Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tips for Listing Boxes

One thing I try to do for Atlas Quest is to keep box listings as up-to-date as possible. It's not as easy as you might think, and a large part of that is simply because the people who list them don't always seem to be sure what they're doing. Which could be partly my fault for not explaining things better, or maybe it's due to sheer laziness of the person listing the boxes, or maybe because the person listing the box is more interested in their own logbook than making things easy for people who want to find their boxes.

So I'm going to explain some of my thoughts on the subject. When Atlas Quest first went live, my big idea was to build a better search. I don't mean to knock LbNA about this--every website has its strengths and weaknesses, including Atlas Quest--and one of the more frustrating things for me on LbNA were searches. I had to search multiple regions across two different states to see all the boxes within a half-hour drive of where I lived. When I traveled to other locations, I rarely knew what county I was in. And even when I knew what region to look under, there would often be a list of lots of boxes, some of which I already found and had no interest in finding again, in no useful order. So one of my goals was a way to cut through the clutter and allow me to search for boxes that I actually want to find. Everything else was irrelevant.

I created all sorts of useful search options. Filter the results based on attributes, length of hikes, ordered based on how close a box was to the town where I was in. A way for people to mark boxes as retired or missing (why would I want to look for those?). A way to exclude boxes that I'd already found or planted.

It worked pretty well, too. As time goes on, however, and boxes are abandoned or listed improperly, the search results get progressively less useful. I hope the "abandoned" status I created earlier in the week helps out in that regard. A lot of boxes known or suspected of being gone were still listed as active, and they aren't anymore! Hurray! But the listings are still there and accessible for those who want to find them anyhow.

A surprising number of people fail to update the status of their boxes at all. I can't count the number of boxes where someone write in the clue that the box is "confirmed missing." Or they'll write that the box is missing in the title of the box. Or something they'll write in the first aid section that the box is missing or retired. The problem with any of those 'solutions' however, is that the box is still listed as active and shows up when people try to search for active boxes. I've changed the status of hundreds of boxes whenever I see something like this.

Please update the actual status of the box rather than find a box to write it in whenever the status changes. The status can be used for custom searches--writing it in the title, clue, or first aid box does not.

I made the status as easy to update as I could--whenever you view the box details page of one of your boxes, the status is a drop-down menu. Click on the status you want to change, then click on the value you want to change it to.

I've seriously considered setting things up to automatically set the status of any box with the words missing, retired, and MIA in the title of the box to retired because nine times out of ten, those words have absolutely nothing to do with the actual name of the box. It's the status, but the owner failed to update the actual status of the box. I might still do that at some point, but I haven't yet. The more such abuse takes place, however, the more likely I will implement such tweaks.

More recently, the Rise of the Event Boxes has been a growing problem. There are a lot of boxes out there that, when you open up the clue, say something like, "This box will only be available at the XYZ event." The problem, however, is that the event happened months before and the status is still listed as active, and based on the clue, it sounds more like an event stamp.

Honestly, I'd just as soon as these boxes never get listed on Atlas Quest, and if they do, to have them listed as event stamps. I don't care if they were actually planted in the wild and had "real" clues that were distributed at the event, and I'll tell you why. =) If the clues will only be available to people at the gathering, they don't need an online listing to tell them that there are clues there.

"But this way, people can record the find!" I've heard it before, and I don't put much stock in that excuse either. Those who are premium members would have been able to record the find anyhow, and those that aren't will always have logbooks that are less than accurate anyhow. But when the boxes get listed, two things invariably happen: The box seems to get into a permanent active state, even though the event happened months before, and it clutters up the search results when people try to search for boxes they actually want to find.

So my favorite solution is just not to list them at all. For those of you that are addicted to listing boxes, however, show some consideration for others on Atlas Quest. Mark the box as retired once the event is over. Don't even list the box until the last possible moment before the event begins. There are no bonus points for listing an event-only box months before the event takes place. Do NOT include a clue with the listing. No clue at all. Searches for traditional boxes, by default, will only include boxes that have clues. So by leaving a clue off for a box where clues are not publicly available, you help people avoid cluttering up their search results with boxes they can't find.

And finally, consider listing the box as an "event stamp"--even if it's not THE official event stamp, and even if the box has real clues. I've been thinking about renaming that category to "event BOX"--to include anything that's planted specifically for an event regardless of whether or not it has clues, is "hidden" on a table in plain view, or is out in the woods. If it's supposed to last just for the duration of an event, let people know it by marking it as an event box.

Premium members, if they really want to make sure their F-counts are correct, can still record the find as an unlisted box. Non-premium members--well, they're F-counts aren't going to be very accurate anyhow, so what does it matter? =)

But it can make an enormous difference in helping people with cleaner, more useful searches.

In any case, do be careful about how you choose to list "event boxes." If I see a clue that makes your box sound like an event stamp, I will change the type to an event stamp. If you must list such a box as a traditional box, wait until the last minute to list it, retire it as soon as the event is over, and don't put a clue at all--especially one that just says, "This box will only be available at such-and-such event" or that it will be available at said event and "replanted later." To my ears, that sounds like an event stamp and I'll change it to reflect the fact. If it's "replanted later" (often said more often than it's actually done), it sounds like an event stamp that was later turned into a traditional box, so there should be a listing for an event stamp (for those who found when it was an event stamp) and a traditional listing (for those who found it in that context).

So to make a long story short, when you list a box, consider how it'll affect other people's searches. A search that doesn't work well because it's full of incorrect or misleading information is in nobody's best interest.


Anonymous said...

We like the consideration for others that this post reflects. We will try to live up to its intentions.

Grumpy Grinch

Anonymous said...

Hooray for Ryan!! Thank you, thank you.


Anonymous said...

I am not a premium member and it still drives me crazy when people list event stamps this way!

Thanks for talking about this and hopefully, people will be more considerate!

momverf said...

Couldn't you just create the listing but set the status to "unavailable" or "retired"? That way if you feel you must list a temporary event box that is listed as a traditional box, it will never show up in an active search. Every member could still log it as a find though if they search for it by name!

momverf said...

Did I mention, by the way, that these type of "event" boxes make me CRAZY! I click 'ignore box' every time I find one from a past event!

Anonymous said...

What exactly do you mean by the two comments about non-premium members having inaccurate logbooks?

Kaaren said...

Innacurate Atlas Quest log books.

If you are a Premium Member on AQ, you can add boxes not listed on AQ to your AQ logbook. If you are not a Premium Member, and find a non-AQ-listed letterbox, you can't record it on your AQ logbook, hence inaccurate counts.

Anonymous said...

What about people that host clues on their own websites and just link from AQ? They change the status on their own page so it doesn't seem fair to expect them to also change it on AQ. No matter how much you want things to be clutter-free, it is inevitable. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Mary Gerber said...

It would be really nice if when we look for boxes, the first to appear would be Active, followed by Unavailable, then finally Retired. I don't know if that is possible; but, it would make searching a bit easier, especially if we were searching in an area where there were a lot of past and present boxes.

Anonymous said...

"I've been thinking about renaming that category to "event BOX"--to include anything that's planted specifically for an event regardless of whether or not it has clues, is "hidden" on a table in plain view, or is out in the woods. If it's supposed to last just for the duration of an event, let people know it by marking it as an event box."

This sounds like a good idea to me.