Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Ugly Side of Letterboxing

It's sad, but true. People stop letterboxing. I can't explain why, and I'm sure they'll have all sorts of reasons, but some people up and quit. Or at least stop using Atlas Quest. And that's a problem if they've left a bunch of letterboxing listings on the site. What to do with them? Leaving abandoned listings on a website is as much litter on the website as abandoned boxes in the woods.

So I worked up a solution where boxes that appear to be abandoned can be adopted. It's not a perfect solution, but it was better than nothing and seemed reasonably fair. Asking someone to log in once per year to keep their box listings up-to-date didn't seem like a particularly unreasonable request, and AQ would attempt to contact the person through their registered e-mail address to let them know what was about to happen and how to stop it, and gave them a system to take back control of their boxes at any time if they so chose.

The rest of you might not know it, but occasionally, I would get the irate e-mail from someone complaining about my putting up their boxes for adoption without permission, even chewing me out when they actually got my notifications in time to stop the whole adoption process. I tell you, I was half tempted not to even try notifying people about the adoption process if they're going to chew me out for notifying them what was about to happen and how to stop it if they so choose. *rolling eyes*

But all-in-all, the notifications weren't particularly effective anyhow, since most of the e-mails ended up bouncing leaving me with no other way to contact the owners and I suspect many of those that don't bounce end up in spam folders and never get read. There's probably a bunch of people who's boxes are up for adoption now that would be irate if they actually logged in and found out. Hey, I tried to tell them. *shrug*

Anyhow.... I got to thinking about the problem and hit on a completely different solution that in the long run, I think would be much more effective. As of this evening, the Letterboxing Orphanage is officially closed.

This is how abandoned listings are handled now:

First, if the registered owner has not logged in within the past year, Atlas Quest will attempt to change the ownership to the planter, author, carver, and lister--in that order--until it finds someone associated with the box who can own it and has logged in without the past year.

Then, if nobody associated with the box has logged in within the past year, Atlas Quest will change the status of the box to "abandoned" if the status was active or unknown. Boxes that are already marked as unavailable or retired will stay that way. Only the AQ system can change the status of a box to "abandoned," and it's done automatically each night.

The abandoned status is a lot like the "unknown" status--the box might be there, it might not. It's hard to tell since everyone associated with the box hasn't logged into their account for over one year and therefore aren't keeping their listings current. If you like a challenge, an abandoned box might be just the thing you want to hunt for. =) And, if fact, if you check the Advanced Search page, you'll see that you can now include (or exclude) boxes that are marked as abandoned.

And that's it in a nutshell. If the owner of the box does later log into Atlas Quest, they can update the status to the appropriate value.

Besides the fact that (I hope) I get fewer pieces of hate mail for daring to consider allowing someone else to adopt their box, I'm also hoping to discourage people from keeping old boxes alive past their prime. It seems that a lot of letterboxers have a strong tendency to never let a box die. I know the feeling, I felt that way in my early years of letterboxing too. It's a wonderful box, you want it to last forever, you feel like the person who planted it would want to thank you for your help. There still are a couple of boxes that I think are historical enough to keep alive--the first box in each state, for instance--but letterboxes are not meant to last forever.

The whole adoption process actually encouraged people to make letterboxes last forever, but in hindsight, I think that's a mistake. As boxes go missing, let them die. Retire them. Open up space for new boxes, new people, and new ideas. You can only find a box once, and if everyone in an area has already found it, it's not doing anyone any good. When it goes missing or is destroyed, replace it with something completely new and give those same people a new reason to visit the area. Give yourself the opportunity to create something even bigger and better. Use your time to create something new for everyone instead of maintaining something old for no one.

So there you have it. The Letterboxing Adoption Agency has closed its doors. And hopefully, this new system will still help insure that the search results aren't cluttered up with abandoned (but often missing) boxes. Not unless you want it to, that is. =)


Casa del Sol said...

Love it! Moving forward is always a good choice.

Bobguyman said...

I think this is a very good idea! Keep up the nice work, Ryan =D


Anonymous said...

I like your idea of changing status instead of owner for orphan boxes, but disagree with your statement that letterboxes are not meant to last forever. I think when a person places a box they should do so with the intent that it will last forever, otherwise they won't put much effort in finding a good hiding place. Just because older letterboxers have already found the box doesn't mean new letterboxers won't enjoy finding an old classic. Now that said, I agree that in some cases when a box goes missing it makes more sense to replace it with a completely new one, especially if the hiding place was compromised, but not all the time.

Anonymous said...

I was a little scared when I first read that you got rid of adoptions but after finishing your blog post it makes very good sense. I think you've come up with a very nice solution. I hope you don't mind that I posted something in the boards about this new change, just to get the news out to a few more people.

Lone R

Anonymous said...

I think changing the status to abandoned is fine. But what if a letterboxer "who likes a challenge" actually finds that the box is still viable? I think the box should still be available for adoption. I understand that boxes don't last forever, but many DO withstand the test of time and last for many, many years.

So what's to stop someone from unofficially adopting a box? They know the box is still in place. They've done their due diligence to contact the original planter. What's to stop them from relisting the box on AQ with their name? Wouldn't this just complicate matters further? I prefer the old adoption policy.

If you don't want to deal with nasty emails, send them to me. I'll set 'em straight for you!


Autumn's Folly said...

How will this affect the status of previously adopted boxes through the "orphanage"?

I think your new idea of abandoned is excellent, BTW. :)


Anonymous said...

Finally... a post I can understand!!!

Great job.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of posting the box as abandoned and seeing if someone picks it up or it gets more action due to the new "label."

Eli Harrell said...

You make a very logical argument and I find myself agreeing with you to my surprise, because I always have planted boxes intending and expecting them to last indefinitely. I can think of many boxes that really aren't doing anyone any good and that are in places which would be better used by newer boxers/boxes. I do agree with SandiBox on some levels as well though. If an experienced letterboxer feels a box that is abandoned has "historical" value for the local hobby and wants to maintain it, perhaps that should be possible. What if there were a special "notes" field on abandoned boxes where such boxers could post there observations and records of maintenance for anyone who still wishes to seek the box? Not an "official" adoption, but more like a caretaker's diary?


Eli Harrell said...

Wow, I just typed "there comments" instead of their. Being the pedantic grammar policeman that I usually am who is constantly annoying his friends with speech corrections, I felt compelled to avoid accusations of hypocrisy by issuing my own correction.

Mary Gerber said...

Wonderful idea! Also, I think AQ should push recycling a bit more in this day and age. Retired boxes can recycle their stamps by using them for LTC's, a postal ring, becoming a personal travler, event stamp, traveling event stamp, quisp (if small enough), hitchhiker, or maybe we could even have a way to list them as donations.

Donated stamps:

Stamps that are up for donation, meant to be sent at the senders expense or in a SASE if pre-arranged. They could go to disabled or ill boxers who cannot carve their own stamp or those suffering a financial hardship.

Perhaps we could list them as donations and people could search for them?

Anonymous said...

I wonder when did Ryan Carpenter become the Dictator of Letterboxing?

Anonymous said...

thank you thank you thank you........ I applaud your actions and will defend your honor in any fight without weapons forever. I have been frustrated by abandoned boxes that are shown as active and Im grateful someone is using the power of the database to police the litter. Go for it.

Anonymous said...

O.k. so, while I'm too new to presume to have an opinion on all this - coincidentally I have a question:

4 days ago I printed the LB page for an active LB "Eagle Landing" (that was found less than 3 months ago), and I went after it today. It was in a most lovely park and had excellent clues. And the box was there all right - sitting pretty, right where it was said to be.

Ah, but when I tried to log the find today, at first I couldn't relocate the LB, so looked it up by the owner's name instead. And there I found that - within the past 4 days it was apparently (automatically?) dubbed "abandoned".

So yes, while the planter may not have logged in during the past 12 months. The LB is most surely still nicely in place.

So question is - what to do with LBs that are deemed "abandoned", yet... are later found to be perfectly fine. Seems a shame that such will apparently remain "hidden" from the main search.