Namecheap Trivia Contest Using Twitter?

by xearther ~ March 23rd, 2009. Filed under: Code Lounge, Internet Marketing, Twitter.

Because I use Namecheap for domain name registration, I receive promotional emails now and then. So when I saw they were holding a trivia contest recently, I was curious since I am exploring this type of promotion using Niche Trivia.

When I saw they were using Twitter as a way for customers to submit their answers to the trivia questions I felt like I had received a big confirmation that I was on the right track. Their contest also gave me an opportunity to participate and study the methodology used. It was very informative.

The leader board interface for navigating between hours and days was very well designed. But my real interest was in the handling of contestant winners and their submissions. I’m finally getting a handle on how Twitter User Names are pretty much public. This was demonstrated by the continuous updating by Namecheap on the status of the trivia contest questions and winners. This public display of Twitter User Names takes care of my concern about how to present to contest participants the winners of a contest while still maintaining the winners privacy. Using Twitter for contest submissions, it’s just not a concern.

One glaring drawback was the use of Twitter “replies” to submit answers, causing the answers to become posts open to public view – not good. In this case it’s not a big deal since the questions were pretty simple with answers readily available via search engines. You wouldn’t win 1st prize by submitting the 1st correct answer if you had the tactic of lurking at a Twitter account, patiently waiting to see answers submitted by someone who should be on Jeopardy. You would at least stand a chance of winning 2nd or 3rd prize since those correct answers were randomly drawn.

But if you were to hold a trivia contest that really had damn hard questions then the mechanism used by Namecheap just wouldn’t work. After thinking long and hard about this I think I’ve come up with a solution. It’s something I hope to have done this week in time for a trial run on Niche Trivia next Sunday.

Given the Twitter architecture, there’s really no other way around it: answers that need to be submitted privately must use Direct Messaging. But in order for that to work would require the holder of the contest to follow all who are following the contest. Something Namecheap obviously didn’t want to do. But I do! 🙂

How? Glad you asked. Before I answer, for those of you not familiar with this rule, you can’t send a private, “Direct Message” to someone you are following. But they can send one to you. That’s the rule. So in order for Namecheap to receive the answers submitted by their followers as private “Direct Messages”, they would have to turn around and follow them, so their customers could then send “Direct Messages” to their follower: Namecheap. Kapesh?

The answer is very cool and simple, code-wise, especially with the simple and elegant Twitter API. And it’s not just a matter of performing an “auto-follow”. You need to maintain an ongoing balance between “followers” and “following”… or else the imbalance will get messy. And if the contests are an ongoing, promotional success, there will eventually be thousands of users the contest holder will be following that are no longer following the contest holder! Not good.

So before I light a match under Niche Trivia, I need to have in place the code that will take care of the ongoing maintenance of Niche Trivia following ALL those who follow Niche Trivia, and ONLY those who follow Niche Trivia: a perfect balance.

Twitter has a great function that simply asks the question, “Is User A following User B?” with a return of true/false. This helps simplify the algorithm I will be using. Later this week I will post details of the algorithm. I may also share the source code then so you can try it out yourself. I’m making no promises here. I just want to stay focused on the puzzle. That’s what floats my boat. I hope you understand. If this works, and I think it will, this should be really cool because it’s simple, elegant, and just does what it’s supposed to do reliably, 24/7. I do look forward to sharing it with you.

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