How Not To Run An Internet Contest

Little background for people who aren’t in my Twitter feed: for years now, I’ve been doing Word of the Day tweets. Dictionary.com sends out a “Word of the Day” every day. I take that and turn it into a short story on Twitter using the hashtag #wotd. I don’t manage to do it every day but most days during the work week, I do this. It’s a fun creative way to start the morning and I’ve gotten good feed back about it.

For those not familiar with how Twitter works, it’s a microblogging platform (or it was until it went public and now has no idea what it’s trying to be). You are limited to 140 characters in your Tweets. Lots of people complain about this but it’s actually a great restriction if you’re trying to improve your writing. It forces you to distill your content down to the bare minimum. It’s definitely cleaned up my writing and made it stronger as I eliminate unnecessary cruft like adverbs. Hashtags are ways to categorize what you’ve written and allow searching. They are also used to show how funny you are. For a much better and funnier explanation, Mom This Is How Twitter Works

So imagine my delight when Dictionary.com announced a contest designed around that exact principle. Based on the URL, I’m assuming they announced the story on the 14th of February. I discovered it on the 23rd. The rules were pretty simple. Wait for the word of the day on February 25th, write a short story using the hashtag #WoTDStory. If you search Twitter by that hashtag, you’ll find quite a few Tweets using it. Digging deeper, you’ll find that Dictionary.com has run a story similar to this before using the same hashtag.

On February 25th, I got the word of the day which was sciamachy. I wrote what I thought was a pretty good story (no bias of course). And I waited.

Now the astute reader may have noticed something wrong with this entire procedure. Though if anyone did, your detective skills are incredible. In the post linked above outlining the story contest, Dictionary.com says the hashtag to use is #SuperShortStory. Problem is, that’s not what they said on February 23rd. I don’t have proof of this as Google cache and the Wayback machine don’t have archives of the page but if you search #WoTDStory on Twitter, you’ll see that there are hundreds of tweets using that hashtag and the word of the day for the 25th, sciamachy (which ironically means fighting with a shadow, something I am clearly doing here but everyone needs their own personal windmill to tilt against).

Some time between the time I found the contest on February 23rd and when it started, Dictionary.com updated their blog post WITHOUT ANY NOTIFICATION OR UPDATE and changed the hashtag for entry. Now obviously, this is a stupid internet contest. I didn’t need the ipod or whatever they were giving away. Still, it’s not exactly in the spirit of competition and fairness when you change the rules on people. So I left a comment on their blog mentioning how annoying it was that they had changed the hashtag. I did that on the 26th.

When I went back to see if they had bothered to apologize or at least let people know, my comment had been deleted. This is not how you engender people to trust your word (pun fully intended), Dictionary.com. Changing the rules of a contest 1 day beforehand because you don’t want to wade through old Tweets or whatever reason caused the change is OK. Going out of your way to try and hide the evidence is pretty disingenuous (oddly disingenuous has never been Word of the Day, that’s some Alanis Morrissette irony for you there).

Now I’m off to post this link to the Dictionary.com blog even though I’m sure it will be deleted. Even a sciamachy can have meaning to its participant.