You can read the details of Souvenirs here: http://www.geocaching.com/about/souvenirs.aspx
Essentially, you either find a Geocache within a Souvenir zone, or you search for a Geocache using the official Geocaching app for your phone (iPhone or Android) and you get an icon added to a tab on your public profile page.
Users have discovered if you go back and re-log a cache you have already found you will be awarded the Souvenir right away. According to this post from cacher Moun10Bike on the Groundspeak forums, they will eventually go back through the database and retroactively award Souvenirs you may have already earned. The other telling comment he made was this:
“I’d agree that more information on the souvenirs would be helpful, but the team behind them felt that the mystery would help spur desire for them.”
Well, I’m not sure if it has spurred my desire to earn more Souvenirs, but it certainly has fuelled speculation over what the real intent of this new feature is. Currently I have three guesses as to the intent and what the future holds for Souvenirs:
Attempting to break into the foursquare “badges” space. For those not familiar with foursquare, it is a location-based “game” where you check in to various venues to let people know where you are. In addition, people can leave tips about the venue to share with others as they check in. As you complete certain tasks, you unlock badges for your profile. Check in more than anyone else into a certain location and you become the “Mayor”. Go to a bar four nights in a row and you earn the “Bender” badge. Check in to more than 50 places and become a “Superstar”…and so on. Some badges are hidden so you don’t know about them until you earn them. Some badges are one-time things where you need to check into a major event to earn them. Since the Souvenir page says you just need to search for a cache using one of the mobile apps to earn the badge, there would be no need to actually find a physical cache if one just wanted to play the souvenir game. Imagine a world where whoever finds the most caches in Calgary becomes the “mayor”, the most in the province becomes the “premier” and most in the country becomes “prime minister”. Whole new world for the numbers cachers to aspire to. We’ve recently seen Facebook jump into the location-based business with Facebook Places so it is the trend-du-jour for tech companies right now.
A replacement for challenge caches. Challenge caches are special caches where a cache owner requires the seeker to have completed a set of requirements prior to finding the cache. Some examples are the Mapsheets of AB challenge, where you need to find at least two caches from 36 of the 50 maps covering Alberta or the Lonely Challenge Cache which has more requirements than I care to count. With these challenge caches becoming more and more commonplace, Groundspeak is in the uncomfortable position of saying “No ALRs” yet allowing challenge caches, which are clearly ALRs* Instead of earning “just another smiley” for completing a challenge, you earn a souvenir. Get the “mapping” souvenir for your state, get the Fizzy challenge, etc. Now anyone in the world could complete the Lonely Cache challenge even if they don’t live within a 1000 miles of the actual cache. The actual cache loses the ALR requirements and becomes “just another Traditional” open to everyone.
*ALR is short for Additional Logging Requirements. This is a type of cache where the owner required the seeker to perform some additional task before they could claim a Find – such as “post a photo of you wearing a funny hat at the cache site.” ALRs were banned in a recent update to the Geocaching Guidelines with an exception for challenge caches.
Stillborn. Geocachers are a little jaded when it comes to new things being rolled out by Groundspeak. We saw Wherigo become “the next big thing” and then saw development on it basically stop – there have been no updates to the official Groundspeak Wherigo software in more than two years. We saw Locationless and Virtual caches get spun off into Waymarking and wither on the vine. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the Groundspeak lackeys get interested in some other shiny object and move on leaving souvenirs a footnote in the history of caching.
Only time will tell if I am right about any of these or if Souvenirs take off in some different direction I don’t see see right now. They currently haven’t captured my imagination but I reserve the right to change my mind if they develop into something useful.