Dan Zen Museum - Tour

FORMATION TOUR

Welcome to the Dan Zen Museum Formation Tour. As a reward for taking the tour, we will tell you that one word is out of place. If you combine this word with out-of-place words from the other tours you will have a secret message. Dan Zen encourages you to slow down a little - relax, enjoy and fully experience the museum. And now, let's see how Dan Zen was started!

GUIDE

Before Dan Zen
Dan Zen Start
Early Stories
Conclusion

Before Dan Zen

In 1994, a man called Dan left the Patent Agent world to invent and surf Moog-made energy waves with the space-rock band, Thee Gnostics. A year later he astral landed in the InfoLab to help code and decode Marshal McLuhan for the Southam Interactive / Voyager award-winning CD Rom, Understanding McLuhan. He programmed audio, video, interactive features in Macromedia Director working 19 hour days of excitement and wonder with such a magical tool, captivating content and a team of media pioneers.



On the side, Dan made one of his mystery party mysteries, Lady with Brooch, into an interactive mystery. This was an advancement on selling the mysteries as booklets on floppy disk under the Guru Games self-created label. He also made an anagram tool called Word Warp. In 1995, he went to San Francisco to attend the Macromedia Conference where he wore a guru robe with a flower lei holding his name card. The conference featured a preview of Shockwave - Director online. Shortly thereafter, Dan put Word Warp online, to be perhaps the first content online to feature dragable elements.





Admusements was Dan's site for making games from company products. In 1996, Dan coined the term "Interactive Advertising" He searched Web Crawler (the Google of the times) for the term and it did not exist as a result. TESLA. The Admusement site featured "Dial-a-Dell", where you could see how fast you dialed Dell's number and that is how fast you could get a great computer. All the tech fellows at Southam knew Dell's number. There was a Pizza Pizza game, a FORD acronym game, a themed Word Warp, etc. This was spurred on by the success of the EGO Scope - a game for Southam's Ego Interactive Entertainment site where the EGO logo would inflate and spring leaks - you had to patch the leaks and if successful, you would have a great day - if not... well, it was a spilled coffee day. The MARKETING TOUR has more information.



So, these were some of the things going on in Dan's life before Dan Zen. You can also take the BIOGRAPHY TOUR for the early years! The Formation Tour now turns to the start of Dan Zen.

GUIDE

Before Dan Zen
Dan Zen Start
Early Stories
Conclusion

Dan Zen Start

Dan had also just partnered with Web Feetures to sell an online crossword puzzle to Websters for $14,000 giving him seed money to create a site of his own - Dan Zen. At an art party, Dan was asked by poet, Kristine Tortora, to stack four symbols (circle, square, triangle and Zee) in a totem on a piece of paper. The arrangement tells your interests. When Dan did his totem, it turned out that the shape matched his vertical signature. This coincendence led to the First Interface of Dan Zen.



The Dan Zen site initially included Gorgolon, a multiuser Web game to spot the artificial intelligence in an underwater civilization - based on poetry in songs from his last Gnostics tape. There was also the Web Ouija - the Oracle speaks, YesUmo - the voting game, the Tower of Babel - a poetic stacking which would later lead to Utopia, Dens - an atmospheric forum set in the great Great Wall of China, Teleporters - for instant teleportation, GYCOPO - the game you can only play once, Inventions - an idea a day, and Salamander - where you enter Bullseye Park to catch a spy.





The name of the site is a combination of Dan - Dan's name, and Zen - the philosophy that tends towards simplicity. This was Dan's interface philosophy. For instance, in Salamander, a circle is presented representing a spot on the salamander. There is nothing else to do but click the circle. The circle then animates and sweeps out the start of a story. Clicking the circle again sweeps out more of the story and eventually leads to the game. The games tended to have embedded interfaces so less buttons and clutter.

In the end, Dan became known as Dan Zen in the industry. Dan has used this name as his personal name and vision statement ever since - even teaching as Professor Dan Zen. So we shall use his name Dan Zen for the rest of this tour.

GUIDE

Before Dan Zen
Dan Zen Start
Early Stories
Conclusion

Early Stories

Dan Zen held off on publishing the Lady with Brooch courting Microsoft and their start-up called SideWalk - which would go on to become MSN. Microsoft was paying content creators big money for a "show" on SideWalk - this was a feature that would be available only at certain times. Zen had already done this with Gorgolon, being a multiuser game, it made sense to schedule when it could be played so that enough people would be there to play. Scheduling content just to be like TV did not quite make sense - but Dan adjusted the mystery to let people play for a while and then give a come back tomorrow message. Unfortunately, just as Dan was making headway, Microsoft decided not to pay content providers since it was they who had the viewers. The content providers should be able to make money from advertising. This trend only worsened as eventually content providers had to pay portals to get their content seen.

Dan Zen was hosted on NetAccess systems in Hamilton. The company (then just a few people), has gone on to become a company of 100 and still resides in Hamilton. Zen had taken up the Perl server language in volunteering for the Hamilton Wentworth Free Net. Half his features were in HTML and Perl and the other half in Director and Shockwave. Many of the features provided a free version to play and a pay version to be able to customize and host the game. This was accomplished with early online credit card collection. A problem was that it was really unheard of at the time to use a credit card for anything under $10 and $10 was really too much to pay for any of the games - especially if the game needed a community to play. Zen provided a remedy by introducing Dan Zen stones where you could buy 10 stones for $10 and then apply a stone or two to each game. This was one of the first occurences of micropayments.



Speaking of stones, people to this day, almost twenty years later, still approach Dan Zen and say they remember the Dan Zen stones. These were a set of perhaps 300 smooth river and lake stones that Zen stamped with www.danzen.com and left around at schools, hip shopping destinations, parties and places around the world. An advertising campaign went out on Shift Magazine - one of their earliest advertisers - when you see a stone, think Dan Zen - a purposeful meme that relates through the stones in a Zen garden. Thousands of people have added their names and comments to the Dan Zen Garden - the Dan Zen guestbook.

Along with the stones there were posters for each feature. There were also small stickers, "After Reflection, Visit Dan Zen" that would go on bathroom mirrors. "After Revolution, Visit Dan Zen" went on revolving doors in Toronto. "After Levitation, Visit Dan Zen" went in many elevators and airports. Many of the features had custom marketing as shown in the MARKETING TOUR.

One of the most successful games early on was the Blimp Race. It was an early example of viral marketing online where blimp racers would e-mail their friends to come join their blimp. The blimp with the most people wins. There was also an embedded forum to let blimp racers role play. The game tracked and showed where players were from so gave a sense of six degrees of separation. Players came from India, Hawaii, Austraila and Zen knew he had a hit when players started showing up from Silicon Valley. Zen almost sold the Blimp Races to Rogers Toronto but alas, syndicated content took over. Blimp Races were played every two years for the next six years only ending as Spam took over e-mail trust. Zen also launched the very successful viral marketing game Shrink Ray - one of Zen's most elegant story telling games.

Dan Zen's Telepathy feature collected 25,000 users. Zen would send out telepathy to people anytime something was new on Dan Zen. This was the Dan Zen newsletter and was always written as if the person receiving was having thoughts in their head. "Wow! All of a sudden I am feeling the forces of groovity! I dig this gnarlatious message rappin' on my rad cranium! The message is buzzing, get down to http://www.danzen.com There's a kewl game called HiP CAtS!" Examples are amusing to read.

Another early, enduring app, was the Grim Reaper's Age Guesser. This app asked 13 questions, each designed to ascertain the user's age. Over 20,000 people have had their age guessed and the Grim Reaper guessed 5% correctly, 35% within three years and over half within 5 years. It features self modifying artificial intelligence. The game got on TV and some of the FaveSite lists so was the number one search result on Google for over 10 years. It seems to have dropped in the Google standings as soon as Grim Reaper t-shirts were offered on the front page. Hmmm.

In 1998, Dan Zen removed all the games to concentrate the community on one game at a time. Zen launched Utopia - an erotic mystery with a $500 prize. Instead of letting people play the mystery right away, there was a line-up period of one month. Over 4,000 people lined up and invited friends to get into the first two days of the mystery for free - an early example of incentive based viral marketing technique still being used today. Utopia featured beautiful graphics by Zen's wife, RoseAnne (and a few by Gaven) set in a fascinating magnified melted snowflake environment and it foreshadowed one of the largest media phenomonons of the 2000s. Spoiler - hint... it was two years before the launch of Survivor.

Dan Zen continued the one-game at a time approach with Spirogram - an app to quadrupel your site traffic. Unfortunately, both Utopia and Spirogram still made less than $100 - so the one feature at a time approach seemed to fail at boosting sales - something that had been an issue for Dan Zen all along. It was very hard and remains very hard to get people to pay for online content - even when they pay for chocolate bars, movies, arcade games without thinking. Dan Zen has provided over several million hours of entertainments and to this day has made only a couple hundred dollars. Zen is being paid perhaps worse than someone from a third world country. The Internet - the fourth world.

Dan Zen ran the Itching Campaign in preparation for bringing back all the Dan Zen games. He pictured many friends itching to play Dan Zen - a loose pun on the I Ching. He launched the Board Interface followed by the Pagoda of Games and the Deck of Games. The Deck is really the last interface of new games. The Tree Interface is a super interface which also includes Dan Zen social media and offline art projects, philosophy work, etc. The Dark Interface again is a super interface ready for Mobile - much like Windows 8 is a super interface ready for mobile.

The Dan Zen Museum may be the final Web interface for Dan Zen as he turns to work on the philosophy of Nodism - NODISM TOUR and social systems such as Recreational Ravines.

GUIDE

Before Dan Zen
Dan Zen Start
Early Stories
Conclusion

Conclusion

Dan Zen would like to say some concluding remarks: "It has been very rewarding to create in the pioneering times of interactive media. I have been very happy with the creations - each has made excellent use of the media.

In the early times, people got more involved in independent sites like Dan Zen. These days, with social media, there is just so much competition for attention. People these days tend to consume more and create less. I would encourage you to get the Dan Zen Creativity Framework and turn towards creating - it is a marvelous and deeply satisfying endevour. Perhaps you will be the one to create for the next wave of the new and I will visit your Museum."