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Contest discussion Answered

Hi everyone,

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.



11 years ago

hi folks first off kudos to the finalists and i wish you luck. second like many of you i entered projects in the last contest. i did not expect to win{especially the first prize} but the projects were not made to win me prizes but to share with all of you some ideas i had, i believe most of us do this for that reason. while some of my instructables have won prizes before the fact that you liked them was more important {btw i still love my juice s2} id also like to say that even the humblest of instructables have merit. where else can we find tutorials in everything from diy pyrotechics to computer mods ,and cookie recipees to old time technology.{any almost any subject in between} im thinking that from time to time you might want to give away a random prize so those contributers with lesser ideas might have a chance to win a tshirt.

I'm not much of a Harry Potter fan. Seems like a Transformers themed contest might have been timely too.

heh heh. you were thinking of that before i said it though werent you.

whoops please excuse the typos. its to hot here.

Having a large top prize and some smaller prizes (or instructables store equivalents or other gift certificates) would be good. I didn't even enter the laser engraver contest because I knew I didn't have a chance. And gift certs or store equivalents would be good for repeat winners who have patches, stickers, and shirts (but no multi-tool yet!), like yours truly. Been some great instructables since the start of the contest, though.

Sorta. But you know, for the bigger contests, have a bigger prize and gift certs or some such for smaller prizes.

I think a $1500 award from Amazon is a pretty big prize, and thus makes the Amazon contest, one of our bigger contests.

I'd love the grand prize, but I'm just hoping to get the $250 gift certificate. Mostly, I just really want that laser-engraved Leatherman! Figures I have to split any prize money with my dad, who is doing most of the building on the mmmmffcan'tsay.

Eh? What comntest was that? You mean the laser cutter contest? Please understand, I am not criticizing any particular contest prize distribution. I'm merely trying to add support to the distribution that I think is best.

The new Amazon Science Fair we're running.

I was pretty amazed when I saw that! I think I'd get slaughtered in this contest- I'm very much a non scientific type! LOL

From my perspective, what a lot of people seem to be feeling but not articulating is a frustration with the lack of clear rules and, if you did track down the judging criteria (by clicking on one of two single word text links) the judging didn't really seem to correlate with the finalist list.

First of all, the rules state that the judging is based on projects, and the list posted was a list of people. Judging based on people would encourage a lot of flooding the entries, which may have given some entrants an advantage. I chose only to post what I thought was truly remarkable or innovative, and only things I couldn't find complete existing documentation of.

On the second link in the rules these are the judging criteria:

# instruction quality
I really have no issue with this one - I haven't gone line by line through all of the entries, but overall I thought the instructions were clear in what I have read.

# originality
This one bothers me because at least two of the entries link to other, similar projects. That should have automatically taken them out of the running for the contest because, by their own admission, their entry wasn't original.

# usefulness
This also comes into question as the vast majority of entries have no usefulness (outside of pure entertainment, which really isn't involved in the definition of 'useful'. If it is, any project that anyone has ever been amused by is automatically useful.) This obviously targets the meat shorts dead on, and that project seems to be one of the primary problems most people had with the contest. Beyond not being useful one could even argue that it's wasteful, as food that could have been consumed (usefully) was turned into clothing that really, in all practicality, can't be worn (and, technically, is useless).

I must say that I personally found it insulting that the meat shorts were included while my projects, which took a substantial amount of time to develop and required a lot of research to do properly were not.

# technical merit
Again, some of these projects teach amazing new skills in a lot of detail, while some definitely do not. The judges choosing a list of people instead of a list of projects helped to confuse this.

Changing the rules part way through bothered me, particularly because you dumbed down a contest that was giving away a technically complex and potentially dangerous $6000 prize, there is no way to judge based on future plans (there are plenty of 'one hit wonders' so to speak in this world - someone in that category won't make much use of a laser cutter and an essay would have been a way to help separate people with one good idea from people with lots of future plans) and writing an essay shows a certain amount of motivation and commitment.

I'm here because in my chosen field I have very little competition, which means my desire for competition doesn't have much of an outlet. I had already determined that I needed to own a laser cutter, and it would have been great to win one (partly because it would mean starting over and learning so many new things) but it doesn't really affect my life that much. Winning or not winning wasn't the issue, not winning because the rules didn't seem to apply to the judging is.

I don't feel encouraged to participate in contests on this site because the judging process seems to be such a mystery, and unrelated to the small amount of criteria listed. A direct correlation with the rules - possibly even with a sentence or two from the judges about why each finalist was chosen may well have virtually eliminated all of the arguing and bitterness on the site right now.

I don't think that the angry participants are just greedy or rude or anything unkind like that, I think most of them feel that the judging was unfair because 'fair' wasn't really established in the first place.

You make a very good point- we've gone over our judging rationale and explanations, and will try to make them more clear in the future. It can be very hard to translate these things into print, and if it's not clear we need to know exactly what didn't make it so next time we do a better job.

We're trying to be flexible and responsive to our community without compromising on the important parts. Thus, we err on the side of being more inclusive with the larger number of finalists, and while there's no longer a formal requirement, we've encouraged the finalists to submit an informal overview of their plans for the laser cutter.

Keep giving us feedback- that's the only way we know what you think!

The meat shorts are a red herring here. The original post was confusing, but with the new post it's clear that the nomination was for the compubeaver and not the meat shorts. She happened to have that project in there as well. That's all. Not to say that your concerns aren't valid, but I truly think that one point can be dropped.

This comment was posted before the new list was posted (or at least before I knew a new list was posted). But I still think that was where many people took offense, and it still ties back to the 'projects' in the rules but 'people' on the final list. I'm not so much trying to argue over specific projects (though they are necessary as examples to make my points) as I am trying to figure out how to avoid the angry posts over future contests.

I've seen a couple references to the meat shorts, but not enough to make it "many." Please don't talk for others, just speak for yourself. Your concerns are good enough to not need inflating with imaginary hordes. That said, I agree that the original forum post only served to confuse the whole process which at the core hasn't changed much.

I don't wish to speak for anyone else, but I can say that's the project I've seen singled out most in the complaints, and I had noticed it had a negative rating before negative ratings were abolished. I'll stand by what I've said, but I don't wish to offend you (or anyone else for that matter.) I can't complain about the contests if I'm not willing to offer the best constructive criticism I can, which is all I'm trying to do.

A quick search on both forum posts turned up three references to the meat shorts not from either of us. Sorry, but that's not very many. Give me a dozen or so bits of outrage and now we're talking. Believe me, I've had many people calling me an idiot for something I've written. And when I say many I mean hundreds of pissed off readers. The numbers were impressive, but all it took for me to rethink something would be one well-reasoned argument. So maybe it's just a pet peeve of mine, but when I've seen messages talking about how "many" people are pissed off about something it's usually a small and vocal (and often childish) group trying to act big. Not saying that that's what you've been trying to do, but that's how it can appear. In getting a thicker skin I grew to mentally filter out those messages. Now, back to the topic at hand. An instructable can be useful even if the end result is useless. After all, what's the use of art? It's pointless. It just sits there doing nothing. A waste of space, right?

This feels like arguing for the sake of arguing, and I'll have none of it. I've made my point, and I'll leave it at that.

I'm sorry, but if you can't defend your own statements, then why did you make them in the first place?

I was also disappointed when we dumbed-down the rules. It was a tough call (and I've given my reasons for doing so in a previous comment), but given the data at the time and the quality of the projects finally submitted, I am happy with that decision. I know that people will always procrastinate, but in a case like this it's impossible to know whether entries are on their way or not. I find your comments about competition very interesting. I've been researching various other similar contests and competitions, like Science Fairs, and the chief complaint seems to be the competition aspect itself. It's good to know that there are people out there in our DIY-space seeking competition. We've learned a lot from this contest and will apply in the future in an effort towards continuous improvement.

It's always fashionable to say you dislike competition, but it works for the same reason that communism doesn't - people work harder when there's a better reward. I had already planned to do the instructables I did, but a contest deadline got me to actually finish them up. Competition encourages excellence, but the requirements need to be very clear. I also think that part of the reason there are so many people arguing the issue is that last time people argued (against the essay) they were able to convince you to change the rules. In the most Pavlovian sense you've trained the community that if they don't like what they see it will change if they protest loudly enough. Rather than encouraging loud protests, this might be a great time for you to look into surveys/polls to gauge popular opinion before announcing a contest, to avoid letting popular opinion change the contest once it's announced. I'm so happy to have an opportunity to participate in competitions like this, all I want is real clarity on the expectations you have for the participants.

Maybe this would make a good laser cutter entry but without having a laser cutter there is no way I can know for sure. Emergency Face Shield

I can agree and disagree with nearly every statement here, but there are two things that I'd like to emphasize—intention and function.

intention : A few people mentioned that they would be discouraged from voting if they thought that the laser cutter would go to someone who would just stash it in their garage or sell it. I agree wholeheartedly—even though the contest is about the instructable, when it comes to a very powerful and expensive tool like the laser cutter, I can't help but consider what use the winner will put it to.

function : The DIY yourself community is one that thrives on a friendly, utilitarian standard of available and shared knowledge, and this should carry over in the products that we commemorate. There are plenty of slightly odd and obscure instructables, including a few that are finalists in this contest. Originality is important, but overly-conceptual and inapplicable-to-real-life items are only one form of it. Originality is purest, in my opinion, when it is an original solution to a common problem—the physical device is only as strong, smart or original as the solution that it functions to provide.

Forgive me for the shameless plug, but the originality-via-function of mikejedw's Pringles Wind TurbinePringles Wind Turbine, along with the fact that if he wins he will donate the laser cutter to a school for use by all of the students, makes his instructable truly deserving of the grand prize, in my opinion.

You didn't do quite as badly as some might say. No, it isn't possible to have a contest where ZERO quantitative results affect the outcome. The projects that get higher ratings do tend to be more in line with what instructables.com has to say to the internet community, regardless of popularity. You've narrowed things from several hundred to 15, so naturally a couple hundred or so are going to be a bit disappointed. The ones who get offended will tend to not enter further contests, which might hurt a little, but the end result is that future contests will be more about the message that comes from the Instructable. My little blood squirter project got some awesome page views. I was expecting somewhere on the order of maybe a thousand or so over the course of the week+ it has been up, and managed to get that in a day or two. You've got a high-traffic site, and people get a little touchy when they are all bundled together. Some ideas that might alleviate some of the more sensitive people: Contest prizes related to the Instructables to be judged - a laser cutter is a sweet, expensive prize. There isn't a whole lot of reason to give it to someone who is just going to put it in their garage and never use it, or just sell it. Keep the big prize idea, just make the contests a little more specific. The writeup thing wasn't a bad idea at all, and I kinda expect to see the prize in further use on the site. Cut back on total submissions - entries were flowing in for a really long time. You may be able to separate the "popular vote" by having a group-specific page view and rating. Yeah, it means more code, but it will help sort out the entries that better fit the contest. Maybe even make it so submissions to a contest can only happen for 1 week, but we all know for a month beforehand what week that is. This might make for better quality, but less quantity. Creativity seems to be something important. Weirder stuff is cool to do Instructables about, but people can also get weirded out by things like taxidermy and other "icky" things. The spirit of the site seems to be a sharing of ideas, in a reproducible way. Perhaps project accessibility should factor into prize winners, meaning Instructables that might be commercialized gain some priority.

I guess the whole contest leaves me discouraged. It makes me not want to bother doing all the effort to make an Instructable at all. I think it's a neat idea, but it's also a lot of extra work beyond what's required to build a useful prototype.

I don't know what exactly people submitted, but my monster of a 12-step, 40-image No Button/No Switch Fully Automatic Blinking Bike Light(shameless plug) barely got any traffic (since I finished and submitted it on July 1), not to mention that it's got a low rating of 1 so far.

I get disheartened that my projects suck, despite good pictures, good writing, and good ideas -- then again, I must be wrong. I guess I'll just keep things to myself from now on.

Don't give up so easily. Good projects fall through the cracks all the time. With upwards of 30 projects going up a day on the site this can easily happen. A couple of things to help get attention is to add it to the Make group if it's relevant (which I just did) and send the link to a few related blogs. Lots of other people come in from Google and it helps to use a descriptive title. Since you use LEDs (a maker favorite), it might help to change it to something like "Make Your Own Fully Automatic Blinkie LED Bike Light"

Should people be able to vote negatively on a forum post for the contest? It seems like it keeps the totals down and allows the haters to have a say.

My personal opinion is that the people who are complaining need to suck it up and move on. So you didn't win a laser cutter. Neither did I, and I'm just fine with that. If you made a truly good Instructable that you believed had a chance of winning, chances are that you are in it to share your ideas with the world, not to "real quick come up with a cool idea so I can win a laser cutter".

I think that a mixture of high- and low-end prizes is a good option. A combination of month long or two month long contests with cool prizes like a laser cutter, a camera, a PDA, whatever, and shorter, weeklong contests with more basic prizes such as a T-shirt (which I love mine) or a laser-engraved stapler (which I wish I had :-) seems to be the best option. If you only post Instructables to win prizes, then you need to find something better to do.

This contest has produced some of he coolest Instructables I've seen since I started trolling the site about six months ago. I'll admit, as soon as I read the contest rules, I started drooling and went to sleep that night dreaming up uses for *when* I won the laser cutter. But I didn't, and I'm cool with that.

I didn't have the chance to check out many of the instructables until the results were posted, but you're right, there are some amazing projects out there. The amount of detailed descriptions for some complex projects is awesome. I have a lot of respect for the people who took the time and energy to do all of those, as well as the ones that didn't make the cut.

I did it for fun, I wasn't out to win. I knew my entries weren't good enough to win I did them just to have my hand in it. I wouldn't want Eric's job for anything, the last person I knew who ran an online community like this poured his heart and soul into it day and night for seven years, he got so fed up with hundreds of people whining at him all the time he sold it for a lousy return on his investment first chance he got. Eric, if this is the response, don't do anymore contests.

Eric, if this is the response, don't do anymore contests.

That was definitely my first response.

On further reflection, and before posting any response, I became convinced that there are only a small number of people truly unhappy, a small number of sore losers with unrealistic expectations who would be unhappy given any result, and that the vast majority of the community, who will not be bothered to make any comment, is amazed and pleased with the influx of awesome projects and awesome new members.

(Fine, you got me to comment) I've been reading this, but this really makes me take initiative. To comment. But yeah, its just a few people. I defiantly agree with Honus on the fact that it should be tiered.

And to answer the original question- I think a proportionally tiered prize system is ultimately best, but a lot of that depends on what company you can find to sponsor the contest. In this case, it's not like the sponsoring company makes portable hand held laser cutters that cost a fraction of a stand alone unit. A focused contest vs. a wide open contest is a double edged sword. The wide open contest will undoubtedly be more accessible and have more entries, which is great, but it will be much harder to judge due to the sheer number and variety of entries. Looking at all the past contests, I think you guys have a pretty good balance between the two given the circumstances. I have a whole list of companies that I think would make good sponsors for future contests! :)

I have a whole list of companies that I think would make good sponsors for future contests!

Drop me an email at the trivial address- I'd be happy to get started!

Done deal! :)

Since my other post is no where to be found, i'll sum it up real quick: I think that after two months of talking the ears off of everyone they know, about how good a chance they have at getting a laser cutter, that when they aren't even a finalist, it really opens a void feeling. I think that a lot of people convinced themselves that they would win for sure, and that built up for so long, that they couldn't help but be mad. But there were so many good contests, that you had to pick which ones were your favorites...that's what a contest is. In the future, I would have shorter, more specific contests.

I liken it to a swift kick to the stomach. There's about 4-5 that I thought for sure would make it.

When this contest first started I new this was going to be a difficult one and there would be some very stiff competition. 350 entries!! That right there says something....... A lot of the entries in this contest really put my brain into overdrive for future projects that I want to do- and for me that is what this site is all about. Win or lose, I feel very fortunate to be a member here.

Well said! Here Here! (Numerus other terms of agreement and back slapping)

> I became convinced that there are only a small number of people truly unhappy, a small number of sore losers ...
. Wow, you are smart! :) If you ever get discouraged by the whiners, just post a msg and some of us grateful users will try to cheer ya up. You're doing a great job - maybe not perfect, but what the heck, a lot better than I could do.

Eric and friends, I truly believe that you guys have done an amazing job with the site and the contest.. A few negative remarks from a very vocal minority wont change that fact.. Keep up the good work!


11 years ago

I would say be strict, be ruthless in judging, of course there will be people who do not like it, I personally was a little disappointed at not being a finalist but my Instructable(s) were not so awesome that they compare with a shopping trolley wheel locking transmitter. I say to all those who are disappointed, don't take it too hard, it's not the end of the world and I'm sure if you're cool about "losing" there will another chance. Eric is really cool about adding contest into instructables, these contests must add a lot of work to their everyday work, so I'd say just take things cool'y. I at first did not realise about having to post reasons why you need to enter the contest for a laser cutter, I personally think it's a good idea and if there was an official topic of where to post your reasons it'd help people understand the rules. my $.02


11 years ago

I would have to say that the guy with the Meat shorts and Stuffed Beaver instructable getting into the top 15 made me loose all respect for this contest.

To the posts that said there was not enough time to judge all the instructables properly, I know that some of the judges were looking at the projects long before the July because I received PM's from two of them right after I put my first instructable up. I'm sure that they already had weeded out a few of the projects and had a good idea who was getting in, prior to deadline. I thought it was cool to allow an extra 5 finalists (who knows, I might have been number 15 on the list) Sorry to all those who didn't make the cut but there is no need to be bitter or to call someones project stupid. I'm talking to you fstedie. Just because you thought you had the best idea does not make it the best instructable. I'm sure a lot depends on how you present it, how it reads, how clear it is to follow. This is very hard for you to judge your own because you wrote it, so of course it's clear to you. The judges have a lot of hard work still ahead, the only thing I would like to ask is that when the winner is chosen, it reads: _is the winner for his/ her instructable on _because.... The top 15 finalists can not really be pigeon holed into one group, we have expensive ones and cheap ones, easy ones and very skilled ones, fast ones and time consuming ones. Ones for kids and ones of questionable legality, Original ones and remakes, Ones that will be (or already have been) copied lots, and ones that may never again be made. I'm just saying it would be nice to know why the winner was chosen. Of course that will only set you up for more complaints from bitter people who did not win. If you were to limit the scope of the projects by use of a theme (like wallets) then you would not have such an diverse collection of projects – from RC steam to pancake shapes. That is what I found most amazing about the contest and if it means the judging is harder and it ruffles a few feathers- so be it. To the people who are bitter they only put up one instructable when maybe more would have helped, why didn't you put up more then? It was clearly stated that you could put up as many as you would like and they even added more time to help you out. I started out with my cake instructable and put it up as my first before I knew about the contest. Excited after seeing the contest, I started to put up more to better my chances of winning. Then I was just having such a good time making them, I kept putting up ones I knew could never win the contest (like the whistle or the engraving). Not to better my chances of winning but because I thought someone would read them and go "hey, that's cool! I should give it a try". By the comments, it worked. I have a few other projects on the go and will continue to post instructables because I take pleasure in it. If a prize is won on top of that, it is just a bonus. Thanks to all the work going into this project. Keep it up. Most people appreciate it. It is really sad to see negatives come from such a generous contest prize.

Sorry, if anything I wrote got your blood boiling. I only meant it as constructive criticism for future contest (I don't always convey well what I mean in my writings and maybe I should have clarified in earlier posts.) I know this is the first really big contest they've had and the rules and judging merits seemed to have changed. I thought it was about quality and that's not say any of the nominated PEOPLE didn't have A great instructable, but to list all the projects entered seemed like it was a quantity nod. I would have been fine with the original rules deadline and proposal and felt it odd them changing the rules back then. I could have done more and contributed more, but I don't want to rush them. Taking time to edit, get decent pictures and be clear on future instructable is more important to me then rushing them out (not saying you did) for the sake of the contest. I think we all benefit from posters taking their time. Not too mention I have, as many people, a busy schedule and posting here for me is a hobby... a new one at that. You state that the diversity of entries makes the judging harder. That was the reason I brought up the time issue. It had to have been hard picking the finalists with input from multiple people. With everyone having different tastes likes and interests it has to be even harder. On top of a holiday week. Sorry, the 15 bothered me, but we all are different people with different views. That's what make this a great site and forum. My being put off by making it 15 isn't against anyone or any project. It's not woes me because I didn't make it. It is actually for the 10 they said would be there. Their chances dropped from 10% to 6.3% maybe one of the extra five will take the prize from one of them. Yes it can be argued then that they should have been there to begin with and round and round we go. I'm happy for all the finalists. Sure it would be nice, but the reality is I don't need a laser cutter, I have access to one already. I have a leatherman... and don't use it. And it's rare that I wear any shirt with a logo. Don't get me wrong winning is great and free stuff even better (I got in the newsletter that felt good!) I entered for the fun of competition, the feeling of personal accomplishment, and mostly to make something useful I've been meaning to do years ago. Thank you Instructables.com for getting me off my.... no need for colorful language you know what I mean. And sorry to anyone else that took offense to what I was trying to say. Congratulations to all who got a sense of accomplishment by entering not just the finalist

I'm right there with you MikeO, it just doesn't have that "wow I really want to do that " factor to it.

It was a woman and I'm guessing that the inclusion was for the beaver and not the shorts.