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One of the greatest crowdsourcing fails since the term was coined became official just a few days ago. Most people have never heard of Prizes.org, but they've probably heard of the company that half-heartedly ran the crowdsourced contest platform for less than a year before giving up on it -- Google.
Today, Prizes.org is officially dead. After initially announcing the discontinuation of the product last summer, it finally went offline on January 31.
The story of Prizes.org is a case of an ambitious vision unrealized and a platform and a community essentially left to rot at the hands of corporate neglect. Here's how Google explained the platform when it launched in the middle of 2011:
It's a place where you can win real cash prizes by coming up with the best ideas to help others out. People create contests on Prizes.org with real money bounlties for anything they need, ranging from advice for the perfect weekend getaway, ideas for a best man's speech, to a plan for losing weight for summer.
At the time, Google also said its long term vision for Prizes.org was to create something similar to the X Prize Foundation, which puts up big money to encourage the crowd to solve big problems. But what Prizes.org became during its very short life was a home for scammers and a (rarely noticed, but very real nonetheless) black-eye for Google and the entire crowdsourcing movement.
Prizes.org is one of the very few platforms that we here at Crowdsourcing.org received multiple complaints about from readers. Reports of fraudulent contests, shill entries and other kinds of nastiness also permeate a number of online forums.
Google appears to have made an effort to intervene in some cases of fraud, but without any clear resolution to the complaints. Just like Prizes.org itself, even the most widely flagged instances of fraud (like the notorious Gourth Bags contest), ever garnered much attention.
Prizes.org was the only legacy product of Google's 2010 acquisition of social gaming company Slide that wasn't axed shortly after the search giant bought the small company for a few hundred million dollars. Google quietly launched Prizes.org in mid-2011 and then seemed to forget about it.
The crowd has demonstarted time and time again its capability to police itself, but for the system to work, it's important that there be a little bit of adult supervision, usually in the form of a platform that lays down the ground rules and then enforces them.
When those rules aren't strong enough, or your platform operator is too busy buying Motorola and battling Apple to enforce them, you get Prizes.org.
Meanwhile, the bounty or prize-based model is alive and well. Bounty IT and BusinessLeads are just two examples of platforms that are pulling it off better than Google did. Hopefully neither of them get bought out by a quarter-trillion dollar company and thrown into the digital compost heap.