A Modern Day Balloon Race (Geocaching GCInsight Analytics – Part 6)
They’re not as popular as they once were, mostly for environmental reasons, but when I was in elementary school, balloon races were annual events which were tons of fun. For anyone that hasn’t had the experience in participating in a balloon race, each participant gets a regular helium balloon with an attached string and postcard. They’re all released at once and the balloons spread sometimes hundreds of miles. If a postcard is found, it’s reported or mailed back and whichever one gets found the furthest away wins. While balloon races are great fun, there are some environmental concerns with releasing hundreds of balloons (which essentially become trash) regularly into the wild.
Balloons released in a balloon race
So, what is a more modern and environmental way to have the same kind of fun? Believe it or not, Geocaching has the answer. Geocaching is a game in which millions of physical containers are hidden throughout the world. These containers are tracked on a website which, with each listing, contains GPS coordinates of the geocache and an inventory of what is inside it. Trackables, or travel bugs, are physical items, each of which has a unique tracking code, which can be placed inside of a geocache. Each trackable item maintains a history of the geocaches (and their locations) that it has been placed within — and that becomes a virtual balloon for our balloon race.
The Button. Originally an April Fools Day joke / prank / experiment / curiosity, this simple and strange creation has become an internet phenomenon with countless resources being invested in it. On 4/1/2015, Reddit announced a new feature, The Button. The concept is very simple. There is a button. It controls a shared timer which is counts down from 60 seconds. Pressing the button resets the timer back to 60 seconds (for everyone) and it restarts the countdown. Anybody with a free Reddit account created before 4/1/2015 is allowed to press the button, but only once, ever. That’s it.
And that is all there is to it. A pretty simple concept. Something that probably should’ve lasted a couple of minutes, maybe an hour or two, and then been gone, right? Nope! Instead it’s turned into a phenomenon which has been running perpetually for over two straight weeks with over 750,000 button presses thus far and no end in sight.
The is one additional twist to the button. When you press the button your one and only time, your account is branded with the time, and a color, indicating what time you pressed it. And others can see this. This little twist has allowed for the possibility of an incredible amount of interesting data visualizations surrounding the enigma that is, The Button.
The circumstances above make The Button a really interesting data source. It produces a constant stream of data (making real-time analytics valuable) and that data is time stamped and color coded based on how much time was remaining at the time of the press making for some very interesting visualizations.