Should I Host Another WordPress Theme Competition?

WordPress seems to be moving towards a very nice 1.6 release, and I’ve started getting inquiries from people who would like me to run another theme competition when version 1.61 is released (likely sometime in early 2006). I think it would be fantastic to have another WordPress theme competition, but I’m not completely sure I’m the right person to host it.

The WP Style Competition (the first competition I hosted) was a rather straightforward affair. People submitted their CSS, I posted it on my site, judges voted – no big deal. The WP Theme Competition (the competition I hosted this year), was an entirely different deal. I’ve detailed this previously, so I won’t rehash it here. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t take that experience into account when trying to make a decision about hosting a competition next year.

In the first competition, there were 39 entries; in last year’s competition there were 135 entries – this was largely due to the growth of WordPress between the two competitions. In the past year, I believe WordPress has grown even more than it did during the previous year… how many entries should I expect in a competition next year? Any answer would be a guess, but I think that 200-250 wouldn’t be an unreasonable expectation.

One of the new features coming in WP 1.6 is a standardized way for themes to include their own custom functionality. I think people could do fantastic things with totally new presentation styles, maybe a litte AJAX goodness sprinkled in, etc. Unfortunately, all of this also brings with it another increase in the amount of time it takes to review each theme.

My position for the last competition is that if I am hosting the competition, and I’m making the themes available for download from my site, then I have a responsibility to make sure each theme doesn’t do anything malicious or stupid that could have negative consequences for WP users that download the themes. Also, since I’m putting the themes on my server – I have a vested interest in making sure they are “safe”.

As a result, I spent ~30 minutes reviewing and posting each theme. With the additional functionality coming in 1.6, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that to grow to ~45 minutes/theme.

Since all of this is guestimated anyway, a realistic ballpark for time spent reviewing themes in the next competition is probably 150-250 hours. Add another good chunk of time publicising the competition, corresponding with sponsors and participants, answering questions, etc, and we’re looking at ~300 hours – rather conservatively.

As much as I’d like to, I know that I won’t be able to donate that much time to running a competition. So let’s look at some possible solutions.

  1. Reduce the number of entries, which will reduce the amount of time needed for review. In the past, I’ve encouraged people to entry early and enter often. This doesn’t always translate to “quality” submissions – in fact I’ve read people’s blog posts lamenting that they think many of the themes are not up to snuff.

    There are a few ways to accomplish this, one is to put a cap on submissions per person (perhaps a 2 entries per person limit). This should have a side effect of improving the quality of the entries as well, as people will need to submit their best 2 themes. However I think this would only make a small dent in the overall number of entries.

    While Eric was in town last month, we talked a bit about hosting competitions. Eric is in the midst of hosting a big photo competition right now and we talked over a number of ideas. One of which was to charge an entry fee, maybe $10-15, per submission.

    At first, I really didn’t like this idea – in the first competitions I worked hard to have as few barriers to entry as possible. Adding an entry fee flies right in the face of that. However, after thinking it over, I think that it makes a certain amount of sense.

    Again it would likely reduce the overall number of entries, but result in a higher percentage of quality entries. I bet that we could even get a few sponsors to put up the entry fees for those who might have need assistance. Of course we’d have to have some great prizes as incentives to make the entry fee seem worthwhile for the participants. That brings us to our second option.

  2. Bring in some money to pay for my time. There is no way I would expect to make my normal consulting rate, or even half of it – but even a quarter or a third of it would ceratinly help free up time to manage the compatition and review entries. In addition to the entry fees, I could also take a percentage of the prize money as a “hosting” fee (as suggested by several folks), and perhaps find some corporate sponsors as well.
  3. Get help reviewing the themes. I’m skeptical as to how much help I would be able to recruit, particularly since there are currently 47 themes that need testing on the themes page right now. However, if I could get a couple of competent and reliable reviewers, it would be a wonderful.
  4. Find someone else to run the competition. Perhaps the options mentioned above will fall short of allowing me (financially) to run the competition and/or people feel that charging an entry fee and/or diverting a percentage of the prize money is totally unacceptable. In that case, it may be best to hand the reins over to someone who has more free time and can manage the competition the same way I’ve run it for the last few years. I don’t believe this is the best option, but I’m also not so arrogant as to think I’m an indespensible part of this. :)

In the end, the best solution is likely a combination of all of these ideas. I wanted to get the conversation started early so there would be plenty of time to find a system we think would work.

The comments are open, I welcome your throughts and feedback.

  1. And the competition would allow people to utilize the new functionality in 1.6 in their themes. [back]