The Benchmark Hunting Section of Geocaching.com is Gone

Yes, it is the end of an era. Groundspeak has removed the Benchmark Hunting section of the Geocaching.com website.

I discovered this in a roundabout way. While doing some historical research yesterday, I brought up a geocache page but could not find the link to search for nearby benchmarks. I went to the community forums, and a search there brought me to a thread that announced the “retirement” of the benchmark hunting section of the website, effective January 4, 2023. Why am I only finding out about this now??? I thought.

As I state in my post to the Geocaching.com forums (copied below), I do understand the need to move away from legacy code, for any number of reasons. However, there are two aspects that bother me far more than the overall decision made by Groundspeak.

1. The implementation of the “retirement.” I can’t think of another example of a popular website that has retired a service (and worse, DELETED THE RELATED DATA AND ALL ACCESS TO IT) basically without warning to many of its users. Google has sunsetted about a million apps in recent years, but you always hear about it constantly and via many various means long before the end-of-life date. Same thing for other SaaS/cloud services and social media apps. In this case, Groundspeak did not send a single email about the end of the benchmark hunting section of their site. They relied solely on a post in their community forums, which many of us do not regularly read. Related to this, they should have posted a deprecation warning on each benchmark page so it was clear to anyone who was actively using the pages that they would be going away. (This is not onerous. It requires a single update to the template from which the benchmark pages are generated.) Again, this is just standard practice.

2. I am most upset (see capitalized phrase above) about the fact that Groundspeak has apparently taken the unfathomably destructive step of actually deleting all user data related to benchmark recoveries. As someone who occasionally wears a digital archivist hat, this is unconscionable. For over 20 years, users of Geocaching.com searched for and documented benchmarks and contributed their findings to what they thought was an ever-growing database that is still in use (or was, until yesterday) even by professional surveyors. It’s simply unfathomable in this age of cheap data storage to not at least allow the archive to live on somewhere. Groundspeak even had offers from outside developers to accept and maintain the archive, which they dismissed with pathetic excuses.

So we are left with some crumbs to gather. Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has saved my butt plenty of times in the past, and here they come (somewhat) to the rescue again.

The benchmarking home page (as of December 30, 2022) is available here:

https://web.archive.org/web/20221230041305/https://www.geocaching.com/mark/

The postal code search doesn’t work, but the PID search does, at least for all PIDs I have tried.

To go directly to a mark’s page, you can use URLs of the form:

https://web.archive.org/web/20221208090238/https://www.geocaching.com/mark/details.aspx?PID=[PID]

where [PID] is the mark’s PID.

Unfortunately, because I don’t see a way to view the marks a user has logged, you will need to know the PIDs of any marks you want to look up on the Wayback Machine archive.

The NGS Data Explorer can help with that:

https://geodesy.noaa.gov/NGSDataExplorer/

I have also contacted the developer of DSWorld, NGS’s app that, among other things, interfaces with the NGS database for mark retrieval and recovery. DSWorld contains a function designed to bring up Geocaching recoveries, which now, of course, results in a 404 error. The developer will probably just have to remove that part of the app.

I will also have to update the Geocaching.com links on my website to point to the archived page in Internet Archive instead.

Now you may understand why I have put so much effort into documenting my recoveries on this website and linking to them from Geocaching.com. I want the products of my work to remain under my control, although I do understand the conflict between that desire and the accessibility provided by a shared site. I saw the writing on the wall many years ago when the neglect of the benchmark hunting section of Geocaching.com continued on through several website redesigns, ultimately leading to the benchmarking section being hidden in all possible ways. But this does not in any way excuse what Groundspeak did, nor does it implicate anyone else who continued to use the service as provided, given no explicit indication that their contributions would be removed without warning.

Contributing to the NGS database helps fill in these gaps, and it is important for those who take survey mark hunting seriously. I wouldn’t recommend it to all benchmark hunters, simply because many of them enjoy it only as a recreational activity—but that is fine, and in many cases their contributions are still valuable.

If you are at all interested in this topic, please also take a moment to read through the forum post to see just how much of a positive impact benchmark hunting has had on many folks’ lives over the past 20 years.

Release Notes (Website: Benchmarking retirement) – October 17, 2022

My post to that thread (which is quite similar to what I’ve written above) follows:

As someone who has searched for and documented well over 1,200 benchmarks over the past 20 years, it certainly was very surprising and disappointing to discover that the benchmark hunting section of Geocaching.com was gone without any warning to me. I do not regularly read the forums, so I had no idea this change was imminent. I only found out when I researched it after the fact. I receive plenty of emails from Geocaching.com about souvenirs and their latest promotions — would it have been that difficult for them to send a message about the “retirement” of the benchmark pages?

Another thing that should have been done was to add a deprecation announcement to each benchmark page, so it would be obvious to anyone viewing the pages that after a certain date, the benchmark pages would no longer be available. It’s just standard practice.

But apparently it’s too late for any of that.

I understand the need to move away from legacy code that has become a maintenance burden, hinders future innovation, and does not fit the current goals of the organization. Frankly, given the lack of updates to the benchmarking portion of the site, I expected this to happen a long time ago, and that’s why I began documenting my survey mark recoveries on my own website instead. But many people did not have that option, and they put a lot of time and effort into their benchmark logs on Geocaching.com. We have also heard over and over how useful geocachers’ logs have been for professional surveyors. We had built an impressive archive of historical documentation over the decades, much of which is not available elsewhere, and it is a shame to lose that.

For anyone who wants to retrieve the text (not the photos) of their benchmark logs and see others’ logs for a particular mark, you can use Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

The benchmarking home page (as of December 30, 2022) is available here:

https://web.archive.org/web/20221230041305/https://www.geocaching.com/mark/

The postal code search doesn’t work, but the PID search does, at least for all PIDs I have tried.

To go directly to a mark’s page, you can use URLs of the form:

https://web.archive.org/web/20221208090238/https://www.geocaching.com/mark/details.aspx?PID=[PID]

where [PID] is the mark’s PID.

Unfortunately, because I don’t see a way to view the marks a user has logged, you will need to know the PIDs of any marks you want to look up on the Wayback Machine archive.

The NGS Data Explorer can help with that:

https://geodesy.noaa.gov/NGSDataExplorer/

I hope this is useful.

To anyone who enjoyed this activity, took it seriously, and understands its value, please spend some time on the NGS website and learn how to submit your data directly to them instead. Survey marks are still in constant use and your efforts will be appreciated there.


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by Zhanna

| Tagged: datasheets, geocaching, NGS

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