Death to Developer Contests

Over on his blog Microsoft’s Dan Fernandez courageously decries the frequent use of developer contests to engage developers and increase momentum for platform adoption. He counted up the number of contests Microsoft is running at the moment: it’s 18. Eighteen different ways to win cash and prizes for doing stuff with various Microsoft products.

Dan thinks this is over the top and I totally agree. When I ran the evangelism team at eBay I resisted the urge to do developer contests for the reasons Dan points out, and when I ran the Yahoo program we didn’t do any; we were more concerned with giving back to the entire community by devoting our very limited time and resources to making new products happen for developers.

Contests are like steroids for platforms. They may pump you up in the short term, but they don’t actually grow the ecosystem. Contests don’t kick off interesting and useful conversations about your platform because they put your developers in competition with each other. More importantly, contests detract resources and focus from where they’re needed.

Throughout the history of American business, the worth of marketers has been measured by the size of the marketing budget (as opposed to the results they might bring to the business). But in a world in which no platform in history has ever provided good enough documentation or code examples for its developers, there’s no excuse to do a single contest.