And on the last day...

Fri, Mar 5, 2010 5-minute read

I thought that on the final day of voting it would be worth recapping the “experience” which has been our listing as a PayPal X Developers Challenge finalist. For us there are statistics which, to us, indicate that something has not been quite right with the way the contest has been run. These are;

  • PortaPayments was featured in the PayPal FOWA Presentation.

  • PortaPayments was recommended in one of the largest on-line Android blogs (Android Guys), and that article was re-tweeted and re-used on other sites.

  • As of today PortaPayments has clocked up over 800 downloads and has over 350 regular users.

  • We’ve been approached by companies and individuals who have ideas for partnerships and expansion.

  • We’ve received overwhealmingly positive feedback (4 stars in Android Market, several comments that it’s a great idea).

  • PortaPayments managed to get less than half of one percent of the votes (yup < 0.5%) in a contest with 54 other entries

Yup, that last one is the shocker, especially as the PayPal X developers challenge is described on it’s post-login home page as;

Personally I expected an app PayPal chose to feature, has gained a fair number active users in a short space of time, and has had expressions of interest from 3rd parties to do a little better than receiving less than a third of the expected average number votes for an entry  (i.e. the number of votes you would expect if all the votes were shared evenly between all the projects).

The reason?, well, it could be that it’s a bad idea, but the feedback we’ve received and the interest by 3rd parties makes us think that probably isn’t the case.

It could be that people who like it had trouble voting. This one holds some water because we’ve been told by multiple people they’ve encountered problems signing up to x.com and finding our entry, or that they simply didn’t want to open another account with another site just to vote. This is highlighed by the fact that_ less than 5% of the people who visited our entry-specific “How to vote” page actually completed the voting process_.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, at the time of writing the actual number of votes is 25. Yup, only 25 people completed PayPals voting process for PortaPayments.

But that should be a universal issue for all entries and not one that will penalise just us.

Or, what we believe is more likely, is that there are fundamental problems with the competition.

I’m going to highlight some of the top issues we have with the contest to show the kind of things we’ve been up against;

The rules have been ignored. We identified several applications which we believe don’t comply with the rules. These range from entries being allowed in despite missing clearly stated deadlines through to not having fully working applications and not meeting the requirements for the entry video. This particularly hurt us because even though the rules clearly said entrants had to have a fully working application there are 3 other “Scan & Pay” based entrants who do not have a fully working scanning application, and so votes for the Scan & Pay idea have been spread between our fully working app and three others that don’t fully work.

“Incentivized voting”. PayPal have admitted it’s been going on, yet appear to have done nothing about it which has most likely caused other entrants to “incentivize” their voters just to stay competitive. Up until recently the total vote count was visible, but there were a couple of days where the vote count jumped by around 20% or so, and at no point has the total vote count or the number of entries gone down, which, to us, indicates nothing has been done even where PayPal knew voters were being incentivized.

Possible misleading statements over the voting process. PayPal sent out an email saying “Please note that an x.com account is required for a vote to be valid” and “The issue you’ll run into is that the votes are only counted if the user starts at x.com, which makes it tough to direct link to your app.”, but I’ve been contacted by some entrants saying that’s not the case and that it’s possible to by-pass the sign up and be assigned a “Guest” account ID in order to vote.

Vote counting issues. The contest has been strictly a “one-user one-vote” contest, yet the total vote count statistics (which sometimes are hidden for some reason) have, on one occasion we’ve seen, showed around 300 more votes than users. PayPal have said this was a “caching issue” with the user count, but given the other problems we’re not entirely confident of this answer.

Now if this were just a few hundred dollars, or a pat-on-the-back contest then it most likely wouldn’t have cause so much anger amongst its' entrants, but it isn’t. We’re talking about prizes of 50,000 and 25,000 dollars in cash and the same again in service fees, which is more than enough to take most of these ideas to the next level of development.

So folks, if you’re thinking of entering a contest in the future, even one with a big prize, think carefully, because you might find that all you end up doing is giving PR to the company running it, and getting little more than a whole heap of stress when you realise that the competition is being run like a dodgy election from a third world country.