Lessons Learned from the $10 Million Google Giveaway for Good that Wasn’t (Yet)

I just came across an article on Wired / CNN on the famous Google $10M giveaway to celebrate it’s 10th birthday. Here are my thoughts on some lessons we need to take away from this experiment in Collective Intelligence:

Design your plan for both massive volume and complete lack of entries – public domain systems are notorious for either surpassing all expectations, or falling flat on their faces. Most programs, though, are designed for the perfect world of submissions… and that just never happens

People are really into social good – this is not a passing fad, but a mega-trend (in my opinion backed up with some research). So if you tie a marketing initative into some social good activity, expect large take-up.

Don’t be afraid to dissuade submissions – I often ask corporate innovation directors ‘what type of democracy do you want? American or Belgian?’ In the US, anyone can vote, or not vote, it’s up to them. In Belgium you get fined if you do not vote (and don’t have a good enough excuse). Public programs often need to allow people to contribute ‘something’, without polluting the hard-core useful content. This could be allowing people to have a play area, a space for voting or commenting, whilst leaving the submission process somewhat clean and separate.

Structure your submission form and process to get higher quality responses up-front – I never made a submission with the Google system, but I have designed hundreds of submission forms. All too often, beginners try to make the forms easy to submit, but in doing so they make it too easy to submit ‘anything’ and fail to steer people to submit the right type of content.

Make sure you actually follow-through on your commitment – people are watching all the time, and we have a much better memory for what people committed (hey, all it takes is a Google search). So be prepared, honestly prepared, to complete your follow-up work as promised. Or have a really good explanation, in the public domain, for the change in approach.

If you’re struggling, cheat (a little) – it is quite normal for programs like this to be rigged in some way so that a project that is in the process of being funded is submitted, and then, just like magic, gets funded. As the news story demonstrates, the absence of any success indicates that this approach was clearly not followed, with detrimental impact.


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