A lot of what I talk about these days seems to be Geocaching related. The concept of Geocaching has long been around and at present the biggest central location of cache information is at geocaching.com which is owned by Groundspeak. The website, applications and tools are pretty average to use and no real changes have been made to the way that users interact with the site for a long time. The iPhone application is clunky at best and is a difficult to use at times. The reliability of the application over mobile connections is also questionable. All of the caching data is held by Groundspeak and although premium members can retrieve data via Pocket Queries (multiple caches in a single GPX/LOC file) and single file downloads (one cache per GPX/LOC).
There is no public API for developers or users to use. There is no systematic way other than scraping to fetch cache data – and this is against the terms of the site and services. There are many good reasons why Groundspeak should introduce a public developer API. It makes no difference if it is licensed and paid for, developers will still use it and it would boost the bottom line for Groundspeak.
Uses of an API
By opening up the data to developers, better applications can be created and users get choice. Choice is a very good thing. You only need to look at the enormous amount of Twitter applications that have made the ecosystem flourish and people can decide to use an application that provides them with the features that they want and less of what they don’t want.
This fuelling of innovation can only help Groundspeak increase its revenues and expand Geocaching to a bigger audience. The more people that are using the API, site and products can only enhance what Groundspeak have to offer. Using the example of Twitter clients again, products that have implemented good ideas and functions often get copied: as the famous quotation goes “imitation is the highest form of flattery”. The problem with this is that at the present time Groundspeak are merely stagnating Geocaching for developers and in turn the end user.
Free Use or Premium
The other side of providing the API is the cost of covering running the service. Access to it could be funded by providing to premium users only. If access if provided to premium users only, even without an increase in price the bottom line for Groundspeak would improve and a lot more users would pump money into the ecosystem by purchasing third party applications that would require premium memberships.