Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mission Statements

I've heard that every good business has a mission statement. I've never had an official mission statement for Atlas Quest, but I do have specific ideas about what Atlas Quest is about.

In my last blog entry, a couple of anonymous posters (chickens!) called me on my stand against supporting rock stashing on Atlas Quest while happily supporting other "non-traditional boxes" and off-topic subjects such as a television board. I did enjoy the pun about hitting "rock bottom," though. =)

But there's a certain logic in my mind that makes it sensible, though on the surface, I can understand how the distinctions are confusing.

To me, Atlas Quest is a website of letterboxers, for letterboxers. It is a letterboxing community. It didn't start that way (the motto at the top of every page used to say, "A Letterboxing Website," which I've since changed to, "A Letterboxing Community," to better reflect the fact.)

I think of it like a bar where 'everybody knows your name.' We're all letterboxers. That's what we all have in common. But it doesn't mean that's the only thing we have an interest in either. While hanging out the bar, we might talk about the weather, or make predictions about Lost, or talk about cheese, or discuss the merits of crunchy Cheetos vs. puffy Cheetos.

It's what communities do. We talk, we chat, we get to know each other better. Atlas Quest helps facilitate this sort of introduction. Often times, I feel like we're part of one large family, each with our little quirks. We have all sorts of characters from the stern and serious to the silly and absurd. It's a lounge, though. You can talk about almost anything you want openly and freely. Even if the topic of conversation isn't about letterboxing, it's still a conversation made up of JUST other letterboxers. It's the thread that ties us together.

Granted, I realize that not everyone is a big fan of knitting, and therefore not everyone wants to read about letterboxers that knit. And that's fine--I've provided options to help those who are not interested in such chat to ignore those boards or threads that do not interest them.

But when it comes to supporting features, every feature I create needs to have some sort of tie in to letterboxing. To help improve communication between letterboxers, to help support their habits, and in a nutshell, to support letterboxers.

Which is why I do support LTCs, postals, cooties, and other non-traditional boxes. No, they aren't "real" letterboxes, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks they are. But they're all things that have one thing in common: Only letterboxers do them. You don't find a lot of geocachers who join Atlas Quest just to use the postal feature for geocaches. While it may not be real letterboxing, it is still an activity that every single person who participates in is an actual letterboxer. I could off-load such things to another website. Take postals, for instance. I could set up a website that's dedicated to all things postal, but every one of the people who use the site would likely be letterboxes. So I keep the feature "in house." It's more efficient. It's more efficient for me to develop and maintain the website. It's more efficient and convenient for those letterboxers who want to participate in such offshoots.

And they all involve stamps. To me, a stamp is the heart of a letterbox. So while a postal box isn't a real letterbox, it still makes use of rubber stamps, and it's an activity that only letterboxers participate in.

Virtuals are an interesting case. If I were implementing Atlas Quest from scratch today, I likely would not include support for it. The reason they do exist is more historical than anything. At the time, all of those original virtuals had stamps and original pieces of artwork. It was an activity that only letterboxers participated in. It met my guidelines for supporting it--it used stamps, and it was an activity exclusively done by letterboxers.

Virtuals have largely been gutted of their original intent, using generic photos taken off the Internet. It's still an activity exclusively done by letterboxers, but that's only because it's on a letterboxing website. On a dedicated "" website, one could probably suck a lot of non-letterboxers into the activity. At this point, virtuals really don't fit the mission statement I have in my mind. They did when I originally added support for them, however, and that's why they're still here today. A historical footnote, essentially.

As for rock stashing--I won't support that type simply because it has nothing to do with letterboxing. There are no stamps involved. It's not the type of activity that only letterboxers would be interested in. It doesn't fit the mission statement. It's the type of activity that needs a dedicated website. One that's made of rock stashers for rock stashers.

Well, in my mind, the distinction makes sense to me. *shrug* =)


Anonymous said...

I think your reasoning makes perfect sense. Thank you for hosting a wonderful COMMUNITY. That's what I love best about AQ.

momverf said...

Well said!
...and for those of us who find virtual boxes annoying, your wonderful website makes it easy to ignore them! Thanks for the flexibility and personalization you provide!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ryan. Your "Mission Statement" makes total sense to us. We use AQ daily as our primary letterboxing information source. You have made it easy for us to use those features we enjoy and just as easy to ignore the offshoots that have no interest for us. We appreciate your work.

Grumpy Grinch

Teresa said...

"To me, a stamp is the heart of a letterbox."

Hmmmm, I think the stamp is secondary to the journey. It reminds me of the hike, the travel, what I saw, what difficulties I had, who I met along the way...etc. It is a representation of the real thing, not the real thing in and of itself. I'd rather have one poorly carved stamp for a really neat, substantial hike and challenging find, than a beautifully carved work of art that was just handed to me.

I don't mind postals and such, BUT why are they called "letterboxes"? They should be called "stamps". Just because letterboxers alone do them doesn't make them boxes. The stamp is not the box. It's what in the box. Imagine if geocachers met on the trail, gave each other some McToys, then counted that as a geocache find. It's easy enough for me to 'ignore' those type of so-called "boxes", but I do feel it waters down what letterboxing was originally all about.

Liz Henderson (Hendel D'bu) said...

Agreed...the stamp is the heart of the letterbox and has always been the main motivator for this letterboxer. Yes, I like the hike, experience, but when it comes down to it, it's the stamp that ties all the hobby together for me.

It's good to have a mission statement.

~SHH :-)

Anonymous said...

Yeah I agree. There is no stamp and no logbook..even LTCs cooties and fleas still have tha tstampy arty component. Not that painted rocks isn't arty, it just isn't... letterboxing, either.It is a fun idea but pretty remote from letterboxing. IMHO
Suzi of SuziLivvi SF CA

Sue KuKu said...

Well put. It doesn't involve a stamp and other people besides LBer's do it — hence the other sites that exist already for this.

I posted some ideas on how to use the concept of rock stashing in conjunction with a full fledged, normal letterbox, using them as part of the clue for the box. Having fun and different ways to have clues for a box is part of the joy of the hunt.

Thanks for your community (and thanks for mentioning the cheese board! I feel honored! :o} )


Mary Gerber said...

Well said! I think the stamp is the central item that ties everything together and love the many spin offs of traditional boxes.

I was laid off just before Thanksgiving and have not found a job yet. I have found every box within an hour of me and most of the boxes within a reasonable distance. I can't take boxing trips like some of the luckier people who are retired, so postals and LTC's are helping to keep my going. Its very depressing not having a job and watching the want ads in the local papers shrink every week. AQ is keeping me sane right now!


Unknown said...

"We have all sorts of characters from the stern and serious to the silly and absurd."

Well Ryan - Calling us absurd is just absurd.... and silly too!!!! Seriously - SHEESH! ;o)

LOL - nice Mission Statement! We'd agree whole-heartedly, but others might think we're just being silly and absurd again!