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Last night I received an email from my close friend and frequent collaborator David Reid of RadiantUX.  Dave is an exceptionally talented user interface designer by day and an awesome guitar player by night in a band called Della Valle.  This email was a call for help, as Della Valle was locked in a competition with other bands for the opportunity to play an opening 20 minute set for Bon Jovi on their current tour…cool prize!  Dave was getting out the vote, and asked me to register and send Della Valle some love.

Having never participated in a contest on the site in question I was intrigued…I love to see the different permutations and approaches various contest applications have taken since we brought this stuff to market back in 2006.

As usual, I started by simply trying to do what the average (read, not someone who builds contests for a living) would do, and went directly to the link Dave provided.  That’s when things broke down.  No vote button.  No description of what I was supposed to be doing.  There was a button that said “Start Judging” so I clicked on that.  To make a long story shorter it took me a good while to find the page I was looking for, and when I found it wasn’t what I wanted.  Rather, I made it to a page that showed me two of the many entries and asked me to listen to each before voting for one.  Then, ostensibly (I didn’t have the patience to wade through them all), I would see another two…and somewhere in the next couple of hours I’d make it to the Della Valle song and have a chance to vote for them.  Well it was 3am and that wasn’t happening.

Next I took a close look at the Official Rules, as I often do, and flipped to the Determination of Winners on page 5.  Here was the real shocker…at least, it would have been for me if I was entering the contest.  The “judging” reads like this (my summary)

1.  There will be 4 rounds of “judging” (they meant Voting).

2.  The first three rounds are elimination…from the top 20 (for each category) down to 10, then down to the number one vote getter.

Then that result is thrown out.

3.  Then a panel of qualified Judges selects the winner from the original pool (from among the top 30 vote getters in each category).

In other words, the voting doesn’t matter as long as you’re in the top 30 in your category.  They aren’t going to let the general public decide who goes onstage with Bon Jovi!  No surprise there, but were they transparent about this?  Did the people entering know that judging was effectively “just for fun”?

When you build a contest promotion it is critical to have very simple UI – so the people who are being asked to spend their time voting, commenting, etc., have the best possible experience – and to be 100% transparent about critical issues like Determination of Winners.

That’s why we’ve stuck to our very simple yet extensible contest UI, and why we insist on the Official Rules button, and a Contest Details button, being pervasive in the main navigation bar.  It’s contest best practices…and the future of the contest industry depends on earning the trust of not just the entrants, but the hundreds of people who come to vote for those entrants.  They are the contest industry’s bread and butter.

Please don’t annoy them.