When I set out to design this year’s Google AI Challenge, one of my priorities was the make the contest as addictive as possible. I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. All I had to do was borrow a few tricks from the Big Tobacco marketing playbook.
- Get them hooked early. In order to deliver the first fix as quickly as possible, I posted a five-minute quickstart guide with instructions on how to get your name onto the global leaderboard in less than five minutes. I posted some simple working entries on the website which could be directly re-submitted without any modifications. Cigarette companies use Joe Camel to advertise to children, drug dealers offer free doses to lure first-time users, and the contest has Starter Packages.
- Instant gratification. In last year’s Google AI Challenge, people would have to wait between one and two hours to see their latest submission’s ranking. This means that if it’s 3:00 AM and you just submitted your code, there is a fairly large incentive to go to bed. This is clearly unacceptable. This year, participants were able to see their new ranking within at most five minutes. By shortening the feedback loop to almost nothing, we set up a situation that is very similar to a gambling addict at a blackjack table. Just one more hand…
- Lace it with addictive chemicals. Despite much effort, I was not able to figure out how to lace the contest with addictive chemicals. That being said, I am fairly sure that time spent working on the contest is highly correlated with intake of caffeine and MSG.
After all was said and done, I believe that my efforts paid off. Here are a few quotes from contestants, taken the day after the submission deadline:
“I’m glad the deadline wasn’t extended, i was sleeping better last night than the previous dozens of night. i was constantly working on it, that is finally over ”
“actually I dreaded the deadline getting extended. I am really happy it’s over. my obsessive-compulsive behaviour would have continued for some time”
“I am glad that this is finally finished too, or wife is going to get grumpy. (unrecognizable yelling at the background)”