I’m a big fan of the TV show LOST.  I’m also a bit of an Internet geek.  So when they pulled these two concepts together in their nearly annual Alternate Reality Game (ARG) between seasons I was quite excited — especially when they hinted at more time travel in the video that kicked it off.

Now that the game has seemingly met an early demise (though you never can tell for sure with these things), I figured it was an appropriate time for a minor confession/explanation in regards to, aka my adventure in mild cybersquatting.

It started off innocently enough.  It was late in the evening and I read on a blog that the ARG was starting at  Rather than clicking on a link I typed the address manually into a browser and got a page not found error.  I quickly realized that I had missed the “H” in Dharma and the typo prevented me from reaching the proper site.

After correcting my error and registering, I found it odd that the creators of the game hadn’t also registered the seemingly common typo.  I was in the early throes of book promotion and decided this could be a cheap awareness exercise, so I grabbed the domain myself.

My intent wasn’t to con people.  I felt (and still feel) that fans of LOST are likely to enjoy Timely Persuasion due to the time travel theme, the sci-fi though not heavy sci-fi plot, and a few coincidental elements regarding important numbers, a secret hospital, a rock star, and some time travel theory that’s scarily similar to an episode of LOST titled “The Constant.”  (Again — all purely coincidental since the book was primarily written in 2003.)  I also thought the fact that the book contained a mini-ARG would appeal to gamers joining this Dharma ARG as a bonus surprise.

Now in the wee hours of that same night, I quickly whipped up a landing page.  I made sure to play the honesty card first: (I made the same typo so I registered this site as a good samaritan – here is the site you are really looking for).  Then I  gave my shameless plug by linking to the free online version of the book (linking to the paid version felt dirty), peppered the whole thing with some Dharma related phrases from the show to play up the fact that I’m a true fan (Hostiles, Good Guys, Namaste), and signed it.

In a closing flash of inspiration I put the famous numbers from the show after my signature, followed by the numbers from the book as an intriguing teaser, and dropped into narrator mode with an appropriate lyrical quote.

During the final proofread I deleted a smart-ass comment after my intro that inferred that I was part of the game, but then instead decided to fade out the transparency of the text on both that line and the numbers.  This is probably the only place I can be accused of being intentionally coy and deceitful, but like I said it was late and it seemed like fun.

Right out of the gate the page was getting around 100 unique hits per day.  Based on early message board chatter, most people correctly interpreted it for what it was: A clever way to market a book, with a few posts of thanks for taking the high road and pointing people in the right direction.

Then the stars aligned in some unplanned ways.

The game was moving at an extremely slow pace.  After launching a day late a full week went by without any updates, leaving players restless for clues.

I was one of these restless players, and ended up discovering a clue before anyone else.  Each time the game sent out an email they linked to an HTML version of the same message that contained the date at the end of the URL as the filename (/0808.php, for example).  Bored, I started modifying the URL with upcoming dates and found a new email a couple of days early.  (At the time I thought the email was intended to be found, but shortly after I discovered this the game creators started password protecting these email pages until their official day of release.)

I submitted what I found to Lost blogger DarkUFO under the book related alias LBDG, which led to some discussion boards believing me to be an in-game source intentionally leaking info.  My favorite example is in this thread from the Lostpedia Forums:

“It might be a coincidence, but if it turns out that the same guy who wrote a book about traveling through time to save dead people was really the one who found the hidden email, kudos to him.”

More coincidences started to play into my favor unexpectedly as well, including:

  1. My real name is Jacob, same as a key character in the LOST mythology.
  2. The first LOST ARG used a novel called Bad Twin that tied into both the game and the show, giving plausibility to the idea that another book could be used in this ARG.
  3. The same day I found the clue, I had published a blog post comparing the book to Buddhism that used the term Dharma.  (I’d actually written the analysis years before and was holding back on blogging it until I finished my series of chapter commentaries.)
  4. The day after I found the clue I posted a quote from the song “Ocean” by Sebadoh on the narrator’s tumblog, which was interpreted as a reference to Lost’s Island by a few people.
  5. The Extras section of the website includes a short story I wrote several years ago called “Paradox Lost” that was later folded into Timely Persuasion.

A few more message board quotes:

“I am thinking he is just making a good way to promote his story, and it is pretty nice of him to link the real dharma site, much more than i can say for a lot of dharma fake sites.”

“I’m a little freaked out. I can’t tell if this guy is an uberfan like us, part of the ARG, or a brilliant strategist who is certain to dupe countless Lost addicts into reading his book.  Either way, I’m about to start.”

“I’ve read through the first couple of chapters, and there’s already mention of playing certain lottery numbers, time travel, the purchase of airplane tickets, and the fact that the author’s name is (supposedly) Jacob. I’m not ruling it out just yet. And as I believe someone mentioned somewhere before, even it it turns out to be a dead end, it does serve to entertain us while we wait for the definite clues to turn up.”

I maintained my pageviews for the duration of the game, spiking upwards near the low thousands on days the game sent out official emails.  Quite a few visitors seemed to at least start reading the book based on my stats.  Here are some more of their comments (with answers from me where appropriate in red):

“LMAO  “The answer was obvious. You need to have balls to travel in time.”  Now i’m not really sure about this…”

To be honest I wasn’t sure about that line when I wrote it, but everyone finds it to be quite memorable…

“You are better off renting the Butterfly Effect as the concept is ripped from it.”

Butterfly Effect similarities are unintentional; the book was actually written before that movie came out.

“Yes, with a dash of Back To The Future.  From the mind of a man who could pwn at Rock ‘n’ Roll trivial pursuit.”

Guilty as charged on BTTF references, and flattered by the pwnage comment.

“I’m actually reading this book Timely Persuasion and it actually explains some things for me about what Faraday might be experiencing.”

I agree that it seems similar, though according to Faraday you can’t change the future, and by my rules you can.

“I started reading it, but I’m not too interested until it’s confirmed that it is part of the game…it doesn’t seem to be written too well.”

Ouch.  First person I’ve ever encountered to say it isn’t written well.  Even Gavin Williams called it “good writing” in his negative partial review, only having issue with the narrative voice and the storyline.

“Let me know when he updates with lyrics from Genesis’ “Home By The Sea.”

I think I owe this person a little bit of credit

If you were one of the people who checked out the novel after finding out about it in this way: Thanks!  I greatly appreciate you giving it a chance and hope it helped entertain you during the lulls in the mediocre DWY experience.  And if you want to give my mini-ARG a try, Chapter 18 is probably your best entry point.

(One final note to my Brazilian Orkut friends – a special thanks for creating the group and being the trailblazers for the ARG.  I’ll save the story of how we met and some of our interactions for a future post.   I also know I still owe you guys more clues for phase two.  It’s in the works and should be ready early next year.  Batteries Ice Pint…)

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