When MsDewey was retired as a search engine, it started out quietly and without fanfare. The experimental search engine from Microsoft was an experiment. We came. We saw. We experienced. We forgot about it. And yet, many people were upset to see it go. What was the lure of MsDewey?
It was entertainment. What could be better than a beautiful sensual woman, obviously intelligent, with a sly sense of humor, asking you to put her to work? If you ignored her, she tapped on your computer monitor. She could search, flirt, be silly and bring you pleasure while doing something as mundane as information searching.
Part of her allure was that to make herself look good, she put others down. In our victim-based society, this technique works. Most people probably never realized MsDewey was doing it. Another way to influence people into taking action is to segregate them. We are a society taught to fear. A way to pressure folks into taking action is to make them fear what might happen if they don’t.
The victim/fear consciousness thrives in social networking. In fact, it would not survive at all if we weren’t so willing to be pushed around. To use Facebook and MySpace properly, we must first invite “friends”. You don’t have to actually be a friend to be accepted as a friend. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of the person who wants to be confirmed as your “friend”. If you don’t accept this friend, who isn’t your friend and they just showed up on your doorstep, you may be perceived as stuck up.
The same technique applies to Twitter, only this time instead of friends, everyone has “followers”. You can block people from following you or simply let them follow you without following them back. The danger in not following back is that there is no way to direct message someone privately unless you both are following one another. When you try to “DM” someone and you get the message that says, “This person isn’t following you”, it may make you feel rejected. And why not? A culture taught in the ways of victim/fear consciousness is going to create computer software that supports it.
Search engines contribute to segregation and victim/fear consciousness by ranking web sites, creating rating systems, and strongly suggesting that to save your reputation, you better be the first to fill out a profile about who you are before someone who hates you does it for you. Blogs are segmented out into A-List to D-list groups. LinkedIn created professional groups, Facebook has groups, and well, and you get the idea. You might wonder, after awhile, if you can possibly exist at all unless it’s validated in some way on a social networking site or search engine.
There is something out there that has co-existed alongside all the promote-or-be- damned exercises we see everywhere. It’s been around since before the Internet took off like a racehorse bolting out of the starting gate. Some advertisers realized that people like to react in positive ways. Rather than telling , persuasive design shares what we have to offer. We wish to be entertained and touched on a much deeper level that doesn’t make us feel badly, inferior or rejected. Engagement marketing works in subtle ways.
Do you want to get rich? Well, duh? That’s an insanely stupid question and when used to sell something, even more telling. Of course people want to “get rich”! What else have you got to sell besides the obvious? How much are you going to charge someone to feel good or better about something they dislike? Does your presentation “feel good” while we’re learning about it, or do you jerk us around with gobs of content and confusing layout? Does your marketing content make you sound like a hero and make readers feel like rock moss?
Blog writing falls into this trap, as does web site copy for services. It’s there when someone writes that you “have to” do or have something. Um, no they don’t. They may wish to try it, however, or perhaps they already did and weren’t satisfied. How do you write for THAT person, to convince them to try again? You also know when a blogger has missed the basket when they lump people into groups of have’s, have not’s, did not’s and never had it to begin with, while the blogger is of course the All-Knowing One. You can feel their pink pedestal from a mile away.
It’s very hard to avoid feeding into our inferiority complexes. We like to communicate and share on the web, and it’s not easy to sound detached from our products, services, blogs and personas. I had a blast with MsDewey because she made me laugh and she removed all the seriousness from the bland task of information search. But, she kept repeating the same old jokes and using the same antics over and over again. I, and many of you, simply grew bored.
And there is the clue to what works. We are, at our basic physical core of boringness, particles of energy that never stop moving, changing and connecting. It’s in our very nature to seek out the next adventure.
And if we can’t find it, we’ll create one.
Artwork by Nathan DiStefano, Doylestown, PA Artist