Last updated: 6/30/08
NOTE: If you've been forwarded a link to this blog post, it's likely that one of your colleagues thinks you should do your due diligence before thinking a contest is the fastest road to salvation. It isn't, here's why...
I'm starting a crusade at Microsoft to lower the number of contests we run a year. I know I'll be successful if the number of contests a year goes down. I fear I won't be. First, let me explain by showing how bad the problem is.
The Problem Today is March 17th, and there are already *18* 30 contests that will finish this year. That's 1.6 contests a week. Mind you, this is only after a cursory search and it does not include Microsoft partner contests (large companies like HP, community sites like codeproject, etc).
1. Mix Restyle contest
2. Mix Show Off
3. Dream Build Play Contest
4. SQL Server Bug Bash
5. Imagine Cup
6. Server 2008 Championship
9. Office Developer Sleepless Contest
10. Ingenuity Point Contest
11. Next Gen PC Design Competition
12. Small Business Summit Technology Makeover
13. Microsoft Future Pro Photography Contest
14. PowerShell Mascot Naming Contest
15. Windows Live Contest (Zune A Day Giveaway)
17. TechNet DesignIT Contest
18. 2008 Scripting Games
19. Web Harmony
20. Dobbs Challenge (sponsored by Microsoft)
21. Digital Home Makeover
22. SQL Server Heroes 2008 Contest
23. INETA European Silverlight Challenge (sponsored by Microsoft)
24. Ultimate Video Relay
25. Windows Media Center: Ultimate Install Contest
26. TechEd SEA: Blog and Win contest
27. AT&T and Microsoft Indy Mobile Game contest
28. Creator's Club Game On Sweepstakes
29. Microsoft Expression Contest
30. Microsoft Dynamics NAV Contest
31. Silverlight Control Builder Contest
32. INETA Silverlight Challenge
33. Software + Services - Bring it all together
34. PDC 2008 Show Off (and yes I am a "host" for this)
That's a *lot* of contests. Most customers don't even know that half of these exist. In fact, I only knew of about five of them, but still teams are out there building another contest page and even having contests for the same customer base overlapping each other. I wonder if you could live off of just entering Microsoft contests...it's never the same teams evaluating your project, idea, etc... Perhaps I should run a contest to have one person try to win every Microsoft contest :)
Why do teams run contests?
While this depends on the group, here are some of the most common reasons
Contests to Drive Community Running a contest to grow a community is probably one of the worst reasons why to run a contest. First off, a contest pits users against users rather than having users work with each other. It forces what are considered equal members to be subdivided based on their skills or aptitude. It's not the healthiest thing to do and it certainly doesn't grow your community.
Contests to Drive Content Another common reason is to have content built using your technology. There are a couple of reasons why this isn't a good idea, including:
The goal is to drive some form of behavior and in many cases, it's decided by a product manager for a specific technology that really just wants applications and samples to be built using that technology and to drive PR.
Contests to Drive Testing Things like a bug bash are probably some of the best suited for contests as it is really more of a reward for helping test an application. The only issues with testing is that depending on the software's complexity, the end result of a bug bash or extra testing end is likely to be documenting the issue in a "known issues" or "readme" document and punting the bug for the next service pack 6-8 months later. If the software is smaller, say like a starter kit or sample versus Windows 7, then most of the bugs found will actually be fixed by the time the sample ships.
Contests to Drive Usage Usage can be a mixed bag, depending on the service. In many cases, it can drive the wrong behavior, like having hundreds of people sign up for a service that they will never use, just for a chance to win a sweepstakes. The important thing to remember is that you want to drive the right behavior with the right audience. In many cases, customers will jump through whatever hoops necessary to win your "prize" and things like free online services are the most likely to be abused.
What else can I do besides contests? This depends on your goal, but if your goal is
Do you know of other contests? Join the overdone-contest movement! If you find a Microsoft team doing a contest, comment here and we'll add it to the list.