by Trey Nosrac
Forty years ago, Chippewa Lake Amusement Park in Medina County, OH, bustled like a beehive. This morning, the long-abandoned park was a barren wasteland of weeds and rust. Even the lake seemed tired.
We leaned our backs against the side doors of the Prius and looked at a battered NO TRESPASSING sign laced to a chain link fence.
I said, “It’s hard to believe this was ever an amusement park.”
He looked left to right, and then said, “My family came here every summer of my life. They closed the doors in 1978, the year I was 14. The park was getting a little seedy but we never suspected it would go out of business.”
I pointed at the Ferris wheel tangled in the trees.
He said, “My mother tells the story of when I was four years old and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels played Devil in the Blue Dress so loud her ears hurt. She said that I danced like a little demon on the grass in front of the stage and stole the show.”
We climbed into my car. Trying to take the sting out of this sad visit I tried to change the subject, “A week ago, you went on a rant about putting a human face on horse racing, you said we wouldn’t get far unless we brought people in racing to the front of the stage.”
“Yeah, I remember, I think that was after a few beers.”
“You said you would give me insider tips on how people in technology manipulate mortals.”
“I did and I will. Take out your phone and look at the email I just sent you.”
Horse – Beta Test
Trainer – Ronald Snipes
Driver – Brett Miller
Owner – Tom Sullivan
Breeder – Hickory Valley Farms
I glanced at the e-mail and answered with a shrug.
He said, “This basic information is in every digital racing program and on every ADW site. Gamblers and fans take this data for granted, so does the business of horseracing. Notice that the names are blue. They are hyperlinks. There should always be hyperlinks. Click on my name.”
I clicked on Tom Sullivan and this popped up:
When I finished reading the yellow box, I slipped my phone into the holster on my dashboard, “I didn’t know you collected books.”
He mocked me, “Ah, my young friend, there are many things unknown. For example, this looks like a simple biography of a person presented with the obvious attention devices — color, photos, layout etc. It is not.”
“Seems fairly straightforward to me.”
He shook his head, “Not to get too wonky, but we work to slip in psychological cues. One of my developers calls them informational burrs.”
“Like when you walk down a trail. You get home, take off your socks and some round prickly burrs are stuck on your socks. In social technology engineering, we filter to find travelers and then we work to stick, to find toeholds. We are very good at this and get better every day.”
He answered, “Embedded in this little sample are many tricks of our tradecraft, such as having the owner tell his story. The first person has more power.”
“Okay, the first person. Hearing from you instead of somebody telling me about you is good. What else?”
“Surprise is always good. People clicking will be surprised to learn about old books, baseball, and the Go Betweens. Curiosity about new people, places or things is a strong psychological motivator. In addition, if you look closely, you will see I tossed in specificity and numbers. People like them, it reassures them.”
“Okay, I see that too, but what kind of burrs do you have that would push someone clicking on your link to take up gambling on horses or owning horses?
“Several. Because they have clicked here, we have something in common, an audience reference point. Now we need to subtly “show how” to proceed, to offer reassurance. People want a sense of predictability and order, a level of control. Tom is saying, ‘Hey I am like you, I tried it, and here is how I did it. Come on in the water is fine.’”
I put the car in gear and rolled onto the two-lane blacktop road. Then I scrunched up my face and asked, “Do you REALLY think this would help?”
I believe the amusement park memories fading into the rearview mirror had rattled him. For the first time since he stepped into my Prius, he was annoyed. He stunned me by firing off a verbal barrage.
“Do you think it would hurt? Jeeze, it would take like two people and a laptop to create useable profiles and links.
Do you think it would bring human faces into the sport?
Do you think it should have been standard procedure 10 years ago?
Do you think it would make the sport more engaging for players like you?
Do you think this would open windows to anybody who owns a cell phone?
Do you think a handful of bibliophiles, baseball fans or Go Between fanatics would get wind that one of their own is trying a new game?
Do you think simply listing an owner’s name out of context does any good?
Do you think you additional information in your databases on web visitors or gamblers will be valuable?
Does anyone have to be linked? No, they can opt out.
Do you think you are harnessing technology in your sport to the maximum?
Do you think… ”
I place my hand on his forearm, “Whoa, whoa, easy tiger.”
After a good 10 seconds, he let out a breath and said, “Sorry, sometimes I get carried away.”
I grinned, “Welcome to the club.”
His words returned to normal, “This idea has two pillars. First, hyperlinks can humanize your sport, especially well constructed links. Second, these links build community and are free doorways to other communities.”
“Can’t argue with you. Hey, don’t want to argue with you cause you’re still a little wound up and I don’t want to blow my gig as your driver.”
He flashed me a fake sneer that melted into his usual cat-that-swallowed-the- canary smile, “Next ride I’ll show you an even simpler, more effective tool for your fans, owners, and gamblers.”
“Great… just don’t be so… hyper.”