Get to know Geco: free orienteering event management software

Geco-gecolive_large

Last year we looked at some of the free software available for orienteering, which could potentially open up the accessibility of the sport and reduce costs. We featured O-Scape, mapping software which is freely available across PC, Mac and Linux platforms, and mentioned some of the other free software available such as Purple Pen for planning courses and Ór for event and result management. 

Now, we've got news of more free software available for orienteering with Geco, event management software born in France, which was first released at the start of the year having been used at the Orient'Show in France last year

Initially developed to deal with the complexities that the Orient'Show style of racing presents, it has been developed further to offer a solution for more traditional events as well as other events where with complex punching or controls can be missed.

We caught up with developer Simon Denier to find out more about the project and its development, which should give you a good overview of the software:


Nopesport: Geco developed due to the difficulty of managing orient-show type events, what are the benefit of using Geco for this over existing software?

Simon: An Orient'Show event has some unconventional rules which are cumbersome to manage with existing software. First, in an orient'show you have the right to mispunch up to 4 controls without being disqualified: you just get a 30 seconds penalty. So software should be able to count MPs in the runner trace and add penalties. Before Geco we used OE to manage the race and another layer to analyze the results from OE and compute penalties. However this means it was difficult to get the real result right after reading the runner card (because we didn't have a clear view of penalties yet), but mostly it gave us cold sweat whenever we used butterflies courses - and that is for all our finals! We use butterflies for finals so that finalists can run exactly the same course together without following each other.

What exactly is the problem with butterfly courses? Maybe you have seen this problem already when analyzing MPs: let's say you have three controls, 31, 32, 33 and two loops: so the sequence 31 -> 32 -> 31 -> 33 -> 31 is one possible order for the butterfly (where 31 is the central control). Say a runner forgot to punch 31 the first time, so his trace looks like 32 -> 31 -> 33 -> 31. Typically checking algorithms will start looking for the 31 control, skip the 32 punch and find the 31 punch after, then start looking for the 32 control, which it never finds because it was skipped! In the end the algorithm reports that it found the first 31 punch but that controls 32, 31, 33, 31 are missing. This is fine if you just care about whether people are MP (like in a classic race), but completely misleading if you try to understand what the runner has done - and of course wrong if you want the number of MPs.

One could think that this rarely happens but for some reason, mispunching the central control was a recurring event during our Orient'Shows. And since this happened during finals, it was rather stressing for us because we had to rebuild the trace and count the true MPs all by hand while people were waiting for the final results!

With Geco we have an algorithm which can accurately count the number of MPs even in case of a butterfly miss. It gives us an immediate feedback when the runner downloads his card so we can see what went wrong in his race. Actually, runners in finals are often tired or stressed and can easily make strange errors: we have seen runners bypassing 1 or even 2 loops in a butterfly, or even taking a loop in reverse order!

So:

1) accurate algorithm to compute MPs and penalties (even in case of butterfly miss)

2) better view of data when runners download their card

are two arguments for Geco.

Then an Orient'Show is not just a single race, but up to 7 races in the same event: you can have 4 parallel pools (each runner has to run in each pool to be ranked) then quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals with knocked-out qualifications after each race.

With Geco we have a streamlined workflow to manage all these races and especially qualifications. Geco can merge results from the parallel pools. It can compute results then compute heats and startlists for the next stage. So we don't have to mix different softwares, data formats, and perform an error-prone process to do qualifications

So: 

3) streamlined workflow for parallel pools and knockout qualifications

is another plus.

Nopesport: Orient-show is a growing format, does Geco open up the opportunities for other new formats of racing?

Simon: Incidentally, the Geco algorithm for Orient'Show also supports the Billygoat format out of the box. As far as I know (Billygoat is completely unknown in France and I hope that we will be able to organize one now :)), Billygoat is a classic inline race (with a mass start) where you have the right to skip one control, which opens interesting tactical choices to the runners. So it's like an Orient'Show, but where you have the right to mispunch one control without any time penalty!

Maybe there are other possibilities but I think that some people will invent them before I do!

Nopesport: And what about the development of support for traditional event management? What benefits does Geco offer here?

Simon: For now Geco supports classic inline orienteering and Orient'Shows (and Billygoat). Also another important (and growing) goal of Geco is to provide a better, simpler, experience for the organizer.

There is already lots of orienteering software out there, and it's difficult to compare with all, so I'll just make a list of important/interesting features in Geco (but that does not mean that Geco is the only one to provide the feature):

  • automatic mode, which can be used to handle an event without pre-registration
    • automatically insert new entries when downloading e-cards
    • detect the course from the punch trace in e-card (thanks again to the orient'show algorithm)
    • look up for new entries in archive to retrieve name, club, category…
       
  • Enhanced user experience through simple workflow and UI: Geco favors direct accessibility and manipulation of data through its views
    • the different times/aspects of an event appear as tabs in the interface, just click through
       
  • handle SPORTident cards
  • import course from the IOF XML format
  • compatibility with CSV import/export format for OE (because OE is still the leader in France)

Also, did I mention that Geco is multi-platform? (tested under Windows and Mac, but some problems with Linux)

Nopesport: What are your future plans for Geco?
 
Simon: For the next releases, there are two main axis of development:
  • support for different formats of event, starting with score orienteering. Precisely, that means I'm changing the internals of Geco so that it's easy for developers to extend it, add new rules for different formats and custom UI;
  • even more automation to manage common tasks even more easily, like a pre-registration mode when reading cards, using the automatic course detection in multiple places, and lots of small stuff which revolve around these features.
And since some people (other than me) start to be interested in extending Geco, I'm also putting all this stuff online on the development website.
 
Nopesport: Finally, where did the name Geco come from? 
 
Simon: In France we love acronyms so we have one for the electronic management of events, which is GEC (Gestion Electronique de Course). Just add a O for orienteering, and because I think that a gecko is a fun animal, you get the idea! Pretty original huh? So after the beginning of the project the name literally 'sticked' around :)
 
Finally, a last word to thank Martin Flynn from Ór fame, who was gentle enough to lend me his code for reading SportIdent ecards.
 

So, have a look at Geco and have a think about the new orienteering formats you could try, or else see whether it offers a lightweight and free alternative to your existing event management software.

You can also view the visual overview of the 2010 orient-show courses, which clearly shows additional and mis-punches of competitors and is available straight after download. 

 

Geco-livemap_config_square Geco-runners_panel_notes_square Geco-results_square

Nopesport relies on user submitted articles. Got an inside scoop? An event review? Please submit it to us.

Submitanarticle

Orienteering headlines from around the web:

World of O

Bof News

Nopesport is supported by these advertisements