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Skewed Contest Judging? Better Feedback? Answered

Hello all,

In recent contests, I've noticed that the judges seem to favor entries that require more expensive equipment, parts, or tooling, e.g. laser engraved parts, CNCs, and 3D Printers to name a few. As an entrant and community member who has none of these tools nor the budget to get them, I feel this is a bit skewed and not true to the open source spirit fostered here on Instructables. While I do agree that all of the entries that use the above should have an equal chance and are just as good as low-tech entries, I believe that more emphasis ought to be placed on projects that anybody can create without such tools or skills.

I admit, I am a bit biased in this area of discussion, however, my point stands. Please tell me if I am making a wrongful accusation here.

I would also like to see a feedback system put in place where the contest judges give a few pointers so entrants that did not win can improve their future projects and understand why their entry did not achieve a winning status. I feel that this would give an even more positive, community-friendly atmosphere to the site overall, instead of discouraging people who put a lot of work and time into their project and yet didn't even finalize. Has such an idea been considered? If so, why was it not instituted?

- Dangerously Explosive

36 Replies

random_builder (author)2018-02-25

Yes I agree. What most of the judges look for is a great-looking final project, and usually not how hard it is to make or what it takes to make it. And another example is the Minecraft Contest. You would think that most of the stuff that would win is the in really cool in-game stuff, right? NO! They just came out with the finalists, and none of them are something in-game!! Who would want a wooden minecraft man that is pretty much just a block of wood? Or a 3D printed skeleton?? (no offence to the authors whatsoever though) Why not add the good in-game stuff that everyone can make? Like a tnt cannon with four different shot lengths! Or a pumpkin that produces the stuff to make Pumpkin pie! Anyone could make those if they had minecraft, and minecraft is the contest, so why not finalise stuff that is actually in Minecraft!!?!

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KentG13 (author)random_builder2018-02-27

Totally agree! I followed their guidelines:

"Demonstrate your Minecraft mastery with intuitive gameplay tutorials or show how your gaming talents translate into the real world with Creeper crafts, edible Endermen, stuffed Strays and much more."

Favoritism was shown to the second guideline!

Here are my entries:




I always strive to use good images(Lighting, positioning, colorizing, ect.)

I edit my Instructables constantly, trying to make it better.

I know not everyone can be a winner, but some Instructables have been selected as first prize that are completely cheesy. Check out the one that won first place the Macgyver contest:


It was a cute story not an Instructable. It's steps were chapters in a story.

The other entries were more qualified than this. Here is mine:


Mine was a runner up, but I didn't mind that so much as the fact I lost to that first place entry.

I believe nobody had been given a fair chance here.

I my seem rude and like I'm throwing rocks, but all I said is fact.

I hope something is done about this.

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BrittLiv (author)KentG132018-02-27

I've not judged the contests, I am not a staff member nor have I ever played minecraft, but let me give you my opinion.

First of all I agree with you, your images are indeed great.

I actually like the ible that has won the first prize in the Mac Gyver Contest. It is interesting to read and has a nice final project (though I admit it is a bit cheesy). I think your project could have beaten it, if you would have posted a short video.

As for your minecraft ibles the first one is really short, not that that is a bad thing, but I don't remember such a short project ever winning anything.

The second one doesn't have a lot of pictures. When you publish an Instructable, try adding a picture to every step.

The third looks really good. As someone who has never played Minecraft I don't really understand it, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I guess here it comes down to it not getting many views.

I hope you don't feel offended, just my five cents.

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KentG13 (author)BrittLiv2018-03-01

Not at all :) I like input on my projects, I don't usually post comments like this.

I see your point, I'll keep it in mind for the future, Thanks :)

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random_builder (author)KentG132018-02-28

I agree with BrittLiv on your ibles. The first two were decent, but not worth winning. The third should have got some prize, though. (An idea that might make it better is to take the emoji off the cover photo)

That winner for the macgyver contest... Really??? It sounds like an ok project, but it should not have gotten Grand prize. If they would have documented it better, it might be almost worth Grand, but not like the way it is now.

The entry that you had in the MacG was really good, except a video might've gotten it a better prize.

Now that the MC contest has shown the winners, I am really annoyed. The Grand winner deserved it, except he did it with a 3D printer!! And guess what he gets for a prize... A 3D PRINTER!!! That might not be too bad if he had a cheap 3D, but his looked almost as good as the one that he got for a prize. Not like Ibles or him could really help that, I am just annoyed.

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The minecraft contest is still in judging, and the finalist are actually chosen by community vote. The judges do have to pick out of that subset.

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Yeah. The voting system is what's really screwed up. Anybody with a large social media base is already going to finalize, regardless of how good their project is.

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It's worth noting that the voting system alone isn't used to decide finalists, this is done by the staff. No doubt the voting system can help bring entries to their attention that they might otherwise overlook, or it may help swing a split decision, but it is by no means the single deciding factor.

With this in mind, the number of views an Instructrable has doesn't necessarily correlate with its success in any given contest. I was once runner-up in a contest with an I'ble that had less than 700 views.

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Also, that winner might "just" win an I'bles t-shirt.

I've seen an I'ble that was a contest winner with only 400 views, and when I saw that it was a year after it had won.

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Yonatan24 (author)random_builder2018-02-25

My projects focus way more on function over form, I think, for example, if I used better-looking lumber (which I have no option of doing that anyway) and spent more time sanding and finishing my woodworking projects, I might win more contests :)

Photoshop skills for the win! ...I need to learn Photoshop.

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OrigamiAirEnforcer (author)2018-02-25

"...discouraging people who put a lot of work and time into their project and yet didn't even finalize."

Boy, does that line resonate as something familiar. It basically describes one of the main reasons I have gone from a person publishing "a project a week" to "a project a month, if that."

A while back, a project of mine that had been in development for the bigger part of a year fell short of the finalist selection. Meanwhile, a competing entry flatly stated to be copied from someone else went on to not only be a finalist in that contest, but to win it and still another two other contests too.

Sure sounds like the basis for discouragement, eh?

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Some of my projects, ROB in particular, have met similar fates. I spent over two months designing, testing, and coding that thing, and I planned to keep working on it with versions 2 and 3, but not only did it never finalize, nobody has seemed to show any interest in it whatsoever. Why should I keep working on it? Answer: I don't. I've since discontinued any updates to that design, and now all of my projects are designed to stay as-is, with the option to upgrade if someone decides to put the time and effort into it.

I think the voting system is really what is at fault. Someone could have a project that is honestly sh** that nobody would ever possibly need or want (I'm not referring any particular project currently in existence), but if they spam it across their giant social media network, they are almost guaranteed to finalize.

That pushes those of us who spend too much time on our projects or just don't feel the need to maintain a sizable social media audience to the back row. Seriously. My projects have never made it past 1.5k views, and I spent a heck of a lot more time on them than that guy with 5k views on a nice paper model or what have you.

So, what I think I'm getting at is that the voting system needs to go, or at least be changed so it can only be used as a tiebreaker. How else can you make it fair? The 'big guys' who post semi-constantly already have a huge advantage. Why make that advantage bigger? They already have expensive tools and a budget to get more. I thought the contests were so that little guys with no budgets could have a chance to maybe win a tool that would honestly be more useful to them than a guy who already has one.

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Mmm I have just short of 1.5 million views for my 36 instructables.

Whereas I sympathise with your frustration if you want your instructables to be well viewed you should aim to make instructables about things that people want.

My most viewed instructable believe it or not is how to make a rabbit trap. One of the easiest things I did. Others I laboured over with much original input get comparatively little interest.

A title and tags that reflect the content in a way to attract interest is also valuable.

Lastly, well written and illustrated work catches the eye of the editors and gets featured, that really gets the ball tolling.

Like you I don't see social media as a great boon.

However if the system has to have a winner on some kind of merit then some kind of vote has to be used. In General the larger the voting group the less bias the vote will be.

Keep going, follow your interests, Think about how others will view your projects and try to make them as attractive as you can.

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Yonatan24 (author)rickharris2018-02-27

Your I'ble ranks as #1 for that search in Google, under Youtube, as expected. I think that's the reason many of not most old, fairly basic I'bles have millions of views today - they were the first to publish and rank on Google.

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rickharris (author)Yonatan242018-02-28

Interesting - Never thought to look it up.

Not really interested in views (other than the free pro membership it gives me), I publish because I like to share my ideas.

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Yonatan24 (author)rickharris2018-02-28

You don't always have to look it up. I saw that your I'ble was pretty old, and had a lot of views. It didn't look to me like something that would be featured again and again in the newsletter, bringing the views, it's an I'ble that would be searched... And on Google.

Seamster has an impossible object in a block of wood I'ble which I remembered seeing it get quite a few views through the newsletter, but then I checked back a few weeks later, to see it at 1.8 million views, and as I had expected, the views came from Pinterest.

When seeing it for the first time, I wanted to make one too, but as soon as I saw that his I'ble has a huge spike, I rushed (that might be a lie) to make one too, except that I came up with an easier method for making it.

5K views from FB and 2K more from Pinterest.

But's it's not only about the views... ⁽ᵗʰᵃᵗ ᵐᶦᵍʰᵗ ᵃᶫˢᵒ ᵇᵉ ᵃ ᶫᶦᵉ⁾

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As somebody who has won quite a few contests let me weight in.

To me it comes down to this sentence: "nobody has seemed to show any interest in it whatsoever. Why should I keep working on it? Answer: I don't."

Let me ask you one question, if you are not passionate about a project why should anybody else be and if nobody is really interested in a project why should it win something.

Try making stuff that makes you happy and that you are really proud off. I absolutely agree that it is way easier to win a contest, if you have unlimited funding, but if you are absolutely passionate about something you can find a way. Maybe tell a company about your idea and try to get funding this way. If you can't afford a nice camera, ask around maybe a friend your parents or you school can help you out. I started out by borrowing a camera until I've won one in a contest. When I started I had no mill, 3D printers or like I said even a decent camera, thanks to instructables now I have all those things.

I have judged contests before and sometimes it is hard to decide which project should be rated better, the one with the better project or the one with the better documentation. So if you have a great project make sure to go the extra mile while documenting it.

If you have posted a project that doesn't get the views you think it
deserves, find blogs or other websites, tell them about it and try to
get views this way (sometimes a project gets overlooked, especially if
the title image doesn't look good).

I think it is awesome that instructables is way more about quality than quantity. Other sites like instagram, youtube or facebook reward users that post constantly (best daily). Due to work I don't have much time to post that often and yet what I post usually does well on instructables.

I don't think it is a great idea to automatically give users feedback why they haven't won, since it might discourage them, if you are interested in feedback, check this site: https://www.instructables.com/topics/The-Clinic/ or ask stuff members directly.

Only half of the finalists are chosen by votes, the rest is chosen by stuff members, so even if you don't have a big following, you have pretty good chances of winning something.

Like ProfessorPi and OrigamiAirEnforcer say sometimes the contest results come down to personal taste of the judges and projects that probably don't deserve it end up winning, but that's how life goes, not everybody thinks the same about everything. When you have posted something you love that has gotten some nice feedback by other users and maybe even earned you some money with amazon referrals, it doesn't matter as much.

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See, that's the thing. I am passionate about it. I would never do a project if I wasn't interested in the results. And when I get to a result that is acceptable and works for my purposes, I usually stop there. But with my projects here on Instructables, I do go the extra mile to keep improving, to document it as best I can, and to make the project better than I I originally intended or needed it to be. You know, things like a nice paint job, extra code for people who have different hardware, making certain displays bigger so you can do more with them, etc.

The thing is, when I do all that and get nothing for it, not even a little spike in comments, feedback, anything at all, I find myself wondering "what's the point?" I just did a lot more work than I needed to do, with no obvious reward. I could go on and keep improving it, but if nobody else cares, and I was happy with the result before it was even worthy of becoming an Instructable, I might as well move on and do something else.

And that brings us to the present day. I usually have some idea for what I want to do, and several ideas for what I want to do in the future. So I take that idea for what I want to do, and mold it to fit the requirements for a contest or two in the hopes that I might win, opening up even more doors to new or improved projects based on my ideas for what I want to do in the future. Because really, all I have right now is a bunch of cardboard, hot glue, and some Arduino-related bits. Nothing else. I have tons of great ideas for projects that I want to do, have been wanting to do for several years, actually, but no real way to get to them except through these contests. And when I put a lot of time into forcing that cardboard to conform to my ideas, to fulfill a purpose, and then have it brushed aside by someone who has everything I could possibly want and probably spent half the time on their project as I did mine, I'll admit, it makes me kind of angry. But I have to push through that anger, and hope that maybe next time, maybe I might have a chance at winning.

At least, that was my hope the last 7 times. I suppose the only way to go is to keep trying, to push on, and just keep fighting. And when I notice things that are skewed, perhaps unfairly or perhaps just by chance, and places where the system could be improved, I want to point them out, to make people realize, "Hey, this isn't necessarily right. Let's fix it, and make it better." Because that's all we can do. Fix things and try to make them better.

I hope that clears things up as to where I stand.

And as for the feedback, I think it would be more encouraging than discouraging, as people could then use it to improve future projects. It's like going to a talent show, where you try as best you can, and the feedback is the difference between the judges telling you what they liked/didn't like and where you could improve, and them just saying, "Nope. Next?" Understand where I'm going with this?

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I have published over 100 Instructables, have entered them in probably a few hundred contests... And won less than ten, expecting to win in dozens.

Oh well :)

^That smile is not what my face shows after spending 15 (or 100+) hours on an I'ble and not winning after being sure I would win.

Even though you could win in a contest with a small number of views, it's pretty unlikely. I would focus on improving your thumbnails. For example, for your torch, you could have been holding it high above your head... Like this: https://www.google.com/search?q=person+holding+a+t... taking the picture outside on a bright sunny day. People won't click on your I'ble if the thumbnail doesn't attract their attention!

Check out the thumbnail of the unusual uses for drill bits I'ble, it's kinda hard to miss: https://www.instructables.com/member/Yonatan24/ins...

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Thanks for the pointers. I just changed the thumbnails for the torch and the creeper sentry, and I basically photoshopped my previous pictures onto a new background for a more eye-catching effect. I have no idea if it will help, but thanks anyway.

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well done, now for your next ible I would make sure that the lighting is good
in all the pictures. Improving an ible after it has been published normally
doesn’t result in a huge increase in views, but like Yonatan24 already said you
never know.

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I wouldn't expect a big spike in views, but you never know.

But here's a tip: Google "how to make a minecraft torch" scroll down to the bottom, and add the related searches to your tags. I can see you used one-word tags in the video, but those don't work as well. You need to be specific, it's impossible to rank as number one for "minecraft"...

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That looks WAY better than before!! You will probably get a lot more views with that cover picture.

Another way to have a better change at winning a contest (unfortunately I learned this way too late and never had a change to put it into practice yet) is instead of making a lot of 'ibles for the same contest, since only one can win, try to put effort into just one 'ible for that contest. It will have a way better chance at winning than a few ones that you didn't work quite as hard on. (not saying yours are bad at all, they are great!)

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I absolutely understand you. I get that it is frustrating. In your case I think it comes down to picture quality. Your projects definitely have the "it" factor, but great images are the most important thing of documenting something (there are some great instructables on how to take good pictures, even if you don't have an expensive camera). I've seen that all your project have gotten featured, great job. Now you should try to get to the front page. Here is a great explanation how to do that:


I agree with Yonathan24, try improving your thumbnails. He is a great example on how to make thumbnails that get a lot of attention.

If you are working on something I can offer to take a look before you publish the instructable and try to give you hints on how to improve it. This obviously doesn't guarantee a contest win though, because like I said in the end it might just come down to personal taste of the judges, but it will certainly increase you chances.

I can tell you from my past experience, that a lot of people don't like criticism, even if it is constructive. Also judging a contest takes a lot of time, since some instructables are very long, having to write comments will elongate this even further.

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"To me it comes down to this sentence: "nobody has seemed to show any
interest in it whatsoever. Why should I keep working on it? Answer: I

Let me ask you one question, if you are not passionate
about a project why should anybody else be and if nobody is really
interested in a project why should it win something."

I see it as only being natural that a creator would withdraw and cutback in response to poor results. If you trade the word "creator" for "company" and it becomes easy to follow the logic.

Passion for something is lovely--but in the wake of a defeat, it probably just makes that defeat hurt more.

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Ok. As a company:

You're spending your time, energy, and money on a great product. You aren't spending time on marketing - why do you expect to sell the product?

Instructables won't change, and you aren't changing - why do you still expect to win in contests?

I can't say I'm as successful at winning in contests as I'd would expect, but I'm constantly changing, improving, and adapting. I saw Instructables were changing the titles of my I'bles when they were being sent out in the newsletter so I added text to the thumbnails. I saw several I'bles with a similar project to mine, all with tens of thousands of views, so I made the project, but totally differently and added my own twist. I saw that part one of an I'ble was really popular, so I made a part two.


I saw that unusual uses for common items were popular. I did that too, spending months of "passive thinking" coming up with those ideas.

Why keep repeating the same mistakes, expecting a different result? No wonder you want to give up...

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BrittLiv (author)Yonatan242018-02-27

I absolutely agree with what Yonatan24 has written.

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Yonatan24 (author)BrittLiv2018-02-26

Didn't we all "brainstorm" a bunch of ideas for OAE to improve his I'bles? I think we did that like 1 or 2 years ago. I'm sure they could improve OAE's number of contest wins...

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@ D.E.

Voting is prone to skewing due to viewership inequality and subjectivity.

Because projects are viewed at different rates, often to an extreme extent, it can be possible for viewership to overwhelm any chance at voting mattering. Think of this way: Project A gets 11,000 views, Project B gets 100 views. With 1% of viewers voting, A gets 110 votes. With 100% of viewers voting, B gets 100 votes. Even with an unrealistic voter participation rate, at a certain point the numbers simply aren't there anymore.

Subjectivity becomes a liability for the judges' portion of things, as appearance becomes the main point that really matters. Performance--which is perhaps the absolute most important aspect of things--is often overlooked. This means that salesmanship of something means more than actually building it--hardly an incentive to focus on the project's subject matter.

I suspect only performance based judging can really overcome these things.

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True, but I do undestand the (sometimes) crushing feeling, when you find you have created soemthing amazing. and others seem to think it is not so. That is something to get used to as well.

For some that sucks the joy out of it as well for a bit and the don't care about what others think does take often some time to develop ;)

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Jake_Makes (author)2018-02-27

It's the voting that is a bit tricky. If you don't get on the email, (which depends mainly on the number of good ibles posted within the last certain amount of time), you don't get enough views to get votes. I posted an instructable a while back which i'm positive would have finalized if it had gotten onto the email. It would have gotten onto the email if it's place hadn't been taken by another similar instructable posted by another author at roughly the same time. Annoying, but that's how the system works.

To win, it's purely a question of number of views.

The judging itself is the most fair part. I will say though, I've judged a couple of contests before, and I found I was partial to the ones that looked like they took the largest amount of work and creativity. I will always choose a more complicated project (one which took more brain power) over a simple one. That's just the way it works. Personally, I don't care how great the thumbnail looks. I can take an amazing picture of a crappy project. I'm looking at design and creativity.

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ProfessorPi (author)2018-02-25

I definitely agree. A while ago there was a contest where 3 different cutting boards won, all with fancy wood and tools. I was pretty annoyed when that happened. They should make a contest where everything has to be under a certain budget. A cheap builds contest. I'm going to go suggest that. But I totally agree.

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FriedZombie (author)ProfessorPi2018-02-26

To be fair, it sounds like also the looks would be a important factor in this case. Also if you put down a certain budget it wouldn't work too well either to be honest. Since people do say that they spend not more then that. While in reality that is hard to check. Hey maybe they got a great discount.

But for wood working, you can create something astonishing with cheap tools and cheap wood. But you have to be more creative I guess. As well in maybe the thumbnail for the instructable as well.

The funny thing is the only reason that I once signed up for instructables is, was that someone at our hackerspace signed us up to participate into creating something from a dodocase (google cardboard clone thing). It wasn't a contest but the company wanted that it was put on instructables in one form or an other.

Nobody really wanted to do that at our hackerspace, but the penalty was that we could be bared from participation from other things (not strictly instructables related). So I thought up something I could do as quick as possible and cheap as possible: My dodocase and the search results. My educated guess is that I got people into the instructable because of the clean thumbnail image and kept them interested because it was simple and some apparently never thought of using acrylic this way (although impregnating cardboard is pretty common).

In the glutenfree challenge my stroopwafels did get a decent amount of views, but not nearly as much as some others. But that also really boils down on how I have presented it in the thumbnail. If I had photographed the image like this with the waffle instead:Stroopwafel image Then I would have generated a way more views.

So basically it isn't clear cut that is based on how the finish is tools used and stuff like that. But the biggest importance is how you dress the first image and intro. Because first impressions are important.

But setting up good foto's like that takes time and effort as well. (so that is why I didn't bother with it).

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FriedZombie (author)FriedZombie2018-02-26

p.s. I don't care if I win or not, I had fun making it and creating the instructable. Winning or being a finalist would be a nice bonus. Nothing more in my opinion.

But a long time ago, I would value the opinion if something is good or not from others a whole lot more. btw not saying that I don't value good advice

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iceng (author)2018-02-25

I just started the minecraft class and doubt I could finish up at these light speed requirements where I lost two paragraphs while having supper with the family...

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