By now, you may have heard of the fiasco that was Mountain Dew’s “Dub The Dew” contest, where they crowdsourced the name for their new Granny-Smith-apple-flavored Dew. If you’re a dedicated reader, you already see where I’m going with this. I’ll just cut to the chase, since this picture pretty much sums it up:
Disaster area. 4chan’s /b/ board got ahold of it, and in their typical fashion, overwhelmed the contest with their sheer numbers and pushed all the other entries out of the top 10 positions, replacing them with flavors like “Gushing Granny”, “Diabeetus”, and “Hitler did nothing wrong”. As of my writing this, the contest site is blank, but the damage is done.
Fortunately, we can make a case study out of this and actually learn something. Here are a few tips for dealing with your crowd if you happen to be a big company holding a contest on the Internet:
- Seriously. Know your audience. I can’t be the first person to tell Mountain Dew that their product is overwhelmingly consumed people who use the Internet a LOT. The law of averages hurts Dew in this case, since it would stand to reason that at least one of these Internet users would tell 4chan about the contest, and this is not the sort of low-hanging fruit 4chan leaves alone. Especially because you didn’t…
- Validate your contributions. If this is a real contest, treat it like one. Make people sign up to enter or vote, even if it’s just Facebook validation. It’s annoying, and you’ll lose some voters, but you won’t have as many cases of the sort of chaos that pure anonymity can breed. Look at Lay’s Facebook contest to name a new potato chip flavor; I don’t see any “Fapulous Apple” there. A little accountability goes a long way, especially when it means that you can block offending accounts or IP addresses. Speaking of technological failures…
- Security is still super important. See that bit of anti-Israel vitriol at the top of the screenshot? Surprisingly, Mountain Dew didn’t put that there themselves. That was the result of a hacker with the smallest amount of talent and five spare minutes. See, the site lacked something called “input validation”, meaning that programming code entered in the contest entry box would actually appear on the website. It’s a little complicated, and explained better in this Reddit thread, but the gist of it is that this was Web Security 101, completely and easily avoidable, and Mountain Dew dropped the ball. I’m sure this didn’t help vote hacking, either.
So it looks like Mountain Dew threw together this contest with minimal research or development, and now they’re receiving results indicative of their lack of effort. The sad thing is, this is the sort of event that makes entire industries shy away from crowdsourcing as a method. But it’s just that: a way to do things, a tool. If you hold a hammer by the wrong end, it’s not gonna get that nail down, and you’re gonna look like a freakin’ idiot in the process.
Learn, and try again.
Finally! Since the earliest days of this blog, I’ve kept a close eye on Nissan’s crowdsourced project to have their fans help them design a car. Now, it’s finally here. After months of polling on Facebook, tweaking, and gathering results, Nissan finally showed off the fan-made build to the world with this video:
Over the weekend, I’ve been passing this video along, browsing car blogs, and generally trying to get a read on the reaction to this final product. It surprised me to find that the announcement isn’t getting much traction; even on the Nissan Performance Facebook page, the very place where fans designed the car, the announcement video barely has any comments (although it’s been shared a few times).
With this being said, here are some of the first impressions of the car:
- Ugly/poor design. The fans don’t waste any time critiquing their own work. People will complain about anything, of course, but the general consensus is that there was a lack of an overall design goal, which is fundamentally true. Nissan could have avoided this by crowdsourcing a design goal as part of the project, but obviously it’s a little too late for that.
- “I’ve already built this car.” A bit of a two-pronged comment. On one hand, this person is disappointed that the car isn’t anything out-of-this-world special. On the other hand, this was Nissan’s goal from the beginning; they wanted to use off-the-shelf parts so enthusiasts at home could build their own fan-inspired 370Z. Take this comment with a grain of salt.
- We want more! By far the most repeated comment for the video was “That’s it?!” This does not represent a disappointment in the car, but a desire for more information. The fans want to see their car do some really impressive moves on a racetrack, and most of all, they want to hear what the engine sounds like. I can’t say I disagree with them; a performance vehicle should be performing if it’s being shown off.
- Still pretty cool. Despite the complaining, reactions are generally positive. The novelty of this project helped a lot; many commenters were unaware that a project like this existed, and think it’s neat that Nissan stuck its neck out to trust its fans. The “you-can-build-your-own” aspect is also a big plus, especially since Nissan has no plans to mass-produce the car.
In summary, this was an excellent first crack at a crowdsourced vehicle, and Nissan is in a very good position if they want to try a project like this again. This 370Z seems to be the “Two and a Half Men” of cars; it’s nothing super-special but it’s generally liked because it doesn’t offend anyone. If Nissan wanted to do Attempt #2, they should start with a fan-chosen design goal and end with photos, videos, articles, statistics, sound bytes, and virtual shows spewing from every pore of the Internet. As a matter of fact, that’s my biggest complaint with this project. You and your fans have made something really cool, Nissan! Show it off and get people talking about it!
In a recent Microtask post, Tommaso De Benetti calls to memory the heart-pounding scene in The Dark Knight where the Joker essentially crowdsources crime by going on TV and threatening to blow up a hospital unless a particular person is killed. De Benetti ponders the ramifications; could real-life crime be crowdsourced in a similar fashion? He offers two scenarios he thinks could be effective.
The first method is pretty much the real-world application of Joker’s ultimatum; a cyber-terrorist posts on Facebook (for example) that they will blow up the Eiffel Tower unless everyone goes to Website X and donates $5 to him. He describes it accurately as “a cross between crowdfunding site Kickstarter and those absurd guilt-trip chain emails”, but would it work? Probably not. Joker’s ruse was successful for two reasons:
- He’s the Joker. When he says he’s going to blow up a hospital, people tend to believe him. Random Facebook poster? Probably not going to get as much credibility. He’d have to prove he’s capable of such a thing, and in doing that he would most likely attract law enforcement attention, nipping the whole thing in the bud.
- He was on Gotham TV. Joker knew his audience. His message was targeted towards a scared, doubtful audience, one that had already put very little faith in traditional methods of keeping the peace. In the real world, a message like this hits a much different crowd, and we probably can’t expect the reaction to be similar. Someone who actually believes this terrorist’s message (see point #1) is more likely to simply call the cops or FBI than actually donate their hard-earned and scarce funds.
De Benetti’s second method, however, has already seen some success. It involves using an online medium to organize a mass robbery of a certain store. The organizer offers to buy the loot, and the crowd organizes their own lookouts, getaway vehicles, and systems to decide who gets a cut of what. We’ve seen this in small-scale with flash robberies. If a mob was to collaborate to attempt a bigger heist, they certainly have the tools to do so, but at a certain point it seems bound to collapse on itself; all you need is one miscommunication or stool pigeon, and suddenly your big heist has no getaway cars. Or worse, the police are waiting for you when you arrive.
Your crowdsourced mafia’s welcoming party.
The best example of real-world crowdsourced crime that I can think of is Anonymous’ DDoS raids of various websites. While it equates to little more than Internet vandalism, the heart of crowdsourcing is absolutely present here. This is a group that anyone can join, organized grassroots-style, which has no leader and its participants have no illusions of personal glory. Their actions are for a cause they see as righteous and use methods that could only be accomplished by a large group of loosely-organized individuals. Nothing more crowdsource-y than that.
Do you think crime can be crowdsourced? Tell me in the comments how you’d build your own ground-up crime syndicate.