This is a discussion that started on the list of Laser Cutter Contest Finalists that I wanted to make its own forum topic.
I am really happy with the entries to the Laser Cutter Contest. The quality, depth, scope, and professionalism of all of the entries is simply amazing. I am also really happy with how the contest brought out the best of the Instructables community, and how it encouraged a bunch of new members to make the jump and post their first project.
However, it seems we screwed up, as many of you are unhappy with the list of finalists. Since there's no quantitative way to rank projects in a contest that spans two months (ranking by pageviews and ratings alone give a huge advantage to projects entered early, and in some ways just turns the problem over to the editors and readers of sites that link to us such as Digg, Boingboing, and Make), we ranked them qualitatively. Everyone has their own opinion, and coming to a consensus is very difficult, which is why we increased the number of finalists from 10 to 15. When the contest accepts entries on any subject, judging becomes nearly impossible.
In the end, we only have one laser cutter to give away. So, we will choose one winner, and this may be the root of the problem. I thought that a single, high-end prize would make for a better contest than a large number of lower-end prizes, like many of our previous contests. The number of entries, the quality of the entries, and the number of people encouraged to make their first post all support my theory that quality of prizes yields better results then quantity, but if the community is genuinely unhappy, than I am wrong.
Perhaps this feeling is simply being expressed by a small but vocal group, and the community as a whole thinks the Laser Cutter Contest was great and will be happy for the finalists and the winner. Getting a community to express itself is tough, but we're here listening and we take what each of you has to say very seriously.
To me, the value of posting an Instructable is not in the chance to win a laser cutter, it's when someone makes a comment saying that I taught them something new, changed the way they looked at things, or inspired them to make something themselves (even if it's something totally different than my Instructable). That's why I am so passionate about Instructables, and why I see contests as just a small part of the reason to post.
We're always trying new things, and if they don't work, we try to make corrections, learn from our mistakes, and try something else. I think contests, if done properly, can invigorate, excite, and build community.
So, I'm listening- what can we learn from this experience? Should we run more focused contests? Would you prefer lots of prizes to a single high-value prize? Do you have any other suggestions? We want to run the best contests we can, and work with our community to ensure their success.
Please tell me what you think.