The Old Tom Sawyer Trick

Google has figured out a way to get us to paint their fence while they lie under a tree eating an apple. While doing a search on Google Images, I saw a box at the bottom of the page with the text “Want to improve Google Image Search? Try Google Image Labeler.” Out of curiosity, I clicked the link and found out that it is a feature that “allows you to label random images to help improve the quality of Google’s image search results.”

Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Here’s the twist: They’ve turned it into an online collaborative game with a random partner. You are paired with someone else who is also online, and you have 90 seconds to go through as many images as you can in that time period. You list as many relevant labels as you can for each picture until both partners come up with the same label for a picture, earning points based on your mutual performance. You then move on to the next image until time runs out. At the end of the 90 seconds, you can look at what words the other person used to describe the picture and what word you matched on.

I tried it out and found it to be oddly addictive. It’s partly a “what the heck is that thing?”, partly a test of your mental thesaurus, and partly a Family Feud-style “what would someone else say it is?” It’s instructive to see that what might seem obvious to you is not always the way that someone else would describe something. For example, while I was focusing on describing the woman in the foreground of the picture, my partner was describing the street scene around her. And a close-up of a map of Manhattan was described by my partner as a “graph” before he/she decided to pass. But for the most part, it was amazing how quickly my various partners and I converged.

This approach was quite clever on Google’s part. By turning this into a game and allowing people to accumulate points over time, this repetitive and boring task is turned into a challenging and fun test of your mental skills. As those of you with kids know, this kind of tactic can be quite motivating (“Who can put away more blocks in one minute? Ready, go!”).

Is there any way you can engage your audience in your issue by turning it into a game rather than a chore that must be done? The Movember campaign in Australia and New Zealand is an example of slipping in some health education while participants have fun growing a mustache during the month of November to raise money and awareness of male health issues. Giving your kids the Dance Dance Revolution game might provide them with the benefit of exercise without them even realizing that they are doing more than having fun. If you can figure out a way to get people to take an important action, but in the context of having fun, you will be much more successful than if it is posed as “a good thing to do.”

And then we can kick back and relax while they do all the work and have fun doing it!

Technorati Tags: , , ,


  1. “If you can figure out a way to get people to take an important action, but in the context of having fun, you will be much more successful than if it is posed as ‘a good thing to do.'”

    Well said, Nedra! And love the Tom Sawyer image, too….

    It’s not unlike Bono’s (project) Red, too….people feel they are taking action on something important, but it’s not outside of their everyday life and activities.

  2. It is only visible at not at seems like others on the earth cannot contribute to the imperialistic view of the world rendered by – lets call it a googlistic view – so who is Tom Sawyer?

  3. mixmaxmin – Tom Sawyer is an American icon from the book by Mark Twain, who made whitewashing the fence look like so much fun that he was able to convince his friends to do it all for him while he sat back and watched. Here’s a link to the relevant part of the story:

Submit a Comment