All Things Trivial Are Not What They Seem

5:45 AM 1/27/2010

The Wife says, “Are you awake?”
My reply was a relatively unintelligible, “mmmhrmph.”
“Ed Begley Jr.,” she forces out with a tired sigh.
I reply with a surprised, “Oh!”
The Wife then says, “zzzzzzz.”
And I offer back, “zzzzzz.”

For most people this conversation wouldn’t occur, or would be so out of context that one would assume it’s a bizarre dream that shouldn’t be discussed with the world. But for us, it is Trivia Week and something as simple as “who the heck was the guy from that commercial Monday night?” takes on significant meaning. This Friday, The Wife and I will pack our bags and head down to sunny Kaukauna, WI (it would be warmer if that was an HI) for Lawrence University’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest, where we, along with hundreds of other fools, will attempt to correctly answer a question every three minutes for fifty straight hours. If I’ve learned anything from the Googlefest that is Trivia, no matter how you attempt to present your information on the Wide Wide World of Web, people aren’t going to find you if you haven’t made an effort to be found. In other words, it isn’t just a matter of differentiating your web presence from your competition: you need to make yourself available to be found.

My trivia team is ready to go. We have enough technology to make Skynet jealous. Our team includes lawyers, professors, and technical folks that have spent years working with or for Apple, Microsoft and IBM. Our 40 person team comes from all over the country and all over the globe. We could actually make a pretty cool deck of cards from all the different driver’s licenses! We eat better than at Thanksgiving or Christmas. We have a bank of phones that would make a call center jealous. We will be blogging and tweeting throughout. And we will win. Again. Our team captain John Brogan described us as the New York Yankees of trivia. While I bristled at that description, he’s right. We are going for 10 straight years of winning the off-campus division.

I was roped into this study in sleep deprivation four years ago by The Wife. My addition to the team has been described (to stick with the baseball metaphor) like picking up a veteran left-handed bat for the pennant run – the type of player described as a “professional hitter.” Sure my knees are shot and I can’t run anymore, but I keep focused and provide some important hits in the clutch. For example, in the final stages of the contest two years ago, I managed to find Jim Morrison’s passport number.

What I’ve learned over the last four years is that one can’t possibly anticipate all the different methods people will use to try and find something on the internet. I am not a Search Engine Optimization expert, nor will I pretend to be. But when you put an American, a Brit, a Canadian and a Texan next to each other and have them search for the same information—they are all going to go about it in a different way. Any business needs to keep this in mind when developing a web presence. It isn’t just about throwing up some XHTML, pretty pictures and a description of what you do. You need to think about how you reach your customers and how they can find you. While it might seem to be a lot easier than hoping someone’s fingers walk to you in the Yellow Pages, it is actually a lot more challenging. It’s not just about differentiating yourself; it’s about developing a strategy to help people find you. I’ve thought for several years now that Google, Yahoo or Bing could learn a lot about their search engines by analyzing the search data from the Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

If you are curious, or just a masochist, you can follow all fifty hours of the Great Midwest Trivia Contest and listen online at WLFM Radio. Just make sure to root for the Bank of Kaukauna as we go for ten titles in a row!

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