There’s a big debate in the outdoors community about a small piece of data. The geotag.
In digital communities, outdoorsy experiences are not only showcased via swathes of breathtaking images but can also be attached to something called a geotag. Geotags are bits of data that mark a photo or video with information about where it was taken. Thanks to GPS and satellite positioning, geotags are highly accurate and can be used to give navigational directions to places in a mere few clicks.
The geotag has rapidly become a shareable commodity because it makes remote locations easy to record and find, and links all those squiggly contour lines to real-life (often awe-inspiring) imagery. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve fallen for the geotag’s pull. Gosh, I’ve even used the feature on Instagram to plan two weeks of road-tripping in Canada.
The Geotag Debate
On the one hand, geotagging is a brilliant way to share experiences with more people. It can boost regional economies by highlighting local gems for tourists and plays a valuable role in bypassing the gatekeeping that sometimes happens in outdoor communities. Thanks to the geotag, you can spend more time exploring and less time trying to wheedle out ‘secret locations’ from the old-timers.
On the other hand, the online community is a lot bigger than the group of mates in your own backyard – and this has led people to question what higher levels of traffic (and attention) mean for conserving fragile ecologies. In some parts of Africa, geotagging your rhino photos can risk the animals being found by poachers. Whilst closer to home, discarded litter, disorientated people, and overcrowding abound at spots popularised by Instagram in the Royal National Park, near Sydney.
For many, choosing not to geotag locations is an important digital extension of the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles, and acts as one of many ways to responsibly minimise your environmental footprint while outside.
Ultimately, however, the geotag is just a tool. It’s here to stay and, like all other tools, you can (and should) learn how to wield it like a boss. As travel restrictions look set to ease nationwide, here are some quick tips for the next time you want to share your trip stoke online!
1. ‘Secret’ Spots are Old News
First things first. If you are adventuring anywhere in Australia, you are enjoying experiences on lands and waters that have always belonged to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Whilst you may be lucky enough to enjoy a place in quiet solitude, every landscape is touched by ongoing Indigenous cultural connection, custodianship, and deep spiritual ties. Recognise this, and you’ll feel even more humbled to walk, swim, ride, paddle and climb in the incredible places that you do!
For non-Indigenous folk (like myself) here’s the reminder – places aren’t ‘ours’ to gatekeep in secret for the benefit of our own enjoyment.
2. Avoid, at all Costs, the Geo-Brag
An age-old question: to post, or not to post?
Bad angles and hover hands aside, have a think about your motivations for sharing your trip with an online community. The reach of a post goes beyond how many followers you have, because you’ll always be connected to someone (somehow) with a larger following who might share what you’ve been up to.
If you believe that where you’ve visited is ecologically fragile, or you’ve got a photo of something that demonstrates behaviours that are potentially questionable or unsafe (yes, we’re talking about those cliff-edge handstands) perhaps reconsider posting it on your socials.
By all means, keep the proof on your phone, message the photos to your Mum and glue ‘em in a scrapbook… but think carefully about why a certain photo belongs on your socials. If it is only to boast about where you’ve been (AKA a ‘geo-brag’), perhaps it has a better home somewhere else (and no, not on your dating profile either!).
3. The Trip Chooses the Geotag
So, you’ve decided that your Very Instagrammable Location™shows off an area that:
- Is already frequently visited
- Has access routes that are well-maintained and avoid fragile ecosystems
- Has facilities that can cope with multiple groups of people (hello toilets of some kind, an accessible water source, and campsites)
Go forth and geotag that post!
If you’ve seen the location explicitly named in a few places, a specific geotag identifying the trail, geographic feature or campsite will do just fine. Most of the time though, I stick to using only broad geotags.
Broad geotags may name the wilderness area that the photo or video was taken in (a national park or otherwise) or perhaps they might identify a nearby town. If you can find a reputable source, you might even mention a place’s name in the language of its Traditional Owners.
Why? Because it starts conversations.
4. Posting is About Being in a Community!
Posting epic shots is ultimately about telling a story, sharing the stoke and contributing to a collective respect for places that we are fortunate enough to experience.
Choosing broad locations for your geotags provides others in your online community with a great starting point, without taking any of the satisfaction of trip planning away from them. After all, you’re only a message away if they want additional pointers!
5. Be Accountable
On my geotag-inspired tour of Canada I was in the middle of a hike out to an Instagram-famous ridge, when I was asked by a passing group where the next water fountain was. At this point we were already some ten kilometres into a rugged, water fountain-less national park. Luckily for the thirsty group there was a glacial lake at the end of the trail, but it was a mutually scary moment for everyone to realise how little they had prepared.
When people do their own detailed trip research, it’s a lot safer. They can get a feel for what the terrain will be like, where the safe drinking water is and whether they’ll need to borrow a 4WD for the drive in.
Social media can sometimes make feats of navigation, access or endurance look easy. People are likely to assume they can handle it. If you’re posting about a trip that challenged you (in whatever way) you have a responsibility to share this information, alongside your nice photos and videos.
Not only will acknowledging these challenges in the caption and comments add some spice to your adventure, but it might also help others to prepare themselves if they decide they also want to explore the area.
Geotags Are a Tool, Use Them With Purpose
Ultimately, geotags are a fantastic tool for sharing what you love about being outdoors. If you geotag in a considered manner, with respect for the land, and its Traditional Owners, your posts will be important contributions to the online outdoors community.
Whilst not all places are suitable for broadcasting across your socials (fighting the temptation to post can be hard), some amazing conversations can come from sharing the ones that are!