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Obama administration boosts online federal contests; You might win a handshake with you-know-who

May 28, 2010 |  6:02 am

Brandonkressler Wanna make some extra cash?

Or meet an ex-state senator who still smokes?

The U.S. government plans to roll out a new platform in July for what it calls "challenges" -- essentially nationwide contests where citizens can submit entries to a variety of predetermined topics.

The ultimate point being to raise awareness of something.

You might remember the $2,500 contest from earlier this year that asked entrants to shoot videos explaining and post them to YouTube.

That competition wasn't exactly a smash hit because entering was a cumbersome process, and browsing submissions was tricky.

The General Services Administration has signed a deal with ChallengePost, an 11-month-old New York Web start-up.

The company will provide the infrastructure and host the service on its servers for free. In order for government agencies to customize page design or consult with ChallengePost on writing terms pages, they'll have to pay up.

Eight companies submitted requests to the GSA -- all of which offered their.... at no cost to the government, the GSA's director of new media and citizen engagement,  Bev Godwin, said in a phone interview with The Ticket.

She added that contests are many times more effective than the alternative -- that is, public service announcements. Zzzzzzz...

A memorandum from the Obama administration in March pushed these very contests "to promote open government." In that memo signed by the president's Deputy Director for Management Jeffery Zients, he points out "agencies should avoid any improper Federal endorsement of products or services when creating contests and prizes."

So don't expect any free iPads.

The ChallengePost system is certainly more comprehensive than the government's prior approach of slapping up a couple blog posts along with a YouTube video. Michelle Obama's Apps for Healthy Kids is using the platform now, garnering more than 40 submissions.

The service includes social networking features that allow people to pledge support to and comment on contest details without actually committing to send an entry. While most contests will offer cash prizes and other rewards (one example Godwin gave was a meeting with the president), members can also earn virtual badges and other kudos for completing challenges.

"People don't just solve problems for money," ChallengePost founder Brandon Kessler on the phone Thursday.

Yeah, they're called hippies. We kid; we kid.

-- Mark Milian

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Photo: Brandon Kessler. Credit: ChallengePost