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Tech's Place In The Outdoors with Kyle Frost

Today on THE ROCK FIGHT (an outdoor podcast that aims for the head) it gets a little techy around here.


A couple of weeks ago Colin & Justin spoke about the outdoor upgrades coming to Apple Maps and the impact of technology on outdoor pursuits.


To go deeper on this topic Mountain Gazette writer and career tech-guy Kyle Frost has returned to break down the following topics:

  • Changes coming to Apple Maps and how those changes could impact other outdoor focused apps.

  • The role of technology in the backcountry

  • New outdoor app ideas and outdoor gatekeeping

  • How AI could eventually play into the future of tech in the outdoors?


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Thanks for listening! THE ROCK FIGHT is a production of Rock Fight, LLC.


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Episode Transcript

Colin (00:00):

Welcome to the Rock Fight where we speak out truth, slay sacred cows, and sometimes agree to disagree. This is an outdoor podcast that aims for the head. I'm Colin Tru, and today marks the Return of Mountain Gazettes, Kyle Frost to weigh in on the latest in tech and the outdoors. But first, here's the situation, guys. You're out there doing summertime stuff in the outdoors. It's not a normal time of year and you need to be sure that you have your podcasts ready to listen to at any point. So make sure you don't miss an episode of the Rock Fight By clicking follow wherever you're listening and while you're on vacation, you'll have more time. So give us a five star rating in Apple Podcast listeners. We need those written reviews. Lastly, head over to rock fight.co and sign up for news from the front, our weekly newsletter that recaps everything from the R-F-U-A-K-A, the Rock Fight Universe. You got it? You got it. Are you good? You're good. Great. Now let's start the show Rock


Chris DeMakes (00:56):

Fight.


Colin (01:00):

A couple of weeks back here on the rock fight, Justin Hausman and I spoke about the new outdoor centric additions coming to Apple Maps that were seemingly inspired by all trails. I apparently got it wrong that there was some sort of connection between Apple and all Trails as our guest today, Kyle Frost was quick to point out to me and look, I'm sorry. Sometimes we have missteps in life, guys, you know this. But the larger conversation that Justin and I had a couple of weeks ago evolved into the tech in the backcountry conversation and what we can gain from Tech in the backcountry, but also what we lose from it. Kyle, in addition to writing his weekly newsletter here and there from Mountain Gazette, has made his career in tech and as such is uniquely qualified to weigh in on the blending of outdoor topics and technology. So he's here today to set us straight on the Apple all trails chatter, but also to talk a little further about tech and its role and future in outdoor pursuits. Welcome back to the Rock Fight, where today we're talking Tech and the Outdoors with Kyle Frost. Alright, Kyle Frost is back on the rock fight. You can read his weekly newsletter here and there that he writes for Mountain Gazette by heading to mountain gazette.com, right? That


Kyle (02:08):

Sounds right. Yep.


Colin (02:09):

Just go over there and subscribe. He talks about, he covers uncovered outdoor topics, uncovered outdoor topics, right? Is that a way to kind of describe it


Kyle (02:19):

Uncovered or deeper dives into often covered or less covered things? There


Colin (02:24):

You go. Well, welcome back to the show Kyle. Good to see you.


Kyle (02:27):

Yeah, good to be back. It's been a while. It


Colin (02:29):

Has been a minute, man. What have you been up to?


Kyle (02:31):

I got injured so I messed up my knees so that killed part of my ski season and an ultra race I was pun on doing, but back on the men got some spring skiing and happy to be mostly healthy for summer.


Colin (02:47):

The injuries, the always the, when you have having second thoughts about that race you don't really want to do anymore when it's sounded great when you register for it.


Kyle (02:56):

It was unfortunate because I was the impetus for a bunch of friends signing up for a SRAs and I was the one that didn't run


Colin (03:07):

Well. If you're just getting familiar with Kyle, he actually made his bones into tech industry and so last week Justin and I were talking about new features coming to Apple Maps and some comparisons being made to all trails. Apparently we got a couple things wrong that Kyle was quick to point out, but that also, Kyle covered that topic in his newsletter last week, so it was the perfect time for him to come back on the show. So let's just start with the topic at large, right. So apparently I got it wrong and what I was saying when we were talking about this last week when we introduced the topic of there was no formal relationship between Apple and All Trails.


Justin (03:40):

I tried to point that out by the way.


Colin (03:42):

You did.


Justin (03:43):

You did. I just said I don't believe there is and you insisted that there was. So


Colin (03:49):

Look, if you go back and look at the coverage they're using used so close to each other, I'm like, oh, clearly there's something going on here, but okay, I was wrong, fully admit it. But Kyle, you've gone deep on this topic since then in your newsletter. Can you just give us an accurate rundown for what Apple is doing and why all Trails is being mentioned so much as a result?


Kyle (04:09):

Yeah, so at WW DC, they announced that they're adding trail roots, elevation profiles and offline maps for 63 National Park units in the us. So this is Apple integrating actual trail route for national parks. So this isn't just Trailhead, this is the whole GPX track for whatever it is, vernal falls loop or whatever it happens to be. And the main reason that all Trails comes up is because that all trails was app of the year for the Apple App store in 2023. They've done a ton of incredible work recently On the design side, it's an incredibly well-designed app. It's obviously one of the top apps or I think it is the top app as far as usage and income-wise in the space, at least in North America. And so it was an interesting juxtaposition that so closely after it being app of the year, apple has invested some level of resources into a similar feature set directly into Apple Maps and there's a lot of stuff that comes off of app, but


Justin (05:25):

Who decides it's app of the year? Is that something that Apple decides? Is that some sort of third party


Kyle (05:29):

Tech that's an internal Apple? Yeah, that's an internal Apple


Justin (05:32):

Thing they do. So they just happened to announce that right after the app of the year they were going to kind of do some stuff that seems like what


Kyle (05:39):

The was doing? Yeah, again, we have no idea of the cycle. I mean software cycles can be totally, this could have been in the works for a long time, a short amount of time


Justin (05:49):

Maybe they announced that all Trails is going to be app of the year just to gin up some interest in their Apple Trail tank or whatever going to be called.


Colin (05:58):

Have you guys heard of those?


Justin (06:00):

Seem weird. I mean Allt Trails is cool, but it's a bit weird that that's the app of the year. I mean I don't even have that app on my phone, I use it sometimes. I


Kyle (06:08):

Mean they've done an incredible job. It is. I worked in this space many years previously doing an app that was essentially a competitor to all Trails or something like that. But we always had a very small tech team for a little while. We were able to compete at the very beginning when we had just really good photos and focused on higher quality content. All Trails has raised a shit ton of money and very quickly caught up and I would say in the last year or two has really put the foot on the gas as far as user acquisition and experience goes. So for me, coming from a design background and that is what I do on a daily basis, subjectively they have a very good app.


Colin (07:02):

The history of Apple Maps is not great. I mean is there something to be said for how everybody hates Apple Maps and will this actually make any real difference before we even get into the other part of the conversation?


Kyle (07:12):

No, absolutely. That's definitely part of the conversation. I posted kind of a tongue in cheek thing on threads that got some ungodly number of views because it happened to be timely pointing out the comparison here. And a lot of people pointed out that, hey, I don't use Apple Maps to begin with. I don't trust Apple Maps. Why would I trust it for my trail roots? So that's an obvious hurdle on the Apple side for integrating that kind of feature and expecting it to be used. But I also think that it is a leading indicator anytime that you see a platform like Apple or Google or something like that start to integrate more things that we consider more niche features into a core feature set. So Apple either see, I mean there's a couple of explanations for why they might be doing this, but they see all trails, they see the growth of outdoor recreation and hiking and that kind of stuff starting to reach a critical mass where this is a valuable thing to be built into the operating system.


(08:25):

It's also possible that people in Cupertino that work for Apple over index for these type of features. And so there's an internal push for that kind of thing to be integrated because people that live in the bay might tend to be more outdoorsy, might like hiking, that kind of stuff. And so maybe they're putting the car before the horse here. But overall I don't expect it to have a huge impact on all trails or any of the other competitive apps, at least in the short term because those apps offer a lot of features that you're just not going to get from Apple.


Colin (09:01):

So you don't think Gaia, Strava, anybody, they shouldn't be like, well I imagine they'd be probably naturally worried if Apple's going to come stand on their corner but you don't think,


Kyle (09:09):

I think they're worried about it. I mean I think it's something that they're definitely going to have to continue thinking about. If you look at the general ecosystem of outdoor apps, you can kind of break it down into a couple of different key pillars. You kind of have your stuff that's focused on discovery, so what am I going to do this weekend or I'm traveling to this place, what are the cool things to do around there? You kind of have your rooting and activity tracking stuff. So your strava's like what am I doing while I'm on the trail? How do I track it? Have I done this before? How fast was I going? All of that kind of stuff. You have your root planning and GPX stuff, so elevation profiles, offline maps, maybe tons of different app layers. You might be looking at public lands, you might be looking at where can I camp, all kinds of crazy stuff like that.


(10:03):

And then you have at the end your more of the social components of those apps. So are users uploading recent photos or leaving reviews or trail conditions and things like that. So Apple is very well positioned to handle discovery, basic discovery just from a convenience standpoint. And then also the routing in GPX, they're offering offline maps straight into the operating system. So that is usually a key feature that across all apps in this space they use as a carrot to say, Hey, pay whatever all trails is 30, 35 bucks a year, download offline maps. OnX, same thing. Gaia, same thing if Apple's doing offline maps for free. That's like a pretty big chunk of the feature set that gets people to upgrade. That's


Justin (11:02):

The only thing I even do with Gaia. That's it only I even have. Yeah, exactly.


Kyle (11:06):

And there's millions of people that have Apple watches that Apple doesn't have anything that works great for trails right now if this works great with Apple Watch, that's just a convenient cost analysis there where if the only thing I'm using is offline maps, then oh yeah, sure, I'll just stick it on my watch and use Apple instead of paying for Gaia


Justin (11:32):

Outside Apple's going to. So when Apple decides, okay, we're going to have some level of complicated mapping abilities, do they have to basically create that themselves? Can they take stuff from apps in their ecosystem? Can they just take all trails trail data? Are they using the same thing that all trails or Gaia would be to build their mapping?


Kyle (11:54):

So it's kind of complicated. Most root data at its most basic is accessible via a service called Open Streete maps. So this, you can go there, there's an API, there's you can pull data points and roads and trails and biking routes and all kinds of stuff. That's all open source. There is quite a bit of manual work required to turn all of that into understandable routes. So for example, one of the ways that I tried to tell if they were pulling data from a partner app was I looked at the trail that was in the screenshots and tried to see if I can map up that exact trail as its own entity in any of the other apps and couldn't. There's a ton of variation because some will start at this parking lot, some will do this loop but include this little scenic viewpoint, some will.


(12:57):

And so there's all these little tiny combinations of things that make various loops or trails unique and I couldn't find a one-to-one representation of the one, at least the one that they were using in the screenshot, but apple's not exactly hurting for cash if they wanted to just pay a bunch of people to build these out. And what ends up happening is stuff gets copied. You can use the database of other people to identify what the most popular things are or what you should be tracking and then draw a little thing, upload it to the correct with a name or whatever. And so whether people admit it or not, there's definitely probably some crosspollination amongst apps, especially smaller ones as they're trying to build out their networks.


Justin (13:54):

I think that Apple needs to pay me to be the little cars that drive around on the streets. I'll wear a gimbal backpack Gimbal, is that the right you


Colin (14:03):

Talking about the Google cars or whatever?


Justin (14:05):

Yeah,


Kyle (14:05):

Little street view things.


Justin (14:06):

Yeah, yeah, but what the fuck, when I was an archeologist, we had these backpacks, was it Gimbal? That was the name of the brand. I think it was they were just fancy GPS things that you could, that's how you'd shot GPS coordinates back in the day. Just give me


Colin (14:18):

Hike everything.


Justin (14:19):

Yeah, they should just pay me to hike all my favorite trails and I could like mark every rock I could. Here's a good place to sit. Here's a log, I stashed a Snickers under this rock. There's a Heineken that's warm now behind this tree, whatever. It doesn't have to that deep detail. What


Colin (14:34):

If find it though? That's kind of the you


Justin (14:35):

Get have it. Whatcha talking about what do you get if you find it, you get warm


Colin (14:38):

Heineken. Thanks man that's great. I'd


Justin (14:40):

Be stoked. I think that's what they should do. I mean yeah, maybe that would be a good differentiator is what I'm trying to say.


Colin (14:47):

I mean there's something that makes sense of, regardless of how people feel about Apple Maps, if all of a sudden the trail function's killing it and it comes automatically installed and everybody's iPhone and I would make that switch and it's included, it's just sort now you don't have to pay for a third party app that you pay yearly subscription. Maybe they have to charge it or whatever, but it's already native to your device that, and I think


Kyle (15:07):

The bigger problem for these apps is that it's not people like us that are likely to just switch immediately because I dunno, we have some association. Yeah, I


Justin (15:19):

Like Gaia, I'm not going to switch you


Kyle (15:21):

Gaia all trails you like on X, whatever it is. But even just in the wake of the announcements, I saw several people who were like, oh hey look, the new OS does this. You can make roots. And I'm like,


Colin (15:36):

Came over everybody.


Kyle (15:37):

There's a dozen services that do this already, but all of a sudden this person that's not as in the community has it at their fingertips. And if they're deep in the Apple workflow that convenience,


Colin (15:52):

Convenience wins, they're never


Kyle (15:53):

Going to get out. Yeah,


Justin (15:55):

Okay. So Kyle, I mean they're obviously people that like me who have for whatever reason an affinity for Gaia. It was the first one I had and frankly they gave me a free subscription and I've just never looked back. Although as everybody who listens to rock fight knows I much prefer a paper topo map,


Colin (16:14):

We're going to get into that


Justin (16:15):

Different Oh good. Anyway, but it's not as if hiking is or visiting the outdoors is a niche thing at this point. As our producer put up for us here in the notes, 325 million people visit national parks each year, which is as far as I can tell, all of them are in Yosemite when I'm there. But that's a lot and 800 million to state parks, which is


Colin (16:41):

Wild. That's mind blowing. I mean I guess it makes sense.


Justin (16:43):

Sense. A lot of state parks are very small. You don't need a map for many state parks but still mean this is a gigantic 325 million. That's


Colin (16:52):

The population of the country. I


Justin (16:54):

Was just going to say that's basically every American


Colin (16:56):

Needs this and 800 million more than double that


Justin (16:59):

Going to state parks. This is going to appeal to apparently at least 325 million people and


Colin (17:04):

What's the percentage of those people that are thinking about this in the level that we are thinking about? To Kyle's point, right? It's like you're discerning about your app, which one you want to use. All these folks who are already recreating on a certain level now arming them with a solution.


Justin (17:20):

Also there's no chance that something like the Yosemite is a great example. I mean the valley's beautiful, but it's clearly basically museum showpiece for the rest of the national park system at this point that I would argue. But they're going to try to integrate stuff with something like Apple. Here's the walking tour of wherever John Muir made fun of Native Americans for being lazy or whatever. They're going to have some kind of,


Colin (17:44):

Did that happen?


Justin (17:45):

Oh


Kyle (17:45):

Yeah. I mean the National Parks has its own app that has all this stuff in it already.


Justin (17:50):

Okay, we'll


Kyle (17:50):

See it's actually not bad. I didn't know that. But again, another


Colin (17:54):

Capabilities in there.


Kyle (17:56):

I don't know if there's tracking but you can see where you are. Interesting. It's not like turn by turn or anything like that, but the NPS app is actually halfway decent.


Justin (18:07):

They will definitely have that. They like the Apple maps. It'll have Siri being like it will in 50 feet turn, right? No, not that right. Oh, that's going to be impossible on trails.


Kyle (18:16):

It's going to be impossible. But also, I mean I think what a lot of people actually use maps for on trails, especially with complicated trail systems is mostly like, did I take


Justin (18:28):

The right, where am I? Yeah, did I


Kyle (18:29):

Take the right junction?


Justin (18:30):

Yeah. Where am I


Kyle (18:31):

Right now? Unless less turn by turn. I mean that's what I mostly use maps for is I have a plan ahead of time, I know where I'm going, but at some point I'm like, oh this feels odd. Am I where I think I'm, did I miss a turn at some point?


Justin (18:46):

Well,


Colin (18:47):

And this is kind of where our conversation then evolved last week, right? It's that sort of place for tech in the back country discussion. Justin has sort of embrace his role as king of the outdoor Luddites. I tend to follow, you mean?


Justin (19:00):

I dunno, I like my wifi every back


Colin (19:03):

Country. Replay the episode


Justin (19:04):

Right now. Alright fine. I don't like being painted with such a broad brush. I'm a lud out about some things. You love


Colin (19:10):

To describe yourself


Kyle (19:11):

As a lud. He also said that he'd watch Netflix on top of a mountain. See?


Justin (19:15):

Exactly.


Colin (19:16):

Alright, that's fair. It was a Dodgers game, but you're right. He would


Justin (19:19):

Whatever was


Colin (19:20):

But as someone though, you're much closer to tech than we are. And this has been your career for a long time. What excites you about tech in the outdoors and what sort of worries you about tech in the outdoors? Is there a line? Is it just truly an individual thing? Where do you fall on this?


Kyle (19:36):

I mean I think to some extent it's an individual thing and I think the biggest problems are obviously what the carrying capacity of these places is and how much are we enabled? At what point are we enabling people that are not necessarily prepared to be out there or overflowing making places more discoverable. But then you get into a whole conversation about gatekeeping and about whether people who has the right to have access. That's in quotes. And I don't think I'm in a position to answer that question, but if things are on Apple maps or things like that and you're adding a hundred million more people that might be aware of these things, the problem is less that technology has a way for me to be on trail and more that more people are out there and that is the hardest conversation in the whole outdoor industry right now that no one likes to talk about.


Justin (20:36):

Well, I can tell you from firsthand experience we've talked about in the show, but the moment that you could pull up what the surf looked like on an internet screen or on a computer screen instantly became more crowded everywhere, at least in the good spots, the same spots, the places with cameras get crowded instantly and that will happen here. There are


Kyle (20:55):

Huge benefits. There's huge benefits, less people getting lost if Apple has the satellite messaging, that's amazing for rescue operations and stuff like that for the people that do get lost. I don't carry paper maps ever anymore. I have my GPS on my phone and I'm rarely gone long enough where I need more than that and that's kind of hard to beat. But more people, more problems.


Justin (21:30):

I mean it is very complicated and I don't mind having this conversation. You don't have to if you don't want to, but I use all trails in the discovery phase that you talked about because it's the only thing I know of other than individual forums about specific places where you can get a trip report this time of year I'm going, okay, what trails are open in Yosemite? What are still snowed in? What's the weather looking like in the Trinity? That sort of stuff. And there are Facebook groups for those and they're fine, but if someone doesn't, it's kind of a crap shoot whether or not anyone's been there. But with all trails it's same deal I guess. But I can be like, okay, what's this particular trail head right now? Someone's probably been there three days ago and it's fantastic or even last year at this month and you can kind of get an idea. And I use it for that, but I also kind of don't love it exists that I can Google what are the best hikes in this particular corner of this particular national park, even if they're super remote and boom, all trails has all of them and pictures of them and all this sort of stuff and it's just like shit, you used to have to work to find that. So I'm a little bit, yeah,


Kyle (22:34):

That's an internet, that's an internet problem, totally


Justin (22:36):

All trails. And also what do you do about it? You can't have someone like me going website to website going, no, no. As egotistical as I am, I still don't think that's a good idea. Well, isn't


Colin (22:47):

Part of the mission to get more people outside too? I, and I understand this is where I bristle sometimes on the overcrowding thing as well because it's like I'm not saying there aren't problems that come from this. Your point about, we talked about it with the Surfline cameras, it's a good one because in places where now where there are people out there who shouldn't be out there, especially like Ocean Beach and places like that, that's the point you've made on that, right? So but if we want to celebrate whatever it is, the Scottish doctor who's prescribing mountain biking for people as, or whatever the story, pick the anecdote of people getting people outside is healthier and ultimately we think will lead to a better world, well then we also can't say, well you can't go there or you can't have access to that,


Justin (23:32):

Right? No one's saying that. Nobody's saying, I'm just pointing out that you can't, you're getting defensive. I am hard. It's like nobody wants to called a gatekeeper and I'm not the gatekeeping. I'm just pointing out that same reason. I like using a paper map. There's something to me worthwhile about it. It's a challenge. I have to sit down and try and exercise my quickly fading orienteering skills to figure out where I am on a map versus just pulling up Gaia. And I have a more deep experience doing that, but of course that's rare. Not most people don't. But this more


Colin (24:02):

Of a, is this a generational thing where it's like, well, you should learn how to drive a stick shift even if there are no more


Justin (24:07):

Stick shift.


Colin (24:08):

I'm sure that it is first,


Justin (24:09):

But that also doesn't make it wrong. But I'm sure that it is. But it also, there's a layer of complexity that we're removing. Well, one of


Colin (24:17):

Your favorite stories is your first backpacking trip and your kit you took on your first backpacking kit and it's like, but is this just the modern equivalent of the rules you have to learn and the way you have to learn how to engage with nature? I


Justin (24:28):

Bristle at the rules thing. I'm just saying I think that there is an argument to be made for a different kind of enjoyment that isn't based on someone telling you the answer constantly. That's it. That's


Colin (24:38):

All


Kyle (24:39):

I think that's fair.


Justin (24:41):

Don't roll over


Colin (24:41):

Tech guy. Come on.


Justin (24:44):

It's just that simple.


Colin (24:45):

Technology is the


Justin (24:45):

Answer. I would never tell somebody they shouldn't. I mean that's just how I think. That's just my thought.


Colin (24:56):

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Kyle (25:31):

Yeah, I mean I think that there's a balance. I mean I think it's interesting particularly that Apple is focusing on national parks first of all, right? So they only launch this in national parks. I assume they'll roll out more stuff as they go, but that's part of the problem with the concentration of people that are getting sent places like Yellowstone had four and a half million visitors last year, most of which were probably on the little section of road between West Yellowstone and Jackson that hitting the geysers and the pools and all that stuff. So yeah, I want people to be getting outside, but at what point can Yellowstone not support? Is it 5 million? Is it 6 million?


Colin (26:23):

Do we know?


Kyle (26:24):

Do we know? And especially if it's concentrated in these particular areas because there are still, as much as people like to complain about crowds like, oh my gosh, crazy people find out about a beautiful place and want to go there. Like, oh my God, who would've thought? But there are other options. There are places in Colorado that aren't where everyone's at, and yes, there's more people outdoors than ever, but


Justin (26:56):

Oh my God, I just had an idea for a really good app. Tell me what you guys think. So basically it's like a reverse all trails or whatever you want to go with. Oh,


Kyle (27:06):

I know exactly what this is going to be. I


Justin (27:08):

Thought about doing this maybe because, well, my thinking is now I know where people aren't everybody is it whatever. Now I know either, whether it's a trail or even a freaking section of Williamsburg, like, oh, everybody from such and such a place is in such and such national park. That means I can get a seat at any coffee shop I want in this neighborhood. Or now these restaurants are going to be open.


Kyle (27:30):

I thought about two versions of this, one of which was to make the paid version of the app actually reveal the more popular hide some of the popular places and you have to pay to see everything. The other alternative to that was make the sorting algorithm, anytime you searched, emphasize less visited places, you would need the level of interaction that all trail has in order for this to actually work. Because all trails actually has the data on when people are hiking stuff and how many and they can, Strava has similar capabilities. I don't think most other apps really have Gaia. There's just not enough people sharing shit on Gaia or OnX or things like that for it to really work. But the problem with that is that one, eventually it'll switch back the other direction. And two, it's purely the economic aspect. If people aren't seeing things that they recognize, and even if they're reasonably equally as beautiful and yada yada, they won't use the app and they won't pay for it. And so they'll go to an app that does show them the most beautiful and the most popular places because they're beautiful and popular.


Colin (28:54):

I like your idea though Justin, about bringing it back from the outdoors to city stuff. Oh yeah. Like, oh, this is where you want to go eat. Everybody's at this park over here, you want to go out to this coffee


Justin (29:03):

Shop. Everybody in San Francisco is always excited during Burning Man week because that city just empties out. There's no traffic. You can go to wherever, restaurant or bar you want to, and there's like nobody there. I have another idea for not an app itself, but within the app and maybe you guys can tell me if this is a good idea or not. So the other day I was on a bike ride and it is a unsanctioned trail and I'd only been there once and I couldn't quite remember where the trailhead was. It's a hidden, I guarantee Strava, if I had Strava, which I don't pay for anymore, I could just look at a heat map and it would be there. I mean people can't resist fucking doing that even though it's an unsanctioned trail that it's supposed to be hidden. But that'ss a different story between unsanctioned and just unsanctioned is someone is a trail that people built without.


(29:45):

That's not the governing authority built. Got it. Poaching would be like, this is a hikers only trail. So these are trails that are only really there for mountain bikes. Anyway, I found it so fine, but I was tempted for split. My part of my brain was like, oh, you've used heat maps on Strava. Part of me was like, pull it out. I don't have that. But had I had it, I would've used it. What if this might alleviate a lot of my concern. What if we could bake something into these apps that after you've hiked a certain amount of hikes, it starts to go, okay, this point this person's probably forming opinions about this is too crowded, this isn't, now I want to find it on my own. Maybe I don't. And it's almost like a governor where it's like, okay or something where a little screen pops up and it's like, are you sure that you want to know this? So it's measuring your behavior, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, or something. Find me this, I can't find this trail that's illegal or whatever. And it's like, sure. Maybe the app is like, are you sure you don't want to just figure this out yourself? Do you want me to do this for you? And then you could think about it and you could be like, okay, fine. Good point app. I should figure this out on my own. I've relied on you too much. I like this idea.


Kyle (30:51):

I mean it is an interesting, an experiment. I don't think it would work


Justin (30:55):

In practice or patronizing. Is it good or bad? Oh, that's a great idea. Think about it, for example, I mean, okay, even my story about using all trails for what I like to use it for. I never used to do that. I'd look at a topo and be like, I know what a canyon looks like on a topo. This looks dope. Now I'm just like, fuck it all trails. Is this a hike around here? But I'd rather I should just be in my own. Well you love the discovery part of it though. Yeah, that's what I mean. So maybe the app is like, dude, are you sure? And I'll be like, good point. No, I'm going to go back to the maps.


Kyle (31:27):

I mean maybe there's some interesting kind of user psychology going on here. I would say in my experience that I've never had a power user ever ask for less features. Well


Justin (31:39):

Sure, because we get fucking addicted.


Kyle (31:40):

I have never asked for someone that is the strongest users of your application ask for less


Justin (31:47):

Like a crack dealer saying, I never get my busiest clients coming up to me and saying, I want less crack. Please. Right, exactly. We get addicted to this stuff. Seriously. I'm joking obviously. But also there's a kernel of truth here, which is that even someone like me who might have philosophical stances against some of this stuff, I still get addicted to using it. I'd rather not, but I still do it. So that's all convenience out there throwing it. Convenience wins out. I'm just throwing it out there. Yeah, yeah.


Kyle (32:16):

I mean I did at some point prototype some things that were user interventions meant to increase the friction. There we go on certain trails. So if I was trying to download the map of a trail that we had identified above some certain threshold of activity that rather than just hitting the download, you had to hold it down and you saw a little message that time that says, Hey, just letting you know this is a super high impact trail, you might want to consider other alternatives. We're not going to stop you from downloading this, but just a heads up, that's great. Did


Colin (32:58):

That have an impact? Did people


Kyle (33:00):

Never built it? This was just purely this never made it past the experiment.


Colin (33:04):

I would imagine that, I mean enough folks who do the things that we do care enough. I mean you think at some point that would definitely flip towards positivity, right? Be like, oh, there would be a second thought. Be enough People who have that second thought like, okay, I'll go over here today instead. Especially people who know the area. I would imagine that would have an impact.


Kyle (33:20):

And it's the same with Reveal. I mean I think part of this experimentation came out of the never ending conversation about Geotags, which is the most tired conversation in the whole outdoor industry where, yeah, okay, let's say focusing on geotags is the wrong conversation in my opinion. But let's just say that instead of an exact location, that same intervention had to happen for you to reveal the location of something. But at the end of the day, I mean these locations are out there. You can't blame the apps, you can't blame the bloggers. I don't know, bring in frigging Utah spending millions of dollars a year to drive people to Moab running ad campaigns and out of home and all of that kind of stuff. Focusing on those little, the geotags, which happens, I don't know, it comes up every six months or so. I feel like some influential photographer or something is like, oh no geotags.


Colin (34:25):

Justin, did you geotag your Heineken that you left out there?


Justin (34:27):

I wish. I don't even Heineken. I don't know why I, it's a random choice. I out there now. I'm kind of thinking that the easier way to solve all my existential problems with this would be to just, what if we just forgot that it didn't used to be this way? Or what if we just forgot that in the six? Well, because so much of this same thing with surfing. There's a golden era of everything and it's usually when nobody knew that it was a thing, and it's like the first people that figured it out, it was like, oh fuck, we can just go backpack throughout these beautiful places in the Sierra. There's nobody here. This is amazing. We could do whatever we want. And same thing with surfing. There's people figured it out. Oh, you could surf in California and in the fifties you could surf any wave you wanted to and there were three people and you knew them all for the most part other than Malibu.


(35:11):

But now there's just how many millions of people in California? 38 40. And it's the same thing. I mean the US population is three 30 million. I remember when it was 200 something when I was a kid. So at a certain point it doesn't even matter. There's just way more fucking people. And so you have people like me who are old enough to kind of remember when you kind of take your pick of what you wanted to do and you didn't have to worry about crowds, but that day is gone. So maybe we just forget that that was ever like that. And if all you ever knew was pulling up an app and being like, here's all the places you should go and why you should go there, then maybe then you don't have to worry about what we've lost. Are you saying year old? Is that what I I'm not saying that. No, not really. I mean this is all so new, right? I mean, how old is Gaia? I may have that for 10 years maybe, right? It's all still pretty new. So anyway, that's all


Colin (35:59):

One thing. We've kind of screwed it around and it's kind of the topic of the day. I mean, how does AI play in all of this? I got to think it's going to have a role at some point if it doesn't already.


Kyle (36:08):

I mean I think the challenge becomes how does, if you're using say AI for these kind of load balancing things or determining where crowds are going and that sort of stuff at a more algorithmic level, what inputs is it using to determine that? Because we can't make those decisions based on pure traffic or the number of people that are doing something. I referenced Yellowstone as high impact places and all those geothermal pools see millions of people a year, but they're also designed to handle really high volumes of people. There's boardwalks, you're not supposed to be on stuff. The carrying capacity for those types of trails, although it's insane, is going to be much different than what happened at whatever it was the dream. I don't know that really Emerald Lake in the Tetons that kind of got discovered a couple years ago, it's a beautiful, beautiful view right below the Teton was a pseudo off trail, not official thing, blew up on Instagram and then has kind of been used as the poster child of geo tagging of like, oh, I saw this picture of this lake and now I know where to cut off on the main trail to go to this lake.


(37:38):

There's a conversation to be had there of should the park service have realized this and intervened sooner and developed a trail that could support people. But that's a very different scenario than there is a million people going to see Old Faithful, right? That's designed has a parking lot the size of Texas to support people sitting in walking on those boardwalks. So I don't know what those inputs are, right? I don't know if we have the real access to those inputs for even an AI to make smart decisions about how that ranking or balancing and stuff would


Justin (38:20):

Work. Well, that's not going to stop somebody from trying though, that's


Kyle (38:23):

For sure. No, definitely not. But I don't know. The use of AI has been so poor thus far because it just spits out top 10 lists based on the million top 10 lists that bloggers have written about for. I mean, I wrote a whole article about SEO, how SEO works and that kind of thing, but it's all the same shit. And it's what AI is going to spit out now reframe because so many people have written top 10 articles and all trails has top tens and Gaia has top tens and Outside magazine has top tens. There's a ton of other data sources that most apps don't use or they make you pay extra for various layers with what's Forest Service land, what's BLM? What's the most recent? Cal Topo has a lot of interesting stuff that makes them unique and therefore insulated from someone like Apple because they have the most recent satellite imagery from six different satellite networks.


(39:23):

There's all kinds of different varying things there that you mostly don't see except in power users or in apps like Topo that have a lot of features that are designed for search and rescue and really advanced planning and that kind of stuff. But on the topic of the moats that people have, Apple's biggest shortcoming is that they're not likely to have any of the social things because they never do social. I don't know if you guys remember Ping, but that was Apple's social network music thing fail drastically. We really haven't seen Apple do anything kind that integrates user interaction that's shared since then. Where I would be concerned with this feature set is whether Google gets into the same space because they have done a very good job over the years of taking bites out of the travel industry with reviews, with photos that are all shared restaurants and same Yelp still exists. Expedia still exists, kayak still exists, all of that stuff. But Google year after year just takes a little bit more and a little bit more. And if they get into trail maps, I am deep in the Google ecosystem. If there's trail maps in Google, that's probably it for me.


(41:04):

So that's what I would be more concerned about than Apple, to be honest. For most of these apps


Colin (41:09):

Just wait until Hausman Map starts and he just draws the wrong routes and uploads. It takes people to the Kmart down the street. How did I get here?


Justin (41:20):

Not I get it, I'm hyperbolic, but I totally get, if you don't mind, I'd like to end somewhat on an anecdote. Okay. Which is that, and this is heartfelt. I don't mean this, it really is. Okay. So I dunno, maybe 10 years ago I was backpacking with my wife and we were up in, I think desolation somewhere near Tahoe. We never really go up there and we found a great spot probably with something like fucking All Trails, right? Here's a good place to go. And we get there and it was beautiful and it was amazing. And I'm fishing, I'm having a great time, we're having a lovely time. And all of a sudden you can hear music and I'm like, what the fuck? And I kind of go around this rocky kind of outcrop that we're camped in front of. And on the other side there's a bunch of people with a lot of shit.


(42:07):

Way more than you think you could back. We had to hike 12 miles to get there. And they have stuff that there's no way you carry for 12 miles. None of these people looked like they'd ever been backpacking in their lives and they had a little boombox and I couldn't figure it out. And I was really annoyed and I didn't say anything. I was just annoyed When I got back and looked at a map, I realized, holy shit, there's a road that was way close. You could just start from this road and just walk in without even hiking to it. I it together. You


Colin (42:32):

Like 12 miles.


Justin (42:32):

Yeah. Well it was amazing. Really beautiful hike part. It was on the PCT, it was really cool. But when I put it together, I'm more used to places that don't have roads crossing them. So it's like it wouldn't even have occurred to me to look, see there was a road nearby, but that was indicative of two things. One, okay, I have a lot to learn about how maps work, but two, it's not up to me. After a while I was like, you know what? These people are like, they probably don't go outside that much. Maybe they're uncomfortable without this stuff and this noise and all these sorts of things. And the kind of concern I had about who got here and why it just kind of went away. It was just gone. It was just like, okay, this is my experience, this is their experience. There's nothing wrong with them having their experience. I just want to put that out there that I'm not like some gatekeeping, anti-tech weirdo. I have ways I like doing things. You have ways you let doing things and that's totally fine. And the more the better. And if people want to use Apple Maps to route their things, that's great. That's fine. That's totally fine. I have no issues with that. So Colin, stop it. Stop being mean to me.


Colin (43:37):

I'm sorry


Justin (43:37):

Buddy. Thank you. Thank you.


Colin (43:39):

But it is, I love the Google Maps thing really is an interesting point because I used to be a Yelp guy. I was on Yelp all the time and now I just, no, of


Justin (43:46):

Course you were. I can see that. But


Colin (43:47):

Now I just use Google Maps. I never go to Yelp anymore. It's all on Google Maps. I


Justin (43:51):

Order shit through Google. It's just order online, dinner


Colin (43:54):

Reservations, check hours


Justin (43:56):

For things. Talk to my wife for me. Sure. Yeah, your wife is calling. Oh, lemme get Google. What does she want? I got to go.


Colin (44:05):

Alright. Hey Kyle, thanks so much. Always a pleasure to have you on. I hope to have you on again soon. Anything what's coming up this week? Anything you want to tease?


Kyle (44:13):

Not sure yet. There's probably some topics around overt tourism in a couple of different places around the world right now. Unsurprisingly.


Justin (44:22):

Alright,


Colin (44:22):

Good time of year for


Kyle (44:23):

It. Places where that's boiling over, so excellent. Yeah, we'll see. Couple things in the hopper.


Colin (44:29):

Alright man, it's been too long. Hope Dave, hope to have you on again soon. Thank you. Thanks man. Appreciate it. Yeah, good to be here. Okay, thanks Kyle. Alright, that's the show for today. How do you use tech in your adventures? Are you excited about new tech developments in the outdoors? Are you nervous about them? Send your feedback to my rock flight@gmail.com. The rock fight is a production of Rock Flight LL C. Our producer for this episode was David Kasad Art Direction by Sarah Genser and for Justin Hausman, I'm Colin True and like always to sing You a little Diddy. A little Diddy called the Rock Fight Fight song. It's Krista Makes and he's here to rock along to our theme song and we'll see you next time. Rock fighters. Rock


Chris DeMakes (45:08):

Fight, rock fight. Rock fight. Rock fight. Rock fight. Rock fight. Here we go. Look into the rock bike where we speak our truth. Stay sacred cows and sometimes agree to disagree. We talk about human power, outdoor activities and pick bikes are about topics that we find interesting like my culture, music, the latest movie reviews, ideas for the head. This is where we speak our truth. This is where we speak our truth. Black bike, the bag. Welcome to the.

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