About Tom Benjamin

Researcher, exploring games and multimedia applications to education.

The Hero’s Journey in Gamification and Marketing

Marketing has seen applications of every sort of theory: psychology, operations research, anthropology – you name it.  A number of marketers have mentioned Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a way of framing advertising.

A hero’s journey has a number of common elements:

  1. The common day
  2. A distress call to adventure
  3. A victim
  4. The hero is singled out as ‘the one’ who can help
  5. There may be initial reluctance
  6. They enter a world of supernatural wonder
  7. Help from a wise mentor
  8. Gods or supernatural benevolent beings assist (or interfere)
  9. Tasks and battles
  10. Trials – the unanticipated; accident; treachery; treason
  11. Transformation of the hero
  12. Return with a Boon to share with others

The logical question arising is “Who is to be the hero?”.  Examination of the heroic role and the history of advertising reveals a number of good answers to this. Advertisers soon learned to promote the buyer as the hero. In this role the product becomes not the hero but the hero’s empowering tool.

The subject matter, such as math, science, product or service, can take many roles. It can be the hero, the hero’s empowering tool, or the prize/boon.

Even the dark side can be used. Sometimes a game portrays maths or science as the trial or obstacle to be overcome. Whether that is a good way to retain future interest in these subjects is a matter for caution.

Folklore gives us any number of precedents for these joint roles: Jason and the Golden Fleece, Percival and the Holy Grail, King Arthur and his sword Excalibur, Aladdin and the Genie, Thor and his Hammer. On TV we had The Lone Ranger and his horse Silver, Sergeant Preston and dog King, Captain Nelson and Jeannie, Knight Rider and his car KITT. There were often human ‘sidekicks’ like Tonto or Batman’s Robin. All these had a secondary but distinctive contribution empowering the hero.

In service industries the empowering tool will be a person. So the canny marketer is careful that the credibility and potency of the potential buyer is not threatened by contrast with the service provider as hero. Sometimes the buyers, particularly females, were cast in the Damsel in Distress role. But commonly the buyer is portrayed as the potential hero, like Aladdin, who only needs to rub the magic lamp to summon the empowering tool.  Indeed, many ads actually portrayed the Magic Lamp.

Taking the common example of a pest control product:

  1. the hero is a householder at home doing something routine in the kitchen or bathroom.
  2. The householder is called to action when the villain pest arrives
  3. it menaces the victims, commonly the children or those about to eat.
  4. The buyer realises action must be taken
  5. They don’t know where to turn
  6. A wonder product appears
  7. A scientist, elder or helpful neighbour explains and endorses the product
  8. The product is “brought to you by …[sponsor] ”  “from the makers of …”
  9. A battle ensues
  10. Progress reversed temporarily as a cat or child spills something
  11. The householder beams with pride as they have become a hero
  12. The meal is served, the kids go off to school and they all live happily ever after

Applications of this eventually became so formulaic as to become a cliché. As advertisers saw the coming demise of ‘the 30 second grab’ in the digital era of recorded broadcasts, fast forwards, mute buttons and eventually the Internet, there was often no time for such a sequence within the limited grabs now available.

The next cliché to appear attempted to harness game enthusiasm to hold attention and loyalty. This blending of advertising and gaming was termed “advergaming” and it became a repertoire staple.  Ad companies began placing advertisements within commercial video games and hired game developers to craft online game experiences based around their products.

The game industry became so big in its own right that it marketed physical merchandise like action figures and board games to promote its products.

For the purposes of my www.openlearning.com Gamification course, it is sufficient for the marketer to substitute the marketing roles they intend for games in place of the educational examples I’ve offered. The marketer’s goal is not so much ‘learning’ as ‘change’. The marketer has more in common with the therapist in harnessing gamification psychological processes to get the client, whether patient or buyer, to take some action, perhaps obtain something, and apply it. The therapist is very much in a service industry like financial planners, insurance agents, lawyers and many others. So their applications of Gamification and the hero’s journey will have similar role allocations.

The main thing to bear in mind is that it is not usually going to be the vendor, therapist or teacher who is to be portrayed and remembered as the hero. A brand recognition goal might be for the product to be remembered as co-hero , like Tonto or Jeannie or as an impersonal empowering  entity like the Magic Lamp.  Traditional sponsorship and public relations had the perceived ‘arms’ length’ independent role. In traditional analogy this benevolent benefactor role would correspond to the ‘god’ ‘supernatural being’ or ‘mentor’ role –ie- “brought to you by …. [sponsor]”.

In summary, roles and actions in the digital era may follow patterns in traditional market activity. Human nature responds to the same needs and the same practical products solutions will be needed to satisfy these needs. Gamification is but another application of these principles.

Free Online Gamification Course: Game Design in Education, Assessment, and Therapy

I’m offering a free online Gamification Course with a focus on game design in education, assessment, and therapy, thanks to the generous folks at OpenLearning.com. I’ve had a long association with the University of New South Wales in Sydney and this extends the relationship into the 21st Century. This blog is a good place to offer a few words of explanation.  This course is very general and is targeted at teachers and therapists. It offers ways to create simple custom games. If the game design costs and time are kept to a minimum then a game version need only offer a benefit/cost advantage rather than lay any claim to increased learning.

While game design can be applied to advertising, such commercial applications are usually professional-level productions with detailed attention to user interface. Unlike teachers, advertisers would rarely have a need for a simple, rough, quick custom game. Classroom teachers can offer direct assistance if a game interface proves too difficult.

The psychological principles in my course are relevant to commercial applications but teachers have greater latitude because they can tweak the game design on the fly. The default position for teachers is to fall back on traditional methods which the research shows would stack up well against a game version. Advertisers may not have such luxury once they’ve locked into an expensive professionally-designed game promotion.

The course has 17 movies spread over 6 learning modules. It sounds like a lot but taken together these add up to less time than listening to a single traditional evening lecture. The real work is of course off-site. The learner is intended to go off and do their own research then apply what is learned to their own situation.

In such a role, the movies merely need to grab attention. Viewers can pause, re-wind, or go to the text on the page if they want details. The movies also serve to demonstrate techniques the learners can apply to their own teaching such as use of text to speech, avatars, Ken Burns Effect, transitions, multitracking … to name but a few.

Hence my movies deliberately use every cheesy effect I could muster. I don’t recommend learners do the same – quite the opposite. Throughout the movies I ask the learner whether it wouldn’t have been simpler, classier and more efficient to use text to convey the information rather than multimedia. The intent is sobriety rather than hypocrisy.

I use music, psychology and astronomy as my demo’s mainly to kill 2 birds with one stone. I do this in my spare time for free. I’m not a maths teacher. Therefore, while I would love to see maths teachers apply these methods to their teaching I’m not the guy to lead them. I can show them tools like the spreadsheets at http://chandoo.org/wp/tag/tom-benjamin/  but only maths teachers would know which parts of their curriculum might benefit from gamification.

On the other hand, music is intrinsic to this course. It was the methods of music therapy such as OrffSchulwerk that introduced me to concepts of ‘restricted alternatives’.  Music (http://www.oz-rock.com) has been an activity of mine since the days I sang weddings and frat parties in Detroit.

Astronomy taught me empowerment. Telescopes were my first purchases as a kid with paper route money. My homemade telescopes in a dark rural night show me intergalactic space as it really appears, rather than as time-exposed Hubble-o-rama.

Psychology was my university major and initial career. So these are activities I would do on my weekends anyway.  Between music, psychology and astronomy you have a pretty broad spectrum. So the demonstrations with these topics ought to be more than enough to give ideas for game and multimedia applications to other subjects and sectors.

Although I intended the ‘quest’ format to be obvious to any who do the demo’s such as The Lost Composer Mystery Quest, below is a simple summary of the sequence:

1. Call to Adventure Vignette: movie, slideshow, audio or text intro to the ‘mission’ to identify the ‘lost’ component (lost city, lost song, lost hero, lost equation, lost artwork … whatever)

2. Clue #1: quite difficult and peripherally related to subject -ie- astronomy clues to a music quest or vice-versa; cryptic crosswords, indirect movie or audio clues

3. Clues #2 #3 etc. increasingly more direct and easier clues: crosswords, puzzles, shoot-em-up interactive gamelets etc that give further clues as rewards

4. Final Clues dead giveaway clues allowing all participants to catch up

5. Finale task: participants prepare their project for submission, based on their identification of the ‘lost’ item and information gained in the search.

6. Presentation of finale task: their own original video or live show. this could be a diorama of the lost city, a spreadsheet of the equation, bringing a character to life with animation, recording their version of a song … etc

7. Total points: weighted sums for the first sets of clues (higher weights for getting it early) and scores for the quality, originality of their project presentation. If submitted to YouTube or social media scores can be given for ‘likes’ and ‘hits’.

8. Prize or Recognition.


21st Century Skills

Preparing a movie version of a forthcoming talk got me thinking. Some of the footage I have that I can use safely in an educational setting is denied publication on the Web. Some was obtained under Freedom of Information. Australia has the highest level of defamation litigation in the world so the material I put up to my TomComAu YouTube channel will sometimes be a much less punchy version, limited to what I can get permission to reproduce.

Even with all these limitations it is amazing to be able to host my own international network. The software available today from iClone, MovieStorm, and Digital Juice, to name a few, runs comfortably on today’s generation of desktop machine. I purposely use low-res avatars so that I can turn out information quickly. The theory of ‘The Uncanny Valley’ suggests that there will be no great advantage to higher-bandwidth animation. The more realistic the avatars the more they become zombies. So the avatars I use look pretty cheesy if you’ve just watched a recent movie or TV ad but then those mega-productions have credit rolls that go on longer than the totality of most YouTube movies.

So content is king. If the message is strong and you have news that others have ignored or supressed you are entitled to call yourself ‘an international multimedia network ’. Even if you only have 3 followers they might well be influential followers. And local broadcast mostly still only reaches local communities.

It got me thinking whether running your own international multimedia network will come to be seen as a ’21st Century skill’ or will be a dead end. It takes a lot more time to make a movie. Just turning this post into a slide show with voice-over, at the very simplest end of the spectrum, would take far far longer than typing it.

But there are some big time-savers in the movie version:

  1. a documentary can deliver information in an easy format. The viewer can do something (like ironing a shirt) at the same time.
  2. the video delivers over & over, 24/7. It can be re-wound, paused and saved.
  3. live lectures cost money. Even free ones require a venue, admin & promotion

It is foreseeable that the machinima companies could produce canned studios of such quality that merely typing in a theme like this post could auto-save into a talk-show format with digital avatars but I haven’t seen them aiming in that direction as they seem to find more market in kick-butt arcade game sorts of features.

It made me reflect on other techno dead ends. The autogyro was built in the 1920s. It is still in use by military and law enforcement agencies. But given its reliability, extreme low cost, short take off and landing, and safety it seems surprising we don’t see more of them. I’ve only seen one in a museum. The same goes for hydrogen balloons with their great lift. The Hindenberg disaster ended the airship era but they are still used for scientific and weather balloons. I’m surprised tethered versions aren’t used with cabling as ‘sky crane’ devices to position not-too-heavy things from the air, including cameras and sensors.

Another great technology is biofeedback. As a psychologist I purchased an EMG device on the sound advice of our medical director. The other devices popular at the time like EEG were always a bit sci-fi for practical hospital use. The GSR (electrodermal) had a lot of potential in psychotherapy through its capability to literally measure unconscious processes. The whole field sort of collapsed by the 1980s, as did contemporary constraint-induced movement therapy. These linger on but not really as the bread-&-butter routine techniques they promised to become.

So my movie-making gave me many flashbacks to the days I wore bell-bottoms and used biofeedback devices. I wonder if I’ll look back on my cheesy avatar movie experiments as a stillborn technology that never really made us all coffee table international media barons.

I can always stick with music videos. These I can put together in a fraction of the time as I only have one composite soundtrack to compile and I don’t have to synch the archive or other public domain video footage very precisely. But from an educational perspective these have very limited potential compared to what a good science documentary might achieve.

So I’ll persist. At the least, I should be able to get a simple repeatable format for science talk/slide shows. We’ve listened to a number of these from The Great Courses and found this traditional talk,slide sort of format quite sufficient for most topics. After all the real key software resides between the ears of the audience. Technology is supposed to be a means to an educational end.


The Lost Composer Mystery Quest

The Lost Composer is another demo of my do-it-yourself game format. The method is to release clues of decreasing difficulty so that those who do their research early in the game gain an advantage in preparing the tasks the educator has set for assessment. In the case of a ballad quest the end task might be creating a version of the song. If used in a classroom the educator might release the clues on a schedule such as one per week. Points could be given to teams for correctly identifying the song and its composer(s) and points given separately for arrangement and performance of the song. This need not be a musical. The songs chosen as demo’s in this series lend themselves to visual arts, plays, movies, poems, short stories, or non-fiction articles.

Clue #1 Background (to be read or read aloud in class or group)

The composers of many famous ballads have left no historical record. Indeed, the song may have evolved from a number of sources and there is no single person to whom we could attribute the song. It may have had many ‘co-composers’. This is common to many things in history and science. For instance it would be hard to nominate the very first reptile or the very first bird – their parents would have still been classed as amphibians or dinosaurs. At some point their family tree became reptiles and birds. The same logic applies to music composers. The ‘parent’ or ‘family tree’ of the song is typically a folk tune. At some stage a new set of words is added to the tune and gradually it becomes the familiar hit song that we know as an ‘oldie’. By that we may mean it is 40 years old. The actual tune may be far older, sometimes hundreds of years old!  So the composers of the tune are lost to history. There is no copyright, no royalty to be paid. We call it ‘public domain’, meaning we the public can all use it. But someone at some time wrote the tune and lyrics. Together those folks are ‘the Lost Composer’.

Clue #2 Visual Clue

This is a silent movie. lost-composer-clue (.wmv)

Low resolution was purposely used to make this a difficult clue.

Clue #3 Crossword of artists who have recorded the song

The second clue in This Lost Composer mystery is a list of artists who have recorded this song:

crossword matrix clues for the lost composer quest

lost composer crossword

Crossword clues across

6.     howard
7.     eric
8.     creedence
10.   johnny
12.   lonnie
13.   bobby
14.   england’s
17.   big joe
18.   mcghee
21.   huddy
22.   van

Crossword clues down
2.     little
4.     davis group
5.     cisco
9.     trio
11.   paul
14.   mischief
15.   harry dean
16.   pete
19.   mungo
20.   sweden’s
23.   burl

Clue #4  History of the song

This song is extremely popular among rock and rollers, guitarists, folk and pop musicians. It has been widely covered. It became a theme for a TV show and even had a type of gun named after it. Many famous names in the music industry have an association with this song. The song does not have a precise geographical location. However, most of the locations proposed for this song are able to glimpse the second brightest star in the sky just above the horizon in Winter. One type  of plant associated with the region is so ancient that it evolved before bees. This means its  flowers were pollinated by beetles. Some pre-mammal animal species thrive in the general area. Since human habitation the area has seen many changes of ruler. It was colonised and subsequently involved in wars seeking to throw off its rulers.    The area briefly had a shared currency and military. The song itself reflects the human history. It highlights the plight of individuals who ran afoul of the mainstream. Because the original composers are lost and each may have had a different interpretation of the words, the lyrics remain open to interpretation. There is some agreement that there is a ‘freedom’ or ‘escape’ quality to the lyrics. There are no overt religious references but the imagery is clearly in line with religious tunes of its era.

Clue #5 The meaning of the song and its role in popular culture

Locales for the song range from Texas through Mississippi to North Carolina. The central ‘character’ of the song is not a person but is thought to refer to a Gulf, Mobile and Ohio passenger train.  Its nickname is the title of the song, which first appeared in print in 1905. It gained popularity through word of mouth, and by 1923 was referred to in a pulp adventure magazine. In modern times the song has been performed enough that the nickname gets applied to any sort of night clandestine activity, for instance purchase of a common 32 caliber handgun by ‘hoods’. The song is very symbolic. Interpretations vary. They have in common a theme of escape. It can be an identification with the freedom of the train to move or even the freedom that might come from being run over by the train.


The Great American Ballad #2 The Lost Composer.pdf

Free Guitar App

guitar app.pdf (audio-visual download about 363k; it may play straight from browser. If no sound use a different browser such as IE or Firefox. Otherwise download the .pdf and play from file)

Learn to play guitar in minutes, anywhere – no guitar needed!  ’Sound crazy?

Well the catch is you still have to practice. This .pdf acts like an app in that when you press the fret corresponding to the 1-finger chord it plays the sound of that chord. So, for example, if you press the outer string (lower left in the above thumbnail pic) it plays the special version of ‘G’, which in this case is more like a G6/9 chord which serves in place of a G chord.

Clearly it is much better to learn the www.oz-rock.com system with a real guitar but that might not always be convenient. The .pdf app allows you to try out some chord sequences to get the idea of playing by ear. It may also be useful to flesh out a song to see if it fits the simple chord sequences of this system.

The main value of the .pdf app is for teachers wanting to demonstrate the system in class where guitars aren’t available. It loads onto most laptops and pads or whiteboards that have Adobe Player installed. It can be used to demonstrate the system so that it can be discussed and tried before using it in a music room or as a home exercize.

In terms of music theory it can demonstrate how a simple movement of one finger can actually result in 4 changes: lifting a finger from a fret deletes the note that was playing and creates a new note in its place, hence two changes. Placing that finger in a new fret position deletes that position’s current note and replaces it with a new note, hence another two changes.

This movement of one finger thus can produce quite noticeable changes. After all, a guitar only has six strings so a maximum of 6 different notes. You’ve just made 4 changes to this.

Because these special chords rely heavily on ‘drone’ strings (those strings that are not changed) the chords often fit in quite well with the conventional full chords. This means that beginners using the 1-finger system can play along with more advanced players who play the full chords. The advanced players, in turn, are not held back to the lowest common denominator of the beginners – hopefully, a ‘win win’. Using the oz-rock system, a group or class of any age could begin playing by ear in minutes.

Your Own Movie Studio

It still seems like a dream. As kids we may have envisaged that one day we would have our own space ship but probably few dreamed of having their own movie studio. One reason is that a space ship is a tangible single object. A 50s sci fi ship would fit in a garage. We knew even then that a real rocket capable of getting out of Earth’s gravity had to be huge to blast off up to 11 kilometers per second, many times the speed of sound. Yet the personal space ship was still appealing.

A movie studio wasn’t something you’d think of in your future garage. Studio lot buildings were aircraft hangers with a cast of hundreds. Just look at the credit list of any Hollywood movie to realize the scale of these productions. The list can take several minutes to scroll.

Who then would have dreamed that in the 21st Century you could make movies on a card table? And not just 4th-rate home movies screened to your friends and relatives polite enough to sit and watch. The potential is there to do entertaining and even important movies.

Cats are some of the funniest actors in the world. They make up a lot of YouTube time. But home productions can also touch on topics that the mainstream media have either overlooked, buried, or would find unprofitable to screen. They also may arise from countries whose censorship laws prevent any independent news from escaping.

Current movie cameras, even in mobile phones, are capable of capturing quality audio/visual without need for special crews with lighting and microphones. A traditional crew usually needs a trailer to accompany them just for food & drink refreshments, let alone their lights, cables, reflectors, mixing desks etc. A self-styled ‘reporter’ armed with a mobile phone device can beam up news content to the world at large. The images can be edited with laptop-level gear into high quality studio levels of production.

Plenty of companies like Digital Juice and those that sell Virtual Sets and Chroma Key gear can provide the slick visual and audio intro’s that we see on commercial TV channels. Your home-grown newscast can look very similar to a commercial production because for a modest outlay you are essentially using the same gear. I often see the same ones I’ve bought used in NFL productions! These companies now use Chroma-Key and the same sorts of digital effects that we can now buy at realistic prices.

Videoblogs have also changed consumer behaviour. The attention span of someone sandwiching a YouTube video into their schedule is quite different to someone settling in with popcorn to watch an evening’s movies. The traditional movie takes several minutes to roll the introductory credits. A YouTube video would be well & truly finished before then. The videoblog is often a 30 second grab. Indeed, this affects the ability to embed ads for revenue as a 10 second ad can seem proportionately more of an annoyance for someone preparing to view a 30 second video.

All this has profound implications. Where once blogs were dismissed as at best 3rd-rate news sources and at worst as misleading ‘conspiracy theorists’ and quacks in the age-old tradition of ‘pamphleteers’ they are now taken seriously by the search engines as sources of fresh and commercially-independent information. A blog may well come up higher in search rankings than a multimillion dollar commercial news source. Indeed, a blog is international. A traditional TV station, even if part of a vast corporate network, may only reach a few countries. Traditional media outlets are now forced to offer ‘free to cyberspace’ information to stay relevant.

With all this power comes new risks and opportunities. Never forget that some of those early pamphleteers were instrumental in bringing about the civil rights many of us now take for granted.

Fasten those seatbelts.


Learn Guitar in 10 Minutes

Music has long had distinct traditions of performing and listening. Traditional Chautauqua brought orchestras to communities that had plenty of do-it-yourself music with church choirs, folk music, guitar-pickin’ and fiddles. The 21st Century can expose an infant to any pop song or symphony at the flick of a touch screen. But when it comes to learning to create music, little had changed. Music training, even with electronic aids, still required the learner to master the physical skills to create the sounds as specified by the composer. Only a small number complete the complex process of learning a musical instrument.

Music educators began to look for ways to engage “the other 80 percent” -ie- those who don’t pursue music once they leave school.

The www.oz-rock.com ‘play by ear in 10 minutes’ system was created for this purpose. It has all the attributes of a disruptive innovation. Like the early motor car compared to the horse initially it seems to offer no advantage. Kids who can learn to play a chord with one finger could probably just as easily use two or three fingers. … they still have to count to twelve to play twelve bar blues … to play by ear they still have to listen carefully to the songs … etc. But the key point is that they just don’t do it. Most never bother.

So this system is a disruptive innovation because it creates a new market rather than a new technology. A DI uses existing elements and is often actually simpler than the technology used by the mainstream. We’ve seen this music cycle many times before. Pop music becomes too difficult for the common folk. A craze then develops around grass roots play-it-yourself instruments like: the ukulele craze in the early 1900s, the bouncing ball sing-along, DoWop groups, Hootenanny, garage bands, and kara-oke. Our music systems are all aimed at the most casual easy to learn level.

Your own international studio network

Something else no science fiction writer predicted was the capability to run an international media network at negligible cost from a laptop. Not long after everyone had become their own publishing house for ebooks and articles the doors were opened to free multimedia hosting. Where artists once needed a wealthy patron to host a gallery viewing and musicians needed live gigs suddenly anyone could put up .mp3s and .mp4s for free distribution and download. Instead of struggling to get airplay on someone’s radio show you could now host your own radio show with an international audience.

But why stop there when you can have your own radio station? … your own TV shows, your own international 24/7 News shows via free RSS feeds, your own TV and movie studio? …  in other words your own international media network … all run from a laptop, mobile or even an internet café.

The potential for all of this is only just being dimly realized. Any person with a mobile phone becomes an ‘international news correspondent’. They can transmit a quick bit of text and pictures (before the authorities spot them) which their colleagues on the other side of the globe can assemble into a professional-looking newscast. We’ve already seen this with Twitter reporting and it has the potential to become a routine 21st Century medium. I’ve given some examples just to show how easily it can be done. www.networktom.com is literally a 24/7 international network. The RSS feeds provide updated generic news.

If you have a specialist niche and following all you would need to add would be a bit of your special content. We’ve had examples of this for some time with enthusiasts like astronomy clubs.

The theme of network-tom is based around helping you get started with your own multimedia. We start from the most basic forms such as a slide show then add media as needed such as audio, animation, video, chroma-key (blue screen) and special effects. A professional-looking production is now possible on a very low budget. The demo’s and tutorials give you ideas and show you how.

Chautauqua for the 21st Century

The Chautauqua movement in USA pioneered adult education for common folk. We’ve tried to recreate a version of this for the new Century as an e-Chautauqua. The 20th Century version brought new information to rural people who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to libraries, lectures and concerts. The 21st Century has change all this. Information is everywhere. The common psychological themes are

  • empowerment
  • imagination
  • experience

In the 19th Century a good speaker with an oil-lamp slide show based on hand-etchings could conjure mental images of distant galaxies. 21st Century pre-schoolers have Hubble space telescope images.  But common to both is the thrill of that first look at the moon through a telescope. It is like the difference in experience between a picture of a pop star and meeting the star in real life. The less makeup and costume the more we feel we’ve experienced a connection with something real.

So our common theme is do it yourself. This can mean many things: It can mean build it yourself or experience it yourself. And sure, common sense prevails. It is often cheaper to buy something at a discount or second hand than to build it yourself. A set of lenses and parts may end up costing more than buying a telescope … A pop star’s album may cost you less than going to a karaoke to sing it yourself. But experiences are priceless. They are what life is all about.

Our e-Chautauqua ‘tents’ are structured around the main themes of traditional Chautauqua:

  • Education
  • Reform
  • Expression

As with the traditional tents they cover a range of activities from psychology through astronomy and music. But you can apply the do-it-yourself, experience-it-yourself logic to your own areas of interest.

The mental business card

The ultimate goal of flyers, business cards, clubs and directories is that people connect. So the ultimate goal logically is a mental business card, mental flyer, mental club and mental listing.

There are two streams of contact: ‘Can those who search for me find me quickly on the Web?’ and ‘Can people come across me who were searching for something or someone else me on the Web?’. The goals of traffic may be the same but setting out the trail may require different strategies and resources.

Pop stars at the top don’t need reminders. They can shorten their name to Elvis or Madonna as their mental business card. If your name is uncommon like Ebenezer Geheuchenschtein you may have little competition. An internet search will quickly find any page with the distinctive phrase ‘Ebenezer Geheuchenschtein’. But if you want people to find you by your nickname ‘Eb’ a search on that pulls up over one billion pages with those two letters (including popular eBay).

My own situation is a good example. The logical ultimate mental business card goal for my name ‘Tom Benjamin’ would be that you only needed to remember ‘Tom’ or ‘T’ to find me via search engines. But those bring up some pretty stiff competition. The letter ‘T’ brings up 24 billion search results. ‘Tom’ narrows it to a mere 2 billion. A logical approach would be to buy a rhyming domain name like tom.com, which indeed I did. I bought www.tom.com.au and www.tom-dot.com  So all you’d need to remember was ‘that guy Tom in Australia’ to logically find me. So it’s a good start as a mental business card but even that is no guarantee. Someone else may have bought the name. Or you may leave off the ‘au’ or ‘-‘ and get someone else’s site. Nor does it guarantee the search engines will find me.

The search engines will be looking for links to my site from other people. If I want people to find me who weren’t particularly searching for my name I need to link my name with their searches.

For example, common searches are “How can I use the internet to make money?”, “personal brand” and “making money with …”. So you would try and find a tasteful way of getting these key words into a page (as I’ve just done here by putting these words on this page!). The search engine will look to see if the words are used in a logical way that follows from other parts of the page and links. The engines rely on search robots for this vast scale indexing so it requires some care to get the right mix of words so that the algorithm doesn’t regard it as an attempt to mislead.

So understanding the psychology of the internet is a good start. It changes rapidly. Methods that worked last week can become tomorrows Myths of the Web. For example –

  • Do you need more followers on Twitter?
  • Do you need an exact match domain name?
  • How important is ‘page rank’?
  • Do you need a groovy hi-tech web site?
  • Do you need to be popular: friends & hits?
  • Will buying ads help your search rank?
  • Should you comment prolifically on blogs and forums?
  • Must you submit site to search engines?
  • They say ‘Content is king’: does that mean ‘professional-quality’?

The answers to such questions change over time. People make a living offering you a service to keep up with these changes.