Intercaching website via an Android, iPhone or Windows device, cache owners first walk their chosen geocache course to automatically gather a series of waypoints. Later, once their intercache has been published on Geocaching.com, finders follow the same trail from their own mobiles, scouting answers to the predetermined questions that will help them advance to GZ.

Although the resulting hides are listed as puzzles, Thomas says they are actually “part virtual cache, part multicache, part puzzle cache, and part Wherigo”. “I’ve always been disappointed with the Wherigo builder and players. It has a lot of power but was difficult for the average person to develop a cartridge. The hardware players were limited as well; I couldn’t use Wherigo on any of my GPSrs, and the Android player didn’t always work well.

“You also couldn’t play a cartridge spur of the moment, as you had to download it to your GPSr before you left home. I wanted something that the average person could use to put together an interactive game without any programming.”

It’s been 18 months since the software architect from Rochester, New York unveiled his creation. He published the first intercache (GC34DQ3 Intercache: Frolic in Fairport) last July and released an updated rollout of his free software back in December.

Live action: A screenshot from Britain's first intercache.

Live action: A screenshot from Britain’s first intercache.

While takeup of this new technology has been slow, he’s satisfied with the geo-community’s overall reaction to his efforts. “People seem to like it.  I haven’t fully rolled it out as I want to add in new capabilities.”

Unsurprisingly, Thomas seems driven by this idea of offering fellow geocachers extra enjoyment from their hobby. Though he admits it was the thought of showing up Garmin’s wireless chirp beacon that made him persevere with Intercaching.com.

“When Garmin launched its chirp, I thought it was an interesting idea – but fundamentally flawed. Here you have a US$20 (or so) item that you need to leave out in the wild, making it susceptible to theft, battery issues and the elements. For most people, making a 10-part chirp cache would be financially impossible.

“Yet with an intercache, you can basically do the same thing. Create a location in the real world, and leave a message that is only revealed to someone who is actually at that location. You can specify any radius you want before you allow the player to move on, which makes it more flexible than a chirp. I can make a location in the middle of a lake – try that with a chirp.  

“I have no great love for Garmin since they launched their listing site and stole/misused the OpenCaching name, so I have no problems if an intercache replaces a series of costly chirps.  But the Garmin thing is another story …”

Functionality is also where Thomas’ intercaches and Wherigo cartridges part ways. “A Wherigo has a more complete language associated with it but most Wherigos that I’ve seen could be made into an intercache,” he adds.

But, unlike its rival software, Intercaching.com doesn’t require a computer science degree to use. “It’s easy if you have a smartphone,” Thomas says of creating a new intercache. “Start the app, go to a location, click a button, repeat.  Back at your desk you can fill in the details for the location, question/answer and linking locations together. You could do this all in the field too, but I’d rather type longer paragraphs on my laptop.”

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Owners can even add photos and video to their listings. “Each location has a description associated with it, which can be as simple or complex as you want.   It’s in HTML, so there is a bit of knowledge there to make something ‘pretty’.”

To-date, seven intercaches have been published by six players. On April 2nd of this year, Britain became the first country outside of the United States to sport its own title (GC44E92: UK’s First Intercache).

As Thomas has played only one intercache that wasn’t his own (GC42QGC Intercache: Explore Buffalo’s Rich Industrial Past), he can’t rate the other examples. “I can’t really see the details of the other intercaches unless I play them. Well I can, since I have access to the database, but I haven’t.”

6thTee

Tee time: The logo for Georgia intercache Eagles Nest by Asgoroth.

However, all but one of the intercaches available has multiple favourite points.

Despite having previously developed a mobile Waymarking application, Intercaching.com is his first piece of geocaching software.  “I had originally written it using the Google App Engine platform, which I liked because it is ‘infinitely scalable’.  The first intercache I have still runs on this platform, but I have completely rewritten it so that it’s more portable for use in other applications (I have one client who had a rebranded version of this in their own product.)”

Yet Thomas can’t count exactly how many hours of work were required. “It took me a while to complete it, not because of hours and time spent, but because of procrastination.”

Among his tasks during its creation was liasing with Groundspeak lackeys for official approval. “Yes, I’ve talked to [company founder] Bryan Roth and [program development manager] Jenn Seva about it to make sure there were no issues with getting caches published,” he confirms.

Thomas is pretty pleased with the end result, though as an “ongoing project” he has plenty of additions planned. “One change I haven’t released allows for time-restricted locations, so you can build a new sort of night cache.  I also have incomplete changes to add objects and inventory to an intercache, so you can restrict locations unless the player has a certain object.”

Later on, he even hopes to introduce multiplayer varients. “So, for example, you can only more forward if there is another player currently at the same location in the ‘game’.”

And after that, Thomas has already got another geo-idea waiting up his sleeve – most likely something that will have us following his every move again.

*Have you played/found an intercache yet? Tell us about it in the comments section below …
**Stay tuned for our follow-up interview with djjohnmerry, the creator of Britain’s first intercache.

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  1. bigeddy

    I love the concept of the Intercache. The major obstacles where I live are limited cell phone (or Wi-Fi) coverage and the expense of owning a full-data smartphone. I wish there was a fallback app for locations with weak or no phone signal. In a decade this limitation may disappear. For now, I will place a few Intercaches near town but don’t anticipate many visitors.

    Wherigo had tremendous potential but languished under poor support and development. Munzees are an interesting game but have quickly deteriorated into a dreary dash for numbers. I hope Intercaching strikes a better balance.

    1. Tim Thomas

      Yes, the requirement to have cell phone reception is an obstacle. I have been thinking of making an offline version which would require writing native apps. The advantage to how it’s set up now is that there are not multiple clients required for each platform (iOS, Android, and Windows for the 3 or 4 people running that.) But I can see making much more involved intercaches if cell phone reception wasn’t required.

      It’s in the queue of things to look at, but the darn paying job takes most of my time!

  2. DufusDog

    Looks like a neat idea. I was thinking of converting my wherigo but that requires the use if an inventory, so think I might just try it out with a town trail around St Ives in Cambridgeshire UK. Use the power of the system rather than try making it do something it is not intended for.

    Tim, I assume if I start something off, that once I have got used to the interface, I can keep going back and adding to the Intercache until I am happy with it? Any idea on time scales for the locationless option, I appreciate the day job gets in the way. I have been asked to run a course in the local college in September on caching – but there is a proviso – I can’t set a cache within the college. A locationless intercache would be ideal.

    Regards Chris aka Dufusdog

    1. Tim Thomas

      Yes, you can go back any time and edit, add additional stops, change connections between stops, that sort of thing.

      Not sure what you mean by locationless … are you talking about something similar to the wherigo “play anywhere?” I’d like to put that in, but it’s not high on the list.

      For the college, you are free to use the site to put out an intercache that doesn’t actually end at a physical box. Of course that couldn’t be listed on geocaching.com, but you could still build the experience for the college.

  3. kjwx

    Tim: Am in the midst of writing my own intercache. Is it true that if more than one user is playing your intercache at the same time then the system randomises the order of the waypoints? Just realised that I may need to edit my text if that’s the case. The line “and now on to the garden” becomes redundent if the user may end up at the duckpond next.

    1. Tim Thomas

      No, that is not true. The order is the same for everybody.

      However, I have on my list of things to do the ability to make it random as an option, which would be interesting for some types of intercaches, but would require a different type of set up.

  4. Tim Thomas

    A related mobile app that I’ve also had in beta for a bit of time, is a mobile waymarking app:

    http://www.chilehead.us/wm

    This lets you search for waymarks, post visits to waymarks (with pictures) and create new waymarks. Still a work in progress though, but it uses a lot of the same code as the intercaching site.

    1. Darren Osborne

      Great work Tim. You’ve got me thinking about creating an intercache in Parramatta.

      I also love the Waymarking app you have written. Recently used it on a trip to the Gold Coast, which helped me identify a few out of the way waymarks – and some that didn’t exist which I’ve since created. Hope to see both of these apps progress further.

  5. Bluelamb03

    I’ve always been a big fan of the Wherigo Cache, but the execution of these caches is not always very good, the downloading of ‘cartridges’ is a pain, and the builder is an IQ test that confounds many tech-savvy users. So how about something like the Wherigo’s virtual/multi/puzzle design, but simpler to use and easier to build? Voila! The InterCache!
    Thanks very much for an interesting addition to the game, I’m looking forward to Ottawa’s first ‘Intercache’ soon!

    Blue –

  6. FelixII

    This is great Western Australia just got our first today! Thanks alot. Can see this growing fast over here!

  7. Sandy Di

    I am excited about this concept! I just completed a “night” cache using intercaching and it was flawless! I have wanted to do a Wherigo in my home town which is filled with beautiful and historic buildings, but I just did not feel capable of delving into the execution of a Wherigo…..this may just be the answer to my prayers! I will check it out and see exactly how easily it can be set up! They really are a lot of fun if it is well written!

  8. Mark Seberry

    Hi Tim, love using the Waymarking App. I use it pretty much everyday, but not sure on the impact on my Data usage.? I would like to see a feature of the app which shows the waymarks you have already logged when you do a local search. I went out looking for waymarks today and ended up photoing some waymarks which I had already logged. No biggie but it would be nice to see a big red tick next to those ones. Thanks for the App, I love it. 🙂

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