X Prize Foundation, which organizes a number of such competitions around scientific endeavors such as space flight, lunar exploration, and human genetics. Inducement prize contests can be extremely effective at initiating innovation and inspiring public imagination about complex problems, but they're not easy to organize. A new web site called BigCarrot aims to change that by crowdsourcing the creation of inducement prize contests.Inducement prize contests are simple: offer up a cash reward to whoever can best solve a problem first. One of the most famous current inducement prize organizers is the
Inducement prizes are not a new concept. In 1714, for example, the British Parliament offered a £20,000 prize to anyone who could come up with a way to measure a ship's longitude to within a half a degree. In 1980 Edward Fedkin, a computer science professor, offered a $100,000 prize for anyone who could build a computer that could best a chess grandmaster (in a game of chess) -- it was claimed by IBM developers for their famous "Deep Blue" in 1997. But, says BigCarrot, inducement prizes have in the past mostly been available only to governments or the very wealthy.
"I see this as a way to democratize innovation. BigCarrot gives everyone the ability to proactively advocate for whatever cause matters most to them," the company's founder, J. Kent Pepper said in an email.
BigCarrot was launched in December 2007 and currently plays host to about 8 prizes, ranging from $100-$515. These are a far cry from the ten million dollar Ansari X Prize, but then again, the problems people are so far hoping to tackle on BigCarrot aren't quite rocket science.
BigCarrot has already had success running an inducement prize competition. The company started the notMac Challenge in 2006 to create an open source utility for using Apple's dotMac services. The prize eventually grew to over $7,000 and was claimed last year.
What BigCarrot is trying to do for inducement prizes is not unlike what MicroPledge (our coverage) and Cofundos.org (our coverage) are trying to do for software bounties. In fact, inducement prize contests and software bounties operate on essentially the same premise -- dangle a carrot and let talented people fight for it.
The site's approach democratizes the process of creating and running inducement prize contests. Once the initial prize is created and opened to the public, anyone can jump in as a funder pushing the prize amount higher. Being a funder also means that you get a vote in who wins the prize.
It will be interesting to see if sites like BigCarrot, MicroPledge, and Cofundos.org take off with both users and developers. Facilitating the ability for people to band together to advocate for the creation of things that matter to them is powerful. In a way, it's not unlike how people who have been wronged band together in class action law suits -- on person is easy to ignore, but a few hundred or thousand are more difficult to sweep under the rug.