BigCarrot: Could Prize Money Spur Open Source Innovation?

by Ostatic Staff - Apr. 03, 2008

Taking its inspiration from the XPrize a new beta web site called is seeking to "democratize innovation" by generating inducement prizes (financial incentives) for people to innovate, and to fix broken things. The site isn't only focused on meeting goals for open source projects, but there are already open source challenges with cash prizes showing up on the site--some serious, some tongue-in-cheek. "Inducement prizes are an enormously efficient method of encouraging exploration, research and achievement," says J. Kent Pepper, founder and CEO of Could cash prizes encourage open sourcers to go where they haven't gone before?

Are you familiar with TinyMCE? TinyMCE is an open source, JavaScript What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) HTML editor. It provides features for creating and modifying (X)HTML documents, without requiring any knowledge of (X)HTML syntax.

It just so happens that the process for creating and modifying ordered, unordered and nested lists within TinyMCE is buggy. So BigCarrot now has a challenge posted for someone to provide a JavaScript fix for the functionality. The reward is $515 if you think you have the code-jockey goods.

So what are the rules? To initiate a prize, any user clicks on a Start a Prize button on BigCarrot's home page and drafts the rules for the proposal. Next, the BigCarrot community helps revise and improve the prize rules. Once the rules are defined, the prize is opened for financial contributions from the public. Finally, when someone submits a claim for the prize, all contributors get to vote on whether to award it.

Some of the open source-related challenges on BigCarrot are lighter hearted in nature. For example, a Torvalds/Simpsons challenge, with a prize of $105, is posted with the goal being to get Linus Torvalds into a cameo appearance in an episode of The Simpsons. Check out the happenin' t-shirt! Go Tux! Is that Bluetooth headset in Linus' left ear?

BigCarrot's idea for inducement prizes and incentives may or may not have a long-term positive impact on open source projects, but the general idea of incentives seems to have merit. As Reuven points out in today's post about Google's Summer of Code (where Google drafts students to brainstorm on and contribute to open source projects), the company offers students $4,500 to participate. Absent that incentive, the quality and quantity of their contributions would probably go down.

Do you think prizes and financial incentives could spur the open source community to innovate?